N. Shatrujeet

"Burnett India should be the clear No. 2 if not the No. 1 in 12 months"

Linda Locke, regional creative director, Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific, speaks about Burnett India’s recent creative achievements, and the set of the creative sail at Burnett India

There's little doubt that the Leo Burnett network is showering a lot of attention on Leo Burnett India these days. Justifiably so, considering Burnett India has achieved quite a few distinctions, creativity-wise, within the network over the past year or so. The Indian agency's sixteen 7+ scores (based on Leo Burnett Worldwide's highly regarded internal creative rating process) in the first three quarters of 2003 alone serve as a pointer. Add to this the fact that Burnett India is among the finalists for Leo Burnett Worldwide's Global Agency of the Year award, and it's easy to see why the Indian agency is, pardon the weak pun, the apple in the network's eye.

Small wonder, the agency had a couple of senior-level creatives from the Asia-Pacific region visiting its Mumbai office yesterday, and holding meetings and creative workshops through the day. The executives on the whistle-stop tour were Linda Locke, chairman/executive creative director & regional creative director, Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific, and Yasmin Ahmed, executive creative director, Leo Burnett Malaysia. Taking time out of her busy schedule, Locke spoke to agencyfaqs! about the purpose behind her visit to India, and the set of the creative sail at Burnett India.

"The reason I am here is very simple," she begins. "Post liberalization, India is growing exponentially, and this country is clearly taking off in terms of business environment and opportunity." Clubbing India with China and Korea as three of the most promising countries in the region for doing business, Locke adds, "The sheer size of the market here shows there is opportunity to grow, and with growth comes the need for advertising and the need for creativity in advertising." She also points out that the world has come to recognize India's creative capabilities in advertising. Citing Piyush Pandey's (group president & national creative director, O&M India) appointment as Jury President for the 2004 Cannes Advertising Festival (Locke incidentally sees Pandey