A year ago, in 2018, my students undertook an urban research project in which they had to define the identity of Lahore as it stood at that point in time. Although there were various elements that stood out, one of the key aspects pertaining to the character of Lahore was the omnipresence of digital media advertising boards which had begun to make inroads into the daily sphere of interaction with the city.
In 2017, digital billboards were installed on MM Alam Road between Hussain Chowk and Mini Market and they stood as a testimony to the transition between conventional and modern times, specifically pertaining to urban marketing methods. Simultaneously, a number of digital billboards and hoardings started to crop up in the main junctions of the city, where major road networks would converge at traffic lights. These hoardings began to provide a visual reprieve from the boredom of having to sit and wait for the red light to change, yet at the same time, it would also afford a certain amount of distraction to people while driving the cars, thus becoming a safety hazard for the motorists and pedestrians alike. The threat of imminent danger to people did not prove to be enough of an impetus for the city to remove the billboards, as most of these digital hoardings are placed on public land, thus earning the administrative bodies in charge of those areas a lot of money in monthly rentals.
The move was fully supported by the Parks and Horticulture Authority as it was said to be a way to convert major commercial areas of Lahore so as to invoke the same feel as Times Square in New York. In the past, Lahore has also been likened to being the Paris of the East. This begs the question of how and why it has become the norm for Lahore’s identity to then be associated with equated with cultural centers in the West.
The moving image as part of the urban landscape is the new dynamic of advertising that has come to Pakistan in the last few years, but something which has been predominant in the developed world for a number of years (Tokyo, London, Paris just to name a few cultural metropolia’). The digital videos as opposed to the stationary visuals of hoardings, allow the product to interact with the transitory person in all its 3D glory.
Larger than life and vibrant, they demand your attention and focus and engage you to escape the mundane routine of the daily grind on the roads, yet at the same time raise questions towards the ethics of advertising in a postmodern world.
Photo credits: Mustang Communications, Pakistan
Video credits: Ahmed Hassan, Mujahid Ali, Umer Ijaz, M. Faizan, Akhyar Razzaq