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Cannes & Able
[July 05, 2006]

Cannes & Able

(The Economic Times (India) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Never before has India won nominations in almost every category - Press, Outdoor, Media , Direct, Promo, Radio, Cyber and Film. Never before has India simultaneously won Lions across so many categories - Press, Outdoor, Media, Direct, Promo - in any given year. And never before have so many Indian agencies come home with Lions - this year's winner list includes JWT, O&M , Leo Burnett, Rediffusion DYR, Madison and Everest.

Cut the data any which way, the spread is lavish. Rediffusion's NCD KS Chakravarthy (Chax) agrees, saying, It's encouraging to see nominations and wins across categories and agencies. In his view, while winning metal is ultimately a lottery, the number of finalist nominations a country gets is a barometer of how good its work is.

Also internally, the more the nominations, the less the award looks beyond our reach. So the greater the effort that'll be made by our agencies the next year. The thing feeds on itself and becomes sustainable, which bodes well, he says. Bruce Matchett, national ECD, JWT, shares this view, and believes that India has turned a corner this year. I think even getting a shortlist at Cannes is great, given the level of competition there, he says. A bronze is fantastic, winning gold is extremely fortunate. You cannot ask for more, and with four gold Lions, I think India has a lot to be proud of.

One significant feature of India's performance at Cannes this year has been the fact that of the 12 Lions won, many are for regular brands - as opposed to pro bono work promoting social awareness. Indian ad professionals have often cried themselves hoarse over the preponderance of public awareness campaigns in the Cannes shortlists, maintaining that the world won't take India seriously till gongs are won for 'brand' brands. I think it's good that we're getting out of the public service advertising trap that we had dug ourselves into, and winning for genuine brands, observes Santosh Desai, president, McCann Erickson.

While it isn't easy ascribing specific reasons to India's good showing this year, the general consensus is that it's the effect of things gradually coming together for Indian advertising. One point of view has it that while raw creative talent has never been in short supply, the craft has progressed to meet international standards. I think the quality of work, in terms of better art direction and presentation, has improved considerably, says Sonal Dabral, ECD & chairman of O&M Singapore.

Adds Bobby Pawar, creative director, Energy BBDO/Chicago: India's always had talent. In fact, there are a number of Indian creatives I've hired in the US. What's helping India now is better craft and execution . For his part, JWT's Davis thinks Indian advertising has a lot going for it. You have a rare combination of ingredients: talented people, a naturally creative environment and an economy that is growing and maturing , he says. Unlike the stagnating west, when an economy grows, there's optimism, opportunity , hope and ambition. That's why I am looking at China , Latin America and particularly India - creativity is visible in everyday life in India.

Interestingly, another thing that could have worked for India this time is a sense of unity and togetherness. This year, for instance , quite a few creatives from different agencies got together and compiled the India Book - showcasing the best work produced in the country - targeted at delegates at Cannes. I believe the reaction to the book at the festival was excellent, says Chax. It was a neat, handy way of presenting to the world what we collectively have done, and I think that worked to some extent. And Matchett adds that even in triumph , the country celebrated in unison. Piyush (Pandey) was the first to call me for our golds. It was not Indian agency versus Indian agency, but more India versus the world, he says.

In all the rah-rah , it's easy to get carried away and gloss over the blemishes; but there are lessons to learn in that as well. Take our sheer inability to win Lions in Film, for instance. As ad filmmaker Prasoon Pandey of Corcoise Films points out, India has won just four Lions in film in Cannes' 53-year history. And even of those four, only Fevicol's 'bus' spot enjoys unaided recall here, he says. Pandey, who was a member of the Film jury this year, thinks India suffers in film because it is a far more complicated medium . It's not only about how sharp an idea is.

There is space, timing, pause Also, we don't know when to get out of the film. For instance, if Burnett's Heinz ads had been a bit shorter, they would have worked much better with the jury. The longer you prolong the story, the more scores you lose. It's an art we haven't perfected, he says.

Davis agrees that film is a different kettle of fish. There are more oars in the water, so at times this works against you, he admits. Also, as more time and money is involved in film, more things can go wrong. Yet, he thinks that as film, as a medium , is a big part of Indian culture , advertising cannot afford to be a poor cousin to feature films.

The talent is there, but you have to set your sights higher . Pandey also thinks that as film is a more expensive medium , everyone - clients and agencies - tend to play it safe by underestimating the audiences' intelligence and over-explaining things. In trying to find the least common denominator, we are diluting our film ideas, he says. And we keep making the same silly mistakes.

Once conceived, we don't give our ideas time to breathe. We don't take time to polish them, perfect them. The greatest jokes in the world are great because they've been added onto and subtracted from in each telling. In India, it's three short steps from conception to presentation to execution.

Chax thinks the way forward perhaps lies in getting clients to experiment with film in new and niche channels and avenues . At times agencies have to lead and marketers have to follow, he explains. If we can't do something in mainstream television , let's look at niche TV channels that attract more sophisticated eyeballs.

Also, we have not used viral at all. It is cheap and legitimate. Carlton Draught's 'Big ad' spot started as a viral, became a huge hit and went mainstream. We can do that and if it works, it may prompt clients to be braver. He also laments the fact that India, despite its much-envied IT powerhouse status, hasn't cracked the interactive space. The world's moving there. We have the capability, so we must too.

India must also start laying a premium on ideas, says BBDO's Pawar. India must forget the 'Singapore model' of simply finding product benefits and blowing them up laterally, he insists. The world is looking for powerful, global brand ideas - like Adidas' 'Impossible is nothing' . And for long-term success, Indian advertising has to discover its voice. As McCann's Desai points out, What we've done is tailor our work to suit global sensitivities .

We haven't brought the world around to seeing our sensitivities . So we haven't really done a Brazil or a Thailand yet, and that's the challenge. Adds Matchett: Indian advertising is looking at the west, at Thailand for instance, we have to find our own sense of art direction the way the Chinese and Thais have done. The day we look at ourselves will be the day our advertising will find its groove.

There's enough conviction going around to suggest that this year, a platform has been created for India to build upon. This is our best shot at moving forward in a sustained manner. Everyone should take positive cues from this, feels Chax. While Davis doesn't want to forecast trends on the back of a few Lions won or lost, he thinks success can breed either complacency or ambition. All I ask is for India to see this as an addictive experience , he concludes.

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