2 Minutes With ... Hira Mohibullah, ECD at BBDO Pakistan

Using advertising as a force for social change

Hira Mohibullah has been with BBDO Pakistan for almost five years, rising from associate creative director to executive creative director in that time. Before that, she spent time at Adcom Leo Burnett and Ogilvy. 

She has been using the power of advertising to impact positive social change in Pakistan, with a special focus on women's empowerment. A mother of two, she has helped to set up a daycare at BBDO, enabling more mothers to join the workforce. 

We spent two minutes with Mohibullah to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations, and recent work she's admired. 

Hira, tell us ... 

The town where you were born, and where you live now.

Born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and currently living in Lahore, Pakistan. I'm a classic third-culture kid with no place to call home!

What you wanted to be when you grew up.

I'm a Gemini, so as a kid, everything struck my fancy! From an astronaut to a scientist—I once knocked myself out trying to mix different chemicals; charge the killer curiosity to my star sign too—I've dreamed it all!

How you discovered you were creative.

When I was in 3rd grade, I learned how smoking could be disastrous for your health. I took it upon myself to get my dad—think: human version of a chimney—to quit. After the coaxing, begging and bouts of suspended "dialogue" seemed to fail, I remember writing him a letter of invitation. The invite stated that after having smoked for so long, he had won a membership to the Smoker's Club and that his name will now be entered into a lucky drawing. The prizes he could win were: 

3rd: A yearly tar refill for his lungs.
2nd: Stained teeth and loss of taste.
1st: Death.

I remember him asking me wide-eyed, "How did you think of this?" And that's when I realized my mind worked a little differently. Also, big win for little me: He let me hide his cigarettes that day … just for a week.

A person you idolized creatively growing up.

A friend's mom. She threw the most fun parties for us kids: craft sessions and jello in animal-shaped molds; I loved her attention to detail!

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

In college, I would always get bogged down by the endlessness of design possibilities. There was always a better font or a better layout around the corner. When I confessed how I was feeling to my professor, he said, "If you can produce a good design within the given constraints, you've made it as a designer." That day, I learned constraints are my best friend (hello, briefs!). Give me a non-existent budget or a seemingly impossible problem to solve, and I'll give you the most creative solution to it.

The first concert you saw, and your favorite band or musician today.

2004: Noori, a local band.
No faves today because I'm musically anhedonic, which means I don't like music. (Yep, Google it, you'll be surprised!)

Your favorite visual artist.

Shehzil Malik. While her craft is brilliant, the riveting tales it tells about the sufferings and the triumphs of South Asian women are truly something else. Work with true purpose!

Your favorite fictional character.

Jaq and Gus, the mice from Cinderella. They're tiny, but never for a second do they back down from fighting the injustice happening around them.

The best book you've read lately.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg.

Your favorite movie.

Anything that challenges my mind, has me hooked right till the end and leaves me stumped. Memento is a favorite, but anything by Nolan goes.

Your favorite Instagram follow.

@TheDaftDraft. South Asian social commentary with a side of consumerist spoofs.

How the Covid-19 crisis has changed your life, personally or professionally, in recent months.

I'm saving so much time not commuting between work and school runs. My Insta bio reads, "I'd be a happier person if I had two more hours in a day." And now I do!

Your favorite creative project you've ever worked on.

In 2018, in collaboration with UN Women, we made a statement against child marriages in Pakistan by launching the #BridalUniform—a merger between a schoolgirl's uniform and a heavily embellished bridal outfit. It was a symbol for the trade-off that takes place when a girl is married young and deprived of her right to an education. We hijacked the biggest bridal fashion show in the country and had a little girl walk out as the showstopper, wearing the #BridalUniform on the ramp. 

What I loved about the campaign was seeing that image of the little girl become part of the social fabric in the country: appearing as the face for anti-child marriage statements at marches and for news around the cause.

Your favorite creative project from the past year.

Last year, we were faced with a very worrying statistic. One in three households in the country had a child burn victim, and 80 percent of those accidents were caused by hot tea spills. It was a pressing issue because Pakistan is a tea-loving nation, consuming 500 million cups of tea every day, oblivious to the dangers it poses to little children. 

To create awareness, we played on the idea of a tea stain: not the kind that could be washed out easily from cloth, but one that would stain a child's delicate skin forever. In collaboration with Shalamar Hospital, "The Hot Tea Stain" was launched with a film that cast real child burn victims, helping to bring the incidents of child burns down by 50 percent. Moreover, 100 reconstructive surgeries have been performed using the funds collected for the cause. It was extremely humbling to see how our work positively affected the lives of real people.

Shalamar | The Hot Tea Stain
Someone else's creative project that inspired you years ago.

As someone who's experienced diversity from a very young age, the print work done on United Colors of Benetton really spoke to me. The colors, the inclusivity, the activism: They were definitely ahead of their time.

Someone else's creative project that you've been envious of lately.

"Womb Stories" by AMV BBDO. It's bloody brilliant, pun fully intended!

Bodyform #wombstories
Your main strength as a creative person.

I always have a method to my madness.

Your weakness or blind spot.

I think too much. I actually had a dear friend tell me I need to close down all the extra tabs I had open in my brain, so that I don't hold myself back.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Watching my 6-year-old dote on his baby brother. Reminds me of the bond I share with my sister.

One thing that always makes you sad.

Lack of empathy.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Running a cafe, doing a culinary course in Paris, food blogging—anything involving food.

2 Minutes With is our weekly interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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