Dentsu Webchutney won six Lions at Cannes last week - the maximum by any Indian agency this year - for work on Swiggy, Flipkart and Uri, the movie. None of the work was in the causevertising space.
"It is pertinent to mention here that all three campaigns, unlike the trend we usually see at Cannes Lions, from an Indian perspective, are far from 'Causevertising'. On the contrary, they were real, effective pieces backed by real client budgets that produced the core marketing metrics needed before having any award behind its name."
That statement was part of the celebratory press release issued by Dentsu Webchutney on the last day of the International Festival of Creativity at Cannes, last week. Two things about that statement struck us: firstly, the need to clarify that the winning work was backed by real client spends. The subtext here is loud and clear - the world of advertising awards continues to be plagued by scams, so much so that we've come to applaud the act of... not cheating. Secondly, the statement underscores the fact that the winning work can't be classified as 'causevertising', a virus that brand managers seem to have caught, collectively. In the context of global awards, some experts call this the 'Slumdog Syndrome' - content that highlights the bleak social reality of India tends to reinforce the notions international jurors have about our country.
Dentsu Webchutney's winning work, as the agency's communications team pointed out, is guilty of neither of these formulae. We spoke to the leadership at the agency about the work. On the subject of scam, Sidharth Rao, tells afaqs!, "It's a reality of the industry - not just of a medium. It's a bit of a missed opportunity from both ends. It goes both ways - marketers not providing opportunities and agencies not taking the opportunities provided by marketers. The fact is, we had the opportunity to do some real work and we're thankful for our clients who gave us the opportunity. It's in the best interest of the fraternity to try and generate real work for clients. There is a lot of real work from Indian agencies that can do well. For us, that was the real kicker."
"Agencies can only fight fake ads by creating genuine work. It does exist, but I genuinely think the industry can take a lot of heart in these two campaigns that have won a lot of metals. We encourage real work and if there is an idea, we look for a client who will be interested in it," says Prashant Gopalakrishnan, senior VP - client servicing, Dentsu Webchutney.
Gopalakrishnan also pointed out that there's a misconception that only causevertising wins awards. "What we have proved with the shortlists and this set of wins especially, is that we're right up there with how the judges and jury perceive us. I think, what made a difference is the kind of engagement an idea can bring to the table," he told us.
Rao is especially glad that a digital agency - as opposed to mainline creative agencies - has topped the charts for India this year. Calling this a "watershed moment" for the digital industry, Rao adds, "We've been watching from the sidelines all this while and in a way, it's our time. I'm just glad that it happened to be Webchutney showing the way. It's a milestone that one digital agency had to cross - it would've happened anyway, but I'm happy to see how Webchutney has catalysed it. You'll see more and more of this going forward."
It's not just Rao, Gopalakrishnan also shares this opinion saying, "Digital agencies have traditionally always come last. The line between mainline and creative agencies is blurring. Some of our clients at Chutney have given us both the mainline mandate and their digital mandate. Clients are going to be looking at agencies that give them marketing solutions. 'Integrated' is almost a given now."
Awards, though heralds of recognition and revenue, are not the main metric to gauge how well an agency is doing, Rao admits that "international recognition at a platform like Cannes is a massive tick box checked..."
He recalls, "We had modest expectations about what could happen. When the shortlist was unveiled, we figured we might be on to something..." And onto something they were.
The three campaigns that won Webchutney metals at the Cannes Lions awards this year were Swiggy's Voice of Hunger challenge, Flipkart's Hagglebot for their Big Billion Days sale and Code Name: Uri, an anti-piracy campaign starring Vicky Kaushal and Yami Gautam that was done for the film Uri: The Surgical Strike.
Swiggy's Voice of Hunger challenge required users to make weird sounds into their phone's microphone so that the Instagram voice note feature would resemble a particular food item. "In the first 3 or 4 hours of its release, everyone from the team to the client was overwhelmed with the response. We got about 150,000 individual native responses," Rao tells us.
We also spoke to PG Aditya, executive creative director at Dentsu Webchutney, who had more insights to share about the winning campaigns. He explains, "One interesting problem with the Voice of Hunger campaign is that Instagram doesn't give you any metrics within the DM folder because it's not a space that's been monetised. Also, there is no media property available within the DM, so all the work that we were doing with the voice clips was manual. All the voice notes had to be manually recorded into a microphone, so imagine doing that with almost a 150,000 voice notes!"
Thanks to the inflow of voice notes and an increase in engagement, Instagram blocked the campaign 11 times during its course.
Aditya further outlined that the smartphone screen, with the notes, had to be recorded and the notes themselves had to be recorded into a mic so they could be stored and used later. "On the face of it, Voice of Hunger sounds like an end-to-end technology idea, but actually, a lot of manual labour went into it," he admits.
