Moving targets: sometimes creatives have face more threats than just obstinate clients

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Ali Rez is regional creative director at Impact BBDO/BBDO Pakistan, and Assam Khalid is strategic planning director/creative director. Their talk at the Dubai Lynx is called Do the Poster and you Might be Bombed.

In early 2014, a small group of advertising creatives and artists quietly visited the heavily bombed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan to install an artwork that would take the world by a storm in a few days’ time. Their goal was to protest the ongoing Predator drone strikes in northern Pakistan, which had so far claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians as collateral damage, and they had decided to use the power of design and outdoor to approach the problem in a new way.

Ali Rez and Assam Khalid, seasoned advertising creatives, joined forces with French artist JR, and American artists Saks Afridi and Akash Goel to unveil “Not A Bug Splat,” a poster that eventually became the fifth most awarded outdoor work on the planet in 2015. In order to create a visual dialogue and a connection between a drone operator and his or her potential victim, an idea was born. The artists located an image of a real-life victim of drone strikes – a child who had lost her parents and innocent siblings as collateral damage – and printed it in an enormous size to lay on the ground so a drone camera would pick it up and beam it to the pilot.

They had managed to get to this point after hearing almost a hundred people say “No” to the project. The five people that did say “Yes” motivated the creatives to go through with the idea. But there was a catch: the risk in installing this poster was the creatives getting bombed themselves.

Of course, this didn’t stop them. If anything, it felt like the challenge had become even more intriguing, and there was, of course, always that opportunity to tell a good story.

That the two overcame obstacles and got the work done in the face of a hundred “No”s is sometimes all the more satisfying. At times, creativity requires sweat and tears, and a tetanus shot. They managed to go through with the project in a highly sensitive area, which was practically a war zone, and simply by sheer luck found the day to be cloudy which is when – according to the children in the village – “fewer drones fly”.

This isn’t Ali and Assam’s only incredible outdoor example in which they found and then overcame resistance to a good idea and persevered to complete it, regardless of the threats they received. A project for a client that makes matresses, for instance, changed traditional outdoor mini advertising boards into convertible beds on which the homeless could sleep. This resulted in a member of the local council contacting the creatives and asking them to stop. But they didn’t stop. The project ended up helping hundreds of poor people get a good nights sleep, and
earned the agency a Grand Prix at
the Dubai Lynx.

Currently, the two are working on a highly volatile subject in Pakistan: women’s rights and the efforts against domestic violence. With their team, they have built a ­campaign unlike any Pakistan has ever seen, which has started to change mindsets not only amongst men, but also women and how they view themselves.

In response to a local council in Pakistan recommending that it should be OK for a man to “lightly beat” a woman, this campaign came around. It is the first anti-domestic-violence campaign that actually invites men to beat women. But at things they are good at. #BeatMe, featuring strong Pakistani women – such as the fastest woman in South Asia challenging men to beat her record 100-metre time – sparked off a national debate, and has led to a whole generation of Pakistani women feeling more empowered. Needless to say, this project comes with its own risks.

These two determined creatives have found it can be a death-defying experience to create great outdoor work, no matter what hurdle lies in the way – be it a client saying no, or a bomb from the sky.

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