He was compassionate. He was kind. He was daring enough to speak his mind. He was loving. He was tough. He dreamed big enough.
I believe those who worked with Reza Bhai or in some form belonged to his ecosystem can easily relate to what I wanted to convey by the above rhyme. The subcontinent has given us very few legends in the communication industry whose legacies not only define the industry today but also teach us- not merely about how to sell well but how to live well, whose minds revealed something deeper about the inner workings of the self too. Reza Ali is one such person. He taught us not only about the tricks of the commercial trade but also about what makes the human heart tick. The master advertising man whose success proved you can start something even in the most unstable times.
He started Bitopi in 1968 as a self-starter who was not only motivated but took the initiative without being prompted in an unconventional time. Reza Bhai was a visionary with the courage to build a venture manned by expatriates and locals, which was essential for an emerging nation and an emerging company. He believed in creating wealth through consumer awareness and brand building to fulfil societal needs and shape a smart community.
According to him, “Creativity is an expression of self. You cannot create great work until a little bit of you goes into it, be it your heart, your soul, or your beliefs. Whatever advertising you create, results in an expression of you. You may talk to different audiences and perform different functions, but ultimately, it carries your beliefs and your thumbprint.” He was sharing all these with me, his humble disciple, on a road trip to Chittagong to meet GSK and Reckitt. Believe me, a trip with him was full of fun and food experiences. To me, Reza Bhai was an evangelist.
In my stint with him at Bitopi between 1996 and 1999, my advertising career saw a new dimension in dealing with products and services. Those early days were important. Being in the right place at the right time is a matter of luck. He continuously told us to have a belief—a philosophy that drives our idea. He empowered our individuality to tell a story with passion in a commercial and ever-evolving world.
I was excited about advertising because it meant I could reach large audiences. He was more critical than my father about my supposed flair in English. I remember he ruthlessly edited my first assignment on ”the media scenario of Bangladesh”.
I fondly recall, before the Siemens S6 launch, on one of the Fridays when he was explaining Leo Burnett’s insight mining tool. He was telling me to play the role of a consumer and tell him about my journey, my upbringing, my memories, my experiences, my love, my hate, and the things that made me who I was. What is my uniqueness, and why must that uniqueness go into my creativity? He helped me change my thinking pattern. Interestingly, he was shy about sharing this in the classroom. He convinced me not to get into others’ territory. He said classrooms should be run by teachers, and we will run advertising. I never saw him come out of any meeting satisfied.
His ability to question clients’ briefs was beyond imagination. His work on Orsaline, Singer, BATA, DJuice, Olympic Battery, Maya, Mobil Bangladesh, ANZ, Siemens, and Raja can easily portray his ability to transform brands into great brands in Bangladesh. He believed “Creativity is not a process; advertising is a process.”
I loved his carefree nature and positive trait for building strong relationships and fostering emotional intimacy with the people around him. He was compassionate and empathetic towards colleagues and clients, and more inclined to seek out support and help when they were struggling with difficulties in work and life.
Being the pioneer in the advertising industry in Bangladesh, Reza Bhai has been significantly shaping the sector over the years. Kudos to the others like the late Zaker bhai, Ramenduda, Noor bhai, Mrs Chowdhury, Late Iftekhar bhai, Sara Apa, Fakhrul Kamal bhai, Syed Iqbal, Late Muqtadir bhai, and many more. The industry has grown rapidly in recent years, thanks to the country’s strong economic growth and increasing consumer spending. Thanks to the following generations as well, who have been carrying the legacies forward.
In the early days, advertising in Bangladesh was mainly limited to print media, such as newspapers and magazines. However, with the growth of television and radio in the country, advertising began to move to these platforms as well. In the 1990s, the first private television channels were launched in Bangladesh, which provided new opportunities for advertisers to reach larger audiences.
In the early 2000s, the Internet began to gain popularity in Bangladesh, and digital advertising started to emerge as a new platform for advertisers. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter also gained popularity in the country, providing new opportunities for advertisers to reach consumers.
Today, the advertising industry in Bangladesh is diverse and dynamic, with a wide range of advertising agencies, media channels, and digital marketing firms operating in the country. The industry is being driven by a growing consumer market, increasing competition among businesses, and the need to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Overall, the advertising industry in Bangladesh has come a long way over the years, and it continues to evolve and adapt to changing market conditions and consumer behaviour. It is needless to mention that our Reza bhai left behind a strong footprint and a good number of disciples. Our sincere gratitude to this unparalleled dreamer, whose optimism is not only motivating but also contagious.