A core team was constituted for less than ten days and their daily job was to listen to voice notes, respond to them, and take some of the funny ones to use in promos or on Swiggy's Instagram stories etc. Gopalakrishnan recalls, "During the initial days of the campaign going live, the team would be sitting in the conference room and trying various sounds. There would be all sorts of weird sounds coming from the room and there were times when people outside would wonder what was going on!"
We asked Aditya what Swiggy's brief to the team was and he replied with two words - 'social excellence.'
He elaborated, "On social media, there's no concept of a day-to-day type brief. You have a larger vision that you and your client aim for and a certain set of metrics that you set out to achieve in the next 3-6 months. It's up to the agency and creative team to find ideas that fit the larger vision of the brand. Voice of Hunger was the result of something like that."
One of Webchutney's writers, Benedict, was responsible for the idea behind the campaign and on Twitter. Webchutney posted a screenshot of the e-mail as a throwback post.
Another one of Webchutney's entries that won them 2 Bronze Lions was the Hagglebot AI that they designed for Flipkart's Big Billion Days sale. It was made in collaboration with Google and allowed users to bargain with a version of the Google Assistant in order to get the best deal while shopping.
Gopalakrishnan told us that the agency works closely with clients to give them real solutions to marketing challenges. He pointed out that a client like Flipkart competes with big names like Amazon. "There is too much clutter in that space and the festive season is the time when there is maximum clutter in the media. It's difficult for a brand, especially an e-commerce brand, to stand out when offers are flying everywhere. We said - we'll stand out by not making an offer. Hagglebot made sure the customer was engaging exclusively with Flipkart, despite ongoing deals elsewhere."
Gopalakrishnan emphasises on how real work has the ability to impact brand engagement saying, "Voice of Hunger and Hagglebot's win shows that real work can bring accolades as long as it is to the point and connects to the TG."
With Code Name: Uri, Webchutney took a stance against online piracy with a film starring Yami Gautam and Vicky Kaushal.
Aditya told us about the day of the shoot and how they were able to get the actors' time for only two hours. They contemplated a version that didn't involve the actors at all. "The entire turnaround time for the project was less than half a week. A fantastic decision that our ECD Aalap Desai took was to say 'no, let's try in the best way possible to ensure the film features the actors' because at the heart of the idea is that the film begins as something authentic and then there had to be a reveal. This made a huge difference to the creative product at the end."
Gopalakrishnan tells us that the agency closely watches technology and social media changes to find out how things are changing and how they can keep up. "Our team is young, thanks to the type of hiring we do. We have people who understand the medium (tech) and people who understand brands as well," he tells us.
"It (the win) gave us visibility and it's heartening to see. We've gotten congratulatory mails from potential clients as well. I believe it creates a benchmark about the potential of the agency. We hope it'll change the perception in the client's mind - what we're doing is not just to win awards, but to do effective work," says Gopalakrishnan about the conversations around the agency and their work.
In the future, Gopalakrishnan sees Webchutney collaborating with in-house creative agencies that clients might have. "For example, Swiggy has its own creative team. We don't compete with them; we're more like an extension of the team. They understand what needs to be done for the brand and everyone works towards the brand's objectives," he explains.
Both Aditya and Gopalakrishnan agreed that the biggest challenge in the Hagglebot program was pre-production (research in bazaars and writing scripts for the AI) and coordinating between the teams who were working out of different time zones (Indian time zone, Singapore time zone and Tokyo time zone.) "The Lion went to a technology-driven idea, but at the heart of it was a team that resolved to get along, no matter what, for four months. How large a task it was logistically, did not affect the output," says Aditya.
"There was an entire logic flow that the teams built to ensure that the consumer experience didn't get dropped midway. It looked at many isolations of what a consumer may say. We had to factor in lakhs of such iterations into the algorithm to make sure that the user experience didn't get spoilt," says Gopalakrishnan.
We asked Aditya about the insight behind the Hagglebot idea and he told us, "Bargaining in Asia and South East Asia is really common and there's a geographical significance to the idea. Hagglebot came from that insight, so it was logical that the core communications were approached from the same angle. To see that getting a lot of traction and win at Cannes is super encouraging."
We noticed that both Swiggy's and Flipkart's campaigns were based on voice. Aditya told us, "Voice solves for written literacy, which is a huge problem with a large part of the population. Voice is something we're passionate about because we believe there is a huge future in it."
We asked him about the emphasis in the press release on 'real, client-backed work' and he replied, "It's because we need to give our clients credit for this to be what it was, in terms of results and metrics. Both of these cases (Voice of Hunger and Hagglebot) worked at a marketing level before it worked at Cannes. Without their support, budgets, etc., the campaigns wouldn't have been in the same form that they are in right now. We haven't been lucky to have that happen to us with every piece of work that we thought was great. It was a win for both Webchutney and Webchutney's clients."