Industry POV

How can India improve its performance at Cannes? - Ashish Bhasin


At the 63 rd Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, India got home 27 metals, including 3 Gold, 7 Silver, 14 Bronze, 2 Glass Lion and 1 Grand Prix for work done across categories. For the first time, an Indian agency was also awarded the Agency of the Year in the Pharma category. It has been an overall good year for India at Cannes.

However, a look at India’s performance at Cannes in the past few years will show that it has never been very consistent. Infact, in 2015, India got 13 metals, which was one of the country’s worst performances in the past five years. There were no Gold winners only 6 Silver, 5 Bronze, 1 Glass and 1 Grand Prix were given out. In 2014, the total metal tally was 27 and in 2012 it was 14. 2013 can safely be declared as the best year in terms of the metal count in the last five years, India won 34 metals, including 8 Gold, 6 Silver and 20 Bronze. More than 12 agencies contributed to the tally.

In the last two consecutive years, India started winning a Grand Prix in the Glass Lion category- for work done in the gender sensitivity domain. This year PHD got the Glass Grand Prix for Hindustan Unilever’s ‘6 Pack Band’- India’s first transgender band. Last year BBDO India got the honour for P&G Whisper’s ‘Touch the Pickle’ campaign. The other kind of works which won big at Cannes this time are- Ogilvy & Mather’s ‘End Acid Sale’ campaign for Make Love Not Scars organisation, a charity supporting acid attack victims. Also, BBDO’s work for Dads#SharetheLoad campaign, won a metal in almost every category it entered in.

India got 17 shortlists this time across Mobile, Media and Cyber, but it has not been able to convert them to big wins. So it is clearly seen that the kind of work which is being recognised at Cannes from India is inclined towards social goodness. While in terms of work in other categories, we have still not been able to leave a mark.

We spoke to advertising and media heads in order to understand, the challenges, the areas where India needs to work hard to move up the chart.

Lack of presentation and packaging:

Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network, South Asia, who was on the jury for Media Lions this year, feels that one should concentrate on the quality of entries, rather than on the quantity. “No doubt, we are good story tellers, but we don’t do full justice to our work in the manner in which we present them. I always feel it is better to send fewer entries, which are better done, rather than send a lot of entries that are half-baked. The few early seconds of your work is the crucial time, when you can influence the juror and you can’t afford to lose that,” he said.

Dhunji S. Wadia, President Rediffusion-Y&R spoke about the need to be creative in the content of the presentation and in its execution. He adds, “We put in a lot of effort in executing the work to world class levels. But there's a drop when we prepare the case study presentations and packaging for the same. The case video or board is not just a documentary of what was created but a standalone piece that competes with the others of its kind.”

Hayden Scott & Sumit Chaurasia, Creative Director, Famous Innovations elaborated, “Many case study videos at Cannes this year had the production values of big budget commercials. We need to focus on getting the elevator pitch for the idea right and spending a fair amount on making it look grand because putting together a case study has become a skill unto itself.”

However, Josy Paul Chairman & Chief Creative Officer BBDO feels that it’s not about the presentation and packaging. “That’s an old excuse. The best way to package your work is to have a great idea. Something that moves the jury, like it moves the world. The jury can tell a great idea even if it’s buried in a not-so-slick presentation. Our presentation for Whisper ‘Touch the pickle’ and Ariel ‘Share the Load’ are mainly done in-house,” he cites.

Preponderance of charity and pro bono work

Bhasin has clearly witnessed this trend not only in India, but also globally. He said, “I am not against creating work for charity, but this is like the shortcut for getting recognition and we end up doing it often. Instead we should focus on doing work for big brands on large scale.”

Scott & Chaurasia from Famous Innovations feel that India needs to break out of the misery mould at award shows. Cleft lips, acid burn victims, transvestites. I'm not saying these aren't genuine problems, but there's more to Indian creativity than that. Or maybe that's all foreign juries choose to see.

