A growing interest in the country’s economy and culture has had a positive impact on its advertising industry’s creative output.

Mahesh Chauhan

Terry Savage, the CEO of Cannes Lions Festival, termed 2008 as the year of awakening of a sleeping giant called India. He applauded the fine performance of China in winning its first ever Gold Lion and the rise of the Asia-Pacific region, in general, on the global creative map. He was absolutely correct in his observations and his praise for the new stars on the horizon. It just got me wondering if his praise also signified a great business mind at work.

The Cannes story of India, like that of other developing countries, began 16 years ago when the six-strong Indian contingent landed on the hallowed soil of this quaint city on the French Riviera. As Pradeep Guha and Piyush Pandey, two of the six, told me the other day one nostalgic evening at the Gutter Bar in Cannes, there were barely any Asians then. Maybe we were not good enough; maybe our sleeping and insulated economies didn’t warrant so much attention from the Western world then as our pockets were minuscule.

This dimension comes alive if one notices that this year almost every category had a jury member from India barring one. A far cry from the days when Indians barely made it to the festival, forget the jury. This year at the Cannes festival there were more than 10,000 delegates from all over the world. In terms of proportions, I have no doubt in my mind that this year saw a significant rise in the number of delegates from the developing world. Gut feel tells me that there could actually have been a decline in the absolute number of participants from Europe and North America given the economic stagnation in these markets. The Indian contingent itself was nearly 300-strong, an approximation, as a lot of people made up their minds at the eleventh hour and the actual official number wasn’t available. This was also the largest Indian team at the fest, a 50-fold increase in 16 years. Given the astronomical costs of everything associated with Cannes, this suddenly makes a lot of sense. And Savage’s kind words towards our region begin to take on an interesting business perspective!

The second big factor that comes into play is the growing global interest in the economically vibrant economies of the developing countries. Interest leads to an effort towards understanding the culture. I must add here that cultural understanding takes time and is not an overnight process. I have a feeling that this enhanced understanding has also led to greater appreciation of the creative output of these nations and maybe, therefore, a richer tally of metals with every passing year. I say so because creativity’s soul might lie in a fundamental human insight but its interpretation is inevitably always influenced by the local cultural milieu. I wonder why the Cadbury’s Dairy Milk cricket film done in India in the early ’90s did not win a metal while the same idea done using a gorilla wins a Grand Prix this year. Either the joy as portrayed by the gorilla was different from the joy of an uninhibited, spontaneous girlfriend on a cricket field or maybe the jury discovered the feeling of joy post early ’90s.

Incidentally everyone at Cannes and in the industry wants to understand the Gorilla commercial because they all believe there is something to it beyond the simple feeling of joy. I have been trying to as well but not with great success. Worth starting a blog though, and as I insist that, if at all, is the idea of a gorilla in the modern times. Like every festival, this one too will eventually be remembered for a few heroes. While the gorilla with all its flaws will be one (critics like me be damned!), some other scintillating stars will also be shining once the dust settles. If I were to pick five outstanding ideas from the entire festival, I would look at HBO Voyeur; the Black boy wanting water initiative of Studio Brussels; Halo3 of Xbox: all of which I wrote about in my previous pieces in Business Line; the Titanium-winning Uniqlock entry from Japan where the team took the idea of promoting a fashion brand to another level by creating a widget, which lived on your computer. The girl on the widget dressed according to the weather in your city and occasion. The outfits belonged to the brand. Here’s a great example of a client brief taken to another level by an agency which thought of the problem and how best to solve it. It abandoned the traditional solutions and came up with an exceptional thought that changed the paradigm. And of course, India’s and JWT’s Lead India.

Coming to the Indian performance, the Indian tally at the end of this weeklong festival of advertising stood at an incredible 23 metals, the previous best performance by India being 12 metals for each of the past two years. India won its first Grand Prix and first Integrated Lion, both for the Lead India campaign. The other notable winners from India were Leo Burnett and Contract Advertising.

However, the biggest winner for India is the belief I saw writ large on the faces of Indian delegates at Cannes. It’s the belief that comes from the first taste of blood. Almost every Indian now believes that we can win on the global stage. Almost everyone wants time to fast forward to Cannes 2009. Almost every Indian said a silent prayer. Almost every Indian promised his buddies to walk up those steps. Almost every Indian at Cannes this year is inspired. I hope they carry that inspiration and pass it on to those not fortunate to be at the festival. I hope they realise that it will call for Herculean efforts for this belief to translate to reality. I hope they realise that fame and glory comes from big ideas executed on a big scale using relevant and newer media solutions. The winners next year will have to embrace “the genius of and” and do different things differently. An encore has never been child’s play. But then India has come of age!

(The writer is President, Rediffusion DY&R)

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 26, 2008)
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