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Guest Article: Josy Paul: From the Gutter to the stage - A Cannes diary

A retrospection of the memorable experiences at Cannes 2012, and the optimism about India's performance at Cannes in the years ahead.

Ideas have no geography. They can come from anyone, anywhere. Cannes Lion 2012 stands testimony to this. The winners were from the most unexpected places. From Tunisia and Costa Rica, Sri Lanka and Lebanon and from new places I hadn't heard of before.

Josy Paul

Big ideas win big

The film for Canal + was outstanding. The film 'Dads in briefs' for BGH air conditioners was brilliant. So was 'Three little pigs' for The Guardian. Then there's the big winner in Media and Direct Lions - The idea of the 'Book burning party' which helped save the local library and got more government funds. The 'Push up bras for men' was hilarious. The big idea which won two Grand Prix was 'Small business Saturdays' by American Express.

These are some that come to mind immediately. There are countless more across 16 verticals. You can view all these ideas on the Cannes website. It's really inspiring! I noticed that this year, Cannes was more about big emotions and less about clever ideas; maybe because clever ideas talk to a few, while big emotions talk to everyone.

Sorry, the jury has no time

The jury this year was even more diverse than ever before. And to win, you had to impact the jury within 30 seconds, else it's all over. So only a big idea with a big universal human emotion with great execution stood a chance of winning something. India came into the festival with a lot of promise. After winning 24 metals last year, everybody expected us to do better. But we ended up with only 14 metals. There's a lesson here. May be we should just forget the past.

It's best that we don't study past patterns but create with total freedom and not with an eye on what wins at Cannes. Forget looking for formulas. Look within India. The more we respond authentically to our own Indian situation, the more unique our solutions will be, and greater the chances of the world loving our work. That's my humble submission. That's what I am saying to myself.

Inspiring stuff, significant moments

I had many memorable moments at Cannes, starting with seeing our work shortlisted in the exhibition halls, hearing about our metal wins, and witnessing President Clinton speak about shared empowerment. I enjoyed the friendly banter between Jeff Goodby and his GM client on stage. I was wowed by the breathtaking young directors' showcase. It was awesome to listen to Alain de Botton talk about the three big needs of human beings: friendship, freedom and reflection. Then there were the open BBDO sessions with David Lubars, Marcello Serpa, Paul Brazier, Greg Hahn and other creative legends.

It was a heartfelt dinner with our P&G clients at a beautiful setting in Juan Les Pins outside Cannes, where I made new friends. The award shows every evening were the jewel of Cannes, and I enjoyed them all. I learnt not to be complacent but think big, fly free, but plan in advance. The nights at the Gutter Bar were like a confessional box with everyone pouring their hearts out, where excessive drinking created new friends and honest feedback. But my greatest moment at Cannes this year was when I went up on stage to speak.

From the Gutter Bar to Cannes stage

My personal big moment was being a speaker at Cannes alongside the legendary creative leaders of BBDO and advertising's most celebrated heroes. As an agency, we had decided that we would not focus on ourselves but shine the light on someone else's work. I chose Mumbai Mirror's 'I am Mumbai' after studying all the ad films from India. I felt that it would resonate with the diverse audience at Cannes because it was based on a big universal human emotion.

The session proved to be more touching than I imagined. After my presentation, I had so many people come up to me and thank me for sharing the 'Mumbai Mirror' work and giving them a deeper understanding of the film and the cultural codes of the city. The road from the Gutter Bar to my hotel was full of well-wishers and cheering delegates.

I never realised that 'sharing' can be so powerful. No wonder Facebook is such a super hit. May be in the eyes of the world, the guy who shares and gives meaning to the work is equal to the guy who creates the work. May be 'sharing' is what makes us equal.

When the film won a gold in Craft, I felt like I had won. Cheers to Taproot and RDP Productions for creating the work. Their film spoke for itself. It's all about that one big human emotion, isn't it?

Looking forward

I think we should focus on the positive. We know we have some fantastic talent in India. And our best work is among the best in the world. So we should focus on being more of who we are. Festivals like Cannes allow us to exchange art and culture, and in time we will understand more of the world, and the world will understand us better. I am confident this will lead to greater Indian performance at Cannes. I am optimistic.

(The author is chairman and national creative director, BBDO India)

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