However, Paul from BBDO cited, “Over the years, we’ve noticed that every country has one or two areas of expertise with which they contribute to the world. Japan is known for its great design. United States is fantastic with films. Brazil is the king of print. These labels start to form. Finally, India is in that famous mix. India is doing so much with social issues. With 2 Grand Prix and 4 Gold in two years, we are the Glass Lion champions of the world – where big brands are doing big society-altering work as part of the brand’s intrinsic message. So it’s good to hold on to our strength and see how we can build our capabilities in technology, innovation, cyber and film through this lens. That’s how we can improve and contribute to the world. It’s not just about the number of metals, but about the influence and inspiration.”

Echoing similar views, KV Sridhar, Chief Creative Officer, Sapient Nitro points out, “Gender sensitivity and social awareness campaign is not a bad thing. I feel this kind of advertisement is much better than selling something purely transactional. In India, there is a lot of gender biasness and more the bigger brands take up these issues, it is actually better for the country. But if the work is done without any objective, then both the money and the time get wasted.”

Need for supportive clients

Sanjay Mehta, co-CEO, Mirum India says, “It really helps if the same piece of work can be submitted in various sub categories. It kind of has a psychological effect, if you keep on seeing the same good work multiple times, it registers easily. But it requires a lot of money to enter Cannes and it is quite an expensive affair. So clients should be willing to spend the money. Any win depends on the joint effort of both the client and the agency.”

Agreeing to it, Rajiv Rao, National Creative Director, Ogilvy & Mather also mentions the importance of having a client who has full 100% faith in your idea.

Formula to crack other categories

Speaking on the formula to crack other categories, Scott & Chaurasia from Famous Innovations said, “We need to invest in technology and stop riding trends. We have to start creating them. That needs the winning combination of a smart client, brave creatives and bosses who willingly back new ideas or approaches to storytelling. The world is changing and we need to stop playing catch-up. In case of categories like Cyber, let's face it; we're 10 years behind whatever's happening in the world.”

Commenting on not being able to convert to big wins in categories like Cyber, Mobile or Media, Paul highlights, “There were more than 40,000 entries at Cannes this year. Getting into the shortlist in such a highly competitive environment is a big thing! Getting a metal, any metal, is even bigger! Bronze, Silver, Gold, Grand prix – they all are hugely significant! It’s been a seminal year for creativity at Cannes. So many amazing ideas from around the world. And in this highly competitive year, India won 27 metals! That’s fantastic! The important thing to learn and focus is to do big work on big brands because that’s how India can influence the world and the jury.”

He further adds, “The truth is that I saw a very interesting shift at Cannes this year. People are talking about the work, not the metal. It was as if the work was shining the light on the metal, and not the metal shining the light on the work.”

Wadia from Rediffusion-Y&R says, “We won a Silver Media Cannes Lion for Tata Motors Dipper this year. Because we clearly demonstrated that every truck becomes a medium with the 'Use Dipper at Night' message. Having said that, Cyber and Mobile are new age categories and India is catching up. I'm sure we'll get into the groove soon.”

How to up the game?

Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer and Co-founder at Taproot Dentsu highlights, “It is very important for our country to keep winning at Cannes, of course, for business reasons. It's a simple math creativity = good business = money. For the last few years, we are being closely and carefully watched. It doesn't matter who is contributing how many metals to India's tally. We need to represent ourselves as India at Cannes - let there be Virats and Dhonis who continue to dominate with Man of the Match and Series. Can we celebrate the India win first followed by other wins? It is very important that we put the nation first, as it helps all of us in the long run.”

Rao from O&M adds, “As a country, we think television as a powerful and an effective medium. Most of the money is spent on TV, 9 out of 10 campaigns is done keeping TV in mind. It needs to change, and then only we will have great ideas in every category. Sometimes we do have great work, but it may not win at Cannes but at some other place because of the different jury. What matters is, great idea, we need to think hard in terms of ideas. Priority is to create work for the consumers and then Cannes is always a bonus.”

Paul points out, “Dads#SharetheLoad won a metal in almost every category it was entered in. Its India’s most awarded campaign at Cannes this year because it was a dominant part of the conversation even before it was entered at Cannes.” So according to Mehta, there should be good PR effort put in behind the work which is entering Cannes. The reason being, there is a huge volume of work which the jury has to see and the risk of a desired piece of work not getting its due attention always remains.