How Indian agencies can win big at Cannes

MUMBAI: India‘s weak performance at the Cannes Lions Festival, the worst in the last five years, is evoking criticism in the advertising world. Sinking to just 14 metals, down from 24 last year, the time has come to retrospect and build on the talent pool that has the potential to create bigger impact in the advertising world.

The record book looks even worse as India went without a Grand Prix this year. It won three gold, one less than last year, and three silver, seven less.

India‘s advertising minds need new ideas that are bold and fresh at a time when new markets are emerging to give competition. Some experts feel that Indian agencies lost out at Cannes because the ‘basic idea‘ ‘lacked the magnificence‘ to win big.

Laments Leo Burnett chairman and CEO Indian sub-continent Arvind Sharma, “Cannes is a contest of great ideas executed brilliantly. This year unfortunately we had very few big bold ideas. We won some gold metals but they were for execution specialities like typography and film direction. For winning in ideas, we bagged smaller trophies. What we need is bigger, bolder and fresher ideas across categories like we had in the past with the Luxor and the Lead India campaign.”

In a fast-changing global environment, exposed to new technologies and market situations, Indian agencies need to realise that every year is a different ball game and the need of the hour is to adapt.

Says JWT chief creative officer and managing partner Bobby Pawar, “We need to understand that every year the game changes and you just have to keep doing better and smarter from year to year. Take the example of Usain Bolt. Every time he fails to make it, he tells himself ‘I am going to train harder and get where I want‘. That is a lesson we all got to learn."

The most glaring under achievement of the Indian agencies perhaps is the failure to make it to the Digital and Mobile Lions shortlist. In an age where every advertiser is vying to go online or be present on the mobile platform, and where every day sees a new innovation in the digital space, the Indian agencies failed to impress the jury enough to even make it to the final lap.

The accent for digital is rapidly evolving across the world and the subtle tone is to come out with bolder ideas. For executing these ideas, one needs the apt technology and infrastructure.

“When you compare India to other developing nations even in the realm of digital, I would say we are in The Stone Age. When the bandwidth for an exceptional online campaign is not available, how can you expect any path breaking work? In the case of mobile too, I feel we need ‘imagineers’ and not just programmers and engineers. It is the imagination that needs to grow and develop that will then translate into award winning work,” says Pawar.

Expanding reach across platforms is also becoming an important tool reflective of the changes in the advertising world. Says Scarecrow Communications founder director Manish Bhatt, “The definition of creativity is changing. Creative is not just a clever idea or stunning execution anymore. It also includes factors like how much response a campaign manages to evoke. Entries that have evoked stunning response can change the world and look superior than the other works. Entries which go beyond the common benefit of the product and do something for the society have cut ice with the jury."

Cannes Lions Tally




23 (including Grand Prix)









Worse, India‘s achievement in the traditional categories wasn‘t too impressive. Admits Law and Kenneth CEO and managing partner Anil Nair, “The traditional categories - print, TV and outdoor - have become fiercely competitive, and there is a lot of innovation within them. Our work is one-dimensional, which in a way suits our local requirements. But this did not catch the fancy of the jury. Some of the work like for Nike and Google have a lot of spin in new media technology, but we have not been able to demonstrate that kind of thinking. The works we have sent are majorly in print.”

So what are the key learnings from this year’s somewhat disappointing performance at the biggest ad fest?

“The learning for me is that we should win more in the traditional category like Films which is a major medium here. We don’t have any metal in films apart from one that is in film craft. We should have won more metals even in radio, outdoor and now digital,” says McCann Worldgroup India chairman and CEO Prasoon Joshi, the man who led his agency to win a gold for Outdoor.

Sharma, though, likes to see the glass half full. “I‘m sure India has the talent and the passion it takes to win big at Cannes. This year‘s results will push us harder and I‘m sure we will do well next year,” he concludes with a note of optimism.

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