Babar Khan Javed, the most influential advertising journalist in Asia

Ali Naqvi talks to Babar Khan Javed, the most respected and renowned name in advertising and marketing circles of not only Pakistan but also the Asia Pacific region. Apart from being a journalist, Babar is also an influential speaker who can feel the pulse of modern marketing trends in the context of emerging innovative technologies.
Babar Khan Javed has worked as Technology Editor at Campaign Asia-Pacific. He has served as a board member of Asia Content Marketing Association. Babar currently writes for Pakistan Today’s Profit magazine. He is also serving as a correspondent for Branding in Asia Magazine.

Ali Naqvi: You are one of the most reputable names in Pakistan when it comes to marketing and advertising journalism, what is the secret behind your success?

Babar Khan Javed: The kings and queens of advertising journalism are Lauren Johnson from Business Insider, Laurie Sullivan from MediaPost, Brian Morrissey from Digiday, and Stephanie Paterik from Adweek. The global thought leaders in this space – worth following to open oneself to new ideas – are Professor Mark Ritson, Professor Scott Galloway, Bob Hoffman, Tom Goodwin, Avtar Ram Singh, Habibullah Khan, Martin Sorrell, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Margaret Molloy.

Compared to the above – who are at the top of advertising journalism and thought leadership – I do not believe that my work thus far merits the accolade of success as of yet as there is much left to do. That being said, if your sentiment is correct – with regards to the Pakistan market – it has to do with being the only journalist in the country that covers the advertising industry. I look forward to being proven wrong and in meeting the competition, which there is none.

If there is another publication that claims to cover advertising journalism, you will only find paid content in the form of op-eds or perhaps the outcomes of surveys and media spend data. Covering – for instance – the latest digital initiatives of the largest FMCG companies in Pakistan, diving deep into a specific medium, questioning the reasons why one platform is favored over the other, writing about the reality of rebates and kickbacks, and more will be considered journalism. The rest is paid content.

There are two publications in Pakistan that have the potential to explore advertising journalism. Given that their business models rely on advertising revenue, they will never take the risks that Profit – which is funded by subscribers – takes on a daily basis. On a daily basis, there is news about a reseller bid or a brief, be it creative, media, or digital – floating in the market – with scope in covering the brief itself, followed by the agency shortlist, and eventually announcing the winning agency.

This is the same case for Facebook/WhatsApp groups that claim to cater to marketers. As long as the admin/s of these groups have a vested interest in pandering to the interests of brand marketers, they will never have the gusto to report on what matters even at the expense of going against the narrative. Making matters worse, these groups suppress the only source of advertising journalism in Pakistan because the truth upsets the men and women they will dedicate lifetimes in pandering to.

Babar Khan Javed with Chad Stoller, Global Chief Innovation Officer of UM Worldwide and Leigh Terry, CEO of IPG Mediabrands APAC
Babar Khan Javed with Chad Stoller, Global Chief Innovation Officer of UM Worldwide and Leigh Terry, CEO of IPG Mediabrands APAC

AN: Tell us something about your experience of working with Branding in Asia magazine?

BKJ: Dr. Robert McGill, the editor in chief of Branding in Asia, has taught me a lot about investigative journalism. I will forever be grateful for the experience of working with him. He taught me how to explore angles, feature writing, and how to craft a long-form narrative. Much of my current writing styles stem from his teachings along with those of my supervisors at Campaign Asia – Robert Sawatzky and Matthew Miller. I would also count colleagues Faaez Samadi and Eric Boost in playing a role in helping me improve my interviewing style, both F2F and during live events or panel moderation.

Instead of classifying this work as a ‘success’, let’s call it progress. The second part of generating value in this space is continuous professional development, having invested in learning about B2B marketing from top marketing professors at the IMD Business School in Switzerland and in learning about marketing strategy from Professor Mark Ritson, formerly of Melbourne Business School. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is tremendously powerful. Always be learning, asking, questioning, pondering, and throwing yourself into complex thought experiments.

AN: Brands must be aware of the SEC of their target group. Don’t you think advertising in Pakistan is saturated with SEC B and above while the majority of the people are illiterate and live below the poverty line?

BKJ: You may be referring to advertising creative and copy that is aspirational in nature and does not reflect the reality of one’s life. This is a form of escapism that the creative director wants the audience to see themselves in, with the product/service on display being a means to the end of quality life. To understand this further, read Alchemy by Rory Sutherland.

Babar Khan Javed with the CXO of StarHub and the MD of Infectious Media
With the CXO of StarHub and the MD of Infectious Media

AN: Coronavirus has damaged business and industry; how difficult it would be for brands other than FMCGs to cope with the post-COVID-19 world?

BKJ: I am not qualified to answer this question. For the answer, turn to the combined advice of Professor Scott Galloway and Professor Mark Ritson. Educate yourself by watching every video you can find online from these two men and also watch every lecture/presentation you can find featuring Sasha Strauss from Innovation Protocol. Always seek answers from the most qualified people. In Pakistan, saying ‘I don’t know’ is frowned upon – people want the answer, instead of the depth of an answer. Stopping to think and listen will be an important skill going forward. Better to refer to an expert than pretend to be one and potentially ruin someone’s life or business.

