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Cannes 2003: Implications for India - Part II

By , agencyfaqs! | In | July 01, 2003
What does the preponderance of Indian entries in the Public Service category say about our advertising?


(Continued from yesterday)

(In the first part of the article yesterday we saw how India's inability to showcase breakthrough ideas in television resulted in a poor showing in the Film shortlist at Cannes. In the concluding part of the article today we examine the factors that could have contributed to so few nominations in Film.)

Pops (KV Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India) isn't in the least bit surprised that India had so few nominations in Film. "When viewed in isolation, Center Shock and Mirinda are good commercials, but pull back and you will see that they are not in the same league as the ads for Fevicol, Forte India, Ericsson and The Times of India from three years ago. Those ads defined Indian ad films, while the new ones don't. I can't think of a single Indian TVC that deserved to be in this year's shortlist. My feeling is that we haven't been progressing much in film for the past two years, and that is a learning." He adds this is a cause for real concern as "today, 90 per cent of relevant and authentic theme advertising by mainline brands in India happens on TV. Television should become a creative showcase for India. One-offs in print will not get us far." Pops does, however, agree that the 29 nominations in Print and Outdoor is "significant, which shows that a section of the industry is moving up".

No one disputes the imbalance in India's Print-is-to-Film ratio. "I am not too aware of the kind of work India entered in Film this year, but it seems we do have our work cut out for next year," says Sean Colaco, creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi India. His prescription: work a lot more on humour that is close to India, and is yet universal in appeal. "A lot of the work that comes out of Bangkok, for instance, has our type of humour, but it works well among Cannes juries too. We'll have to try and do something like that in our commercials."

One reason put forward for India not doing too well in Film is the sheer competitiveness in the category, and the jury's predilection for familiar brands. "Even an average idea for Ikea will get noticed a lot more than an average idea for a Peacock Chairs because Ikea has an award tradition, and is a known brand," points out Manish Bhatt, creative director, Publicis Ambience. "The jury will take a lot more pain to understand known brands, and local brands from India are at a disadvantage." Vikram Gaikwad, creative director, Leo Burnett India, has a totally different take on this. "Film screening is a nightmarish affair. The whole day the jury watches one 30-second commercial after another. There is no possibility of going back and analyzing a commercial in detail, like in Print. How can one expect every ad to be remembered by the jury when it sees 500 commercials at a stretch? Naturally, only those ads that have truly great ideas or executions get noticed." Going by this line of reasoning, one can only say there weren't many great film ideas or executions from India.

A criticism leveled at many of India's nominations and winners (in Print, Outdoor and Film) is the preponderance of ads in the Public Service category. More than a third of the 29 nominations in Print and Outdoor were public service/social awareness ads. Of the four Lions in Print and Outdoor, three were for public service ads (for the Cancer Patients Aid Association), while only one (Coke) was for a mainstream advertiser. India's Film shortlist too had a clear public service tilt. Critics are shouting themselves hoarse, pointing out that India is totally dependent on "ads that very few within the agency have seen" for Lions. "What are we crowing about?" growls one senior vice-president. "Our wins for Ericsson, Fevicol and Coke count. Those for anti-smoking and saving the ozone layer don't. I'm not talking about effectiveness at all. All I am saying is, how many of your friends and relatives have seen half of the work that was nominated?"

We're teetering precariously at the edge of the scam ads debate. Without going into the irreconcilable issues that tail such advertising, suffice to say that the Cannes nominations in Public Service aren't necessarily frowned upon. "I don't see any harm in sincere public service advertising, as long as it pushes the creative envelope," says Pops. "From the agency's point of view, NGOs are often less rigid and more amenable to good creative ideas, which allows for better advertising. And this, in turn, has an effect on mainline clients, and the kind of work you do across the board. Singapore and Thailand have been driven by public service advertising, and there's great hope and scope for it in India too." Bhatt too feels that one-off public service campaigns are okay, "as that's what makes the jury look at you. And the more they look at you, the more they notice the good ideas in your mainline advertising." Look at it as R&D, if you must.

Criticism and disappointments notwithstanding, the general feeling is that Indian advertising has arrived. "Whatever one might say, we have to admit that Indian advertising has been acknowledged, and that is good news for us," says Gaikwad. "India has made a mark, no doubt about that," Bhatt agrees. "We have proved that we are good, but we have to get into categories where the competition is really hot to prove that this year was not a fluke. We have to keep this year's 29 nominations in mind and plan things."

Colaco puts the whole thing in perspective when he says, "When an advertising legend like Dan Wieden comments on the Coke campaign and says that our work is rocking, I think it speaks for itself. Indian advertising has a lot to look forward to." And no, it's got nothing to do with hankering for acclaim from the West. It's only got to do with respected and talented advertising professionals acknowledging that we have something good going here. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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