Let’s face it. In terms of awards won, Cannes this year was a huge disappointment. Just 13, if you take into account the metals haul of Indian agencies, 14 if you include Bacardi’s win in the Brand Content & Entertainment segment. What compounded matters for us was the magnitude of expectations before the event. After all, Indian agencies walked home with 24 metals last year. And barring the odd year like in 2010, when we walked home with 17 metals, India has had a good outing at Cannes in the last few years.
So what were the reasons for this relative non-performance? Why did some of the red-hot ‘favourites’ fail to strike a chord?
Lesson No. 1: Don’t get carried away by Goafest success: Many of the so-called contenders were big winners at Goafest. Amongst these were highly popular local campaigns like ‘Har Friend Zaroori Hai’ or technological breakthroughs such as the Audi 3D campaign. It's a known fact that popularity at the local level does not necessarily translate into big metal wins at international shows. It never has. Neither the Lalitaji Surf campaign in the 1980s or the Coca-Cola Paanch campaign in 2002/03 or the 'Vodafone Pug' ad has come within sniffing distance of a metal despite their local success. However, expectations rose, in an irrational sort of way, fanned and fuelled by the barrage of ‘Cannes predictions’ in every publication.
Lesson No. 2: We are technological pygmies: It’s a telling reality. The West and Japan have learned to integrate technology into communication, almost as an operating principle. They look at technology as an investment and are willing to spend more time and money on execution. In India, the dynamics are different. Our campaigns get much shorter gestation times. Technology is looked as a barrier to speedy execution. The Audi 3D campaign was a giant leap forward in the Indian context. However, compared to the international scenario, it was underwhelming.
Lesson No. 3: Creative needs to create impact: The definition of creativity is changing at Cannes every year. Creativity is no longer for creativity’s sake. It is now measured in terms of impact. It should make a difference to the world around you. Clever creative ideas are good enough to get shortlisted. But clever creative ideas with the ingredient of effectiveness can win big metal. If you can get the Prime Minister of your country to notice and comment on your campaign, it stands a better chance of winning. In other words, a Cannes Lion is turning into a global Effie award. Creativity with a bit of activism thrown in. That’s why Vodafone’s iFold (in direct marketing) or ‘I am Mumbai’ for Mumbai Mirror in film craft struck metal, not Fox Crime or the Volkswagen Jetta Wings commercial.
Lesson No. 4: United we win, divided we lose: Marketing matters. The unity of entrants of respective countries also matters. At the Oscars, an entrant uses marketing techniques to ensure that juries form an opinion about his work much before the actual judging happens. At the Cannes Lions too most of the jurors know the good work from most parts of the world barring countries such as India and Vietnam. Just like the film folk, our Khans of Indian advertising can’t unite and ensure big metals for India at the place where it matters the most. Meanwhile, the Brazils and Portugals of the world make sure the book of their potential entries reaches every juror in advance. So even if a juror is playing Temple Run while judging, he doesn’t miss their entry. And it makes it to the shortlists.
The writers are founder directors of Scarecrow Communications. Bhatt was also a juror at Cannes this year