2008: A year of lions, pencils, metals for India

By Abhishek Chanda , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | December 31, 2008
India has never shone brighter at the international awards like 2008. afaqs! finds out the factors behind the performance

The year & #BANNER1 & # 2008 has probably been one of the best as far as Indian agencies winning at international platforms is concerned. It has witnessed many firsts, including an all time high of 23 Lions, a Grand Prix, a Cyber Lion and a Lion in the Integrated and Titanium category at Cannes. It has also produced campaigns which have won consistently throughout the year in most of the high profile award shows.

Be it Luxor Highlighter, Lead India, Help Me Read This, Aadhar or Tide Detergent, Indian agencies have made their presence felt in most of the awards, including Cannes, Clio, One Show, LIA, D&AD, AdFest, NY Fest and the Singapore Outdoor Advertising Awards (SOAA) among others.

What is behind this sudden creative outburst? Is there something more to the metals than meets the eye? afaqs! caught up with some of the industry leaders to seek some answers.

The creative quotient

With Indian agencies in the winning spree, there is no doubt that we have certainly upped the ante. But is it really so? Are international awards the best yardsticks to adjudge and laud our creativity?

Priti Nair, managing partner, BBH India, claims that things have improved considerably. She says, "I do believe India produces some genuinely great quality work and the ideas are big. This is despite India being the most difficult country to advertise in. I say that because the vast differences in culture and language that exist in India doesn't exist anywhere else. To create a piece of communication which strikes a cord across the varied geographies and socio-economic differences is a commendable task."

Sanjay Thapar, group president, North and East, O&M, says, "I do see our work constantly improving and to that extent our performance should most definitely improve with time and grow. However, we must recognise the fact that all others are also improving constantly and that the results are determined by comparison. So yes, our work will improve and we will do better - but how much better is also a function of how others keep raising their games."

Thomas Xavier, chairperson and national creative director, Orchard Advertising, accepts the fact that the bar has been raised but puts it in a different light. He says, "I think agencies have done a better job of understanding what will win abroad."

However, Prasoon Joshi, executive chairperson, McCann Erickson India and regional executive creative director, Asia Pacific, McCann Erickson, has a completely different view on this, "It's high time we asked ourselves the question - do international awards truly make us feel special and on top of the world? What we should really ponder on is the fact that every era has a certain bunch of people producing a certain kind of work that sets the standards for that period. Just because the year 2008 was a revelation of sorts doesn't mean that yesterday we were not good!"

A general consensus between all of those spoken to has been that the execution of ads in India has improved considerably, resulting in better crafted campaigns.

The effect of the economy

It is a well known and unanimously accepted fact that the Indian economy was booming for quite sometime and that multinationals have been increasingly eyeing and setting up shop in the sub-continent. Does this have a relationship with the Indian creativity increasingly coming to the forefront?

Arvind Sharma, chairperson, Leo Burnett India, clarifies, "A number of local and international influences have contributed to this progress. It all began with liberalisation of the Indian economy. Liberalisation increased the level of competition and made marketers look for more creative advertising that could differentiate their brands in the market place."

He adds, "Liberalisation also helped the entry of international agencies in India, exposing Indian talent to new possibilities. Fragmentation of media and rising media costs made it further imperative for marketers to take risks with fresher ideas. Of course, over time, participation in international award shows kindled the passion in Indian creatives to do better work and win golds and Grand Prix."

On the same note, KS Chakravarthy aka Chax, national creative director, DraftFCB Ulka, says, "India being in the economic limelight off late has certainly helped make international panellists look at work coming out of India with greater interest and involvement - I somehow don't see the same campaign themed 'Lead Tunambia' doing quite so well."

Thapar, on the influx of a large number of MNCs and the effect they have on awards, maintains, "The only plus point here is that when we do work on known brands, it is easier for the jury to relate with them. They too are humans and buyers of products and brands. So, when the name rings a bell, the familiarity helps. It's a good starting point to evoke a comfort feeling as compared to relatively lesser known local brands."

Joshi adds, "We are witnessing a meeting point. It is a point at which the western interest for understanding India better meets the Indian urge to go global. The international fraternity is trying to understand us better, certainly because of our economic supremacy over the years. They want to do business with the sub-continent. Also, the Indian consumer is getting a global sensibility due to exposure through the media."

According to Nair, the rest of the world has got to know India better over the years. Therefore, the fact that India is not just a land of snakes and elephants is finally being recognised.

On the contrary, Xavier feels that the Indian market does not figure anywhere as a criteria to make an ad award winning. He feels most of them are judged on pure creativity.

Jury Duty

Along with the number of awards won over the years, Indians have been increasingly chairing most of the major awards. While Joshi was the president of the Outdoor jury at Cannes and Senthil Kumar a part of the Radio jury at same event this year, there are various other ad stalwarts such as KV Sridhar, Santosh Padhi, Meera Sharath Chandra, Sajan Raj Kurup, Sonal Dabral, Debu Purkayastha, Ashish Chakravarty and Emmanuel Upputuru, among others, who have chaired some of the major awards. Are they making life easy for the Indian creativity while it's getting represented abroad?

Chax says, "More Indian jurors on international panels have helped bring about a cumulative change in getting jury members to look at our work with a slightly better understanding of our cultural hot spots."

Justifying the Indian influence with the example of the Cycle Agarbatti campaign (which won a bronze in the Radio Lions category this year), Nair asserts, "India is filled with textures and diverse cultural nuances. Our communication and advertising uses this - and rightly so. If these nuances get lost in translation, it always helps for an Indian jury member to explain the context. Else, a great idea will not be as appreciated as it should be."

According to Xavier, often a quick clarification can get the rest of the jury to give our work a second look.

However, Joshi throws in a word of caution and says that the composition of the jury members is an important aspect. "Otherwise, a lot of our work such as 'Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola' will never be understood and appreciated. After all, translations cannot do justice and this is the biggest irony of a creative person," he sighs.

Interpreting Indian nuances

Of late, a number of Indian ads that have won at the international platforms have been rich in the local Indian content, including the parlance and locales. Lead India and Happydent are some of the most illustrious examples. So how hard is it to interpret the prerogatives of an Indian politician or the Maharaja and his sprawling Mahal?

An apprehensive Thapar says, "When work is based on a very typical local market insight, understanding our culture and values help. However, ideas that come from broader insights work well in any which way and it is not necessary for one to understand the particular market. Even in the past, when our work has been good - we have won. I really wonder if this is one of the main reasons. To me, we have learnt and improved with time and that is the key."

However, Xavier totally rubbishes all such beliefs and says, "The fact that juries abroad understand Indian nuances better is a myth. Even the few that do pander to their 'tourist' sensibilities."

Joshi feels that at the end of the day, the work delivered should have some global standards. He cites the example of the Happydent ad and says, "While the story of the Maharaja was an Indian story, the hyperbole and the exaggeration was something that people all over could identify with and understand. This put the ad on a truly global platform."

As far as the road ahead for Indian advertising and its share of the metals of the world is concerned, Sharma sums it up and says, "Where do we expect to go from here? Becoming one of the 10 biggest award winning markets in the world will be our next obvious milestone. As a country that is home to the second largest population in the world, we cannot possibly settle for less."