When it comes to Cannes, Thailand walks away with more awards than India. A report by an industry watchdog says that Indian advertising will take at least 15 years to reach the level of South Korea.
Is Indian advertising globally relevant? Can we create world-class advertising?
Questions all the more important, when one out of six people on earth is an Indian. A question that sharply divides the advertising community as was evident at the Business Today-sponsored 'Crossfire', held on August 17, at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel. The topic of discussion: "Advertising in India: Are we a relevant global player?"
"Who cares? How does it matter? Advertising should be relevant to the client and to the product. Look at MTV. When they began, they did not air Hindi songs, and they failed. Now that they have incorporated Hindi film songs, they have beaten CHannel [V]. The content must be relevant to the audience. They (audience) alone count," asserted Kiran Khalap, founder and managing director, Chlorophyll, Mumbai. Sandeep Goyal, Group Broadcasting CEO, Zee Network, disagreed sharply, "If a Chinese film like Crouching Tiger can be appreciated by audiences worldwide, then Indian films too will be, in due course. And look at the Japanese. Wherever they have gone, their advertising agencies have gone with them."
With a different culture, and a different audience, how important is it that Indian advertising be relevant globally? Must advertisers create films for the panel at Cannes or for those in Indian drawing rooms or in the far-flung villages?
"It is the client that is important, and many Indian ads do not make sense for the Western audiences, or the international juries at Cannes. But that does not mean that they are not relevant. They are relevant to the client, and to the product, and that is what matters at the end of the day," said Preeti Vyas Giannetti, director, Vyas Giannetti Creatives.
It is a contention, which in a way, has been endorsed by the global advertising community. Brazilian, Thai and Japanese advertising, that often make it to the list of honour, are created for local audiences. The attitude is one of "Who cares?" Analysts say that one reason could be that both Japan and Thailand were never colonised and thus do not have to address the dichotomy of a foreign language and a language being used to communicate to very different cultures. But such an argument does not make it clear why Brazil, colonised by the Portuguese and whose language is Portuguese, is still able to create great advertising. And both Japan and Thailand, though never colonies, have felt the immense impact of Westernisation.
Economic conditions seem favourable for the globalisation of the Indian advertising industry. Already, most of the top agencies have tie-ups with international agencies, and with more liberalisation, it seems there will be more cross-border exchange of people and ideas. And then there is India itself as a brand value, "Basmati is sold on the Indian brand value, just as champagne sells on the brand value of the Champagne district in France," pointed out Goyal.
John Philip Jones, professor of communications at the Syracuse University, had the last word. "Of course, there are differences between an Indian and a Western audience. But, I would say, there are a lot more similarities. At the end of the day, advertising deals with emotions, and these are universal."
In other words, as all agreed at the 'Crossfire' platform, one can see Indian advertising agencies tying up and riding to success on the back of international clients, or see the globalisation of the economy as the first step towards a day when Indian advertising will also be part of the international hall of fame. It's all a matter of point of view.
(Incidentally, the subject of the Business Today seminar was also one that agencyfaqs! featured last month as a two-part series. To find out what Ajay Chandwani of SSC&B, Freddy Birdy of Mudra, Nikhil Nehru of McCann and Thomas Xavier of Orchard Advertising have to say on the subject, click here.)
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