AN: With the advent of Netflix and the growing culture of youtubing, don’t you think advertising on mainstream media will die out sooner than we think?

BKJ: Let’s address YouTube first. With regards to Pakistan, this will happen by 2025 according to media spending projections from WPP and Publicis. That said, the large broadcasters have a direct presence on YouTube and have managed to diversify their business models. For a better perspective if this is the case, speak with Raihan Merchant or Faisal Sheikh from Z2C. For a breath of knowledge on the Pakistan market, also speak with Ahsen Idris and Umair Saeed from Blitz Advertising.

Now let’s address Netflix. There are over 227 million people in Pakistan, of which 11% have unique bank accounts while under 1% have their own credit cards. Netflix can only be paid for online and for that, you need a bank account. Even if all 25 million Pakistanis had a Netflix account, that would mean PKR 285 billion ($1.75 billion) in annual revenue. The reality is that the money Netflix makes in Pakistan is likely at most 1% of that number. Why? Old habits. While content consumption habits have changed worldwide due to platforms such as Netflix, data suggests that for all SEC’s in Pakistan, the idea of stealing from content creators is more appealing. In the Islamic republic, people are stealing from content creators by giving money to organized crime families that pirate movies – to sell as DVDs or to be watched on sketchy sites powered by ad fraud. So, our limitless jahalat that is the Pakistani awam, is avoiding paying PKR 11.4k per year to Netflix so that they can fund crime families in their own cities. This is practiced by people from all income brackets. The citizens of Pakistan choose to be corrupt. They start their day thinking how many people they can or should burn to get ahead. Very few people start their day thinking about how many people they plan on saving or helping. Netflix cannot and should not operate in such a backward country.

If you watch Netflix content on any site that is not Netflix, you are funding organized crime, which may be funding the corruption in your street, neighborhood, and city. That aside, Netflix isn’t shifting Pakistan in the way people think, there are simply not enough people in Pakistan with a Netflix account to make a significant dent. For a better perspective, speak with Raihan Merchant from Z2C.

Babar Khan Javed with Hari Krishnan, CEO of
With Hari Krishnan, CEO of

AN: Brands are still reluctant to spend on digital media, how important is it to educate them about the value of digital marketing?

BKJ: There is not a single marketer on the planet today that does not know about digital media or digital marketing. If a marketer is not spending on either, they must have a good reason. Smart marketers with the right training conduct a thorough exercise in research, segmentation, targeting, and positioning, to reach a strategy. This strategy, which creates OKRs, then considers various media owners and their respective ad formats.

If a digital or social platform is a good fit, the marketer should know based on the data at hand. If it doesn’t – be it because the audience data suggests it doesn’t cross over in the customer journey – marketer may choose to exclude digital from a campaign.

If a marketer makes this decision, the industry and peer network should applaud them for thinking a plan through instead of jumping on digital because it’s fashionable to do so. There is plenty of education out there, marketers are just masters of detecting crap.

AN: A large number of digital agencies have come up in the last few years, would this growth be sustainable?

BKJ: Not in the slightest. Unless the agency is owned by someone with inherited wealth, it is 100% struggling to make ends meet. More digital agencies shut down in Pakistan than any other type of agency. Digital media spending is very easy to take in house. Not in the case of TV, radio, and print spending, though it does happen. Digital agencies in Pakistan have, for the most part, done very little to grow their value proposition, instead competing on price in a never-ending pissing contest to commoditize a service. The second problem is that most of the agencies are run by people under 30 years of age, who lack the experience in leading a large team. They also suck at deal structuring, pushing back on absurd client demands, and in handling complex projects. All of the above lead to people working overtime, toxic workplaces, and the understanding that a hostile client is just a part of life.

With Teresa Condicion Co-creator Snapcart

AN: What is your favorite marketing campaign and why?

BKJ: The launch campaign of Dollar Shave Club – it was to the point, had a compelling message, explained the value proposition, was self-deprecating, had a clearly defined call to action, and a humble character.

AN: The uncertain political situation impacts the business and eventually marketing, how important it is to keep this factor in mind while making a marketing strategy?

Babar Khan Javed: I am neither qualified nor experienced enough to answer this question. For the answer, turn to the combined advice of Raihan Merchant of Z2C, Agha Zohaib of Mindshare, and Dara Bashir of Omnicom. Or read what Professor Mark Ritson has to say on Marketing Week. On that note, subscribe to Profit for $40 p.a. and get access to The Wall Street Journal digital app for a full year. You will be funding true investigative journalism that holds industry stakeholders accountable for their decisions and investments. You will also be funding the only publication in Pakistan that is unafraid of billionaires.

Ali Naqvi: Thank you so much Babar Khan Javed for talking to The5Ws.

One thought on “Babar Khan Javed, the most influential advertising journalist in Asia

  • Great interview from someone who understands Advertising Journalism without any biasness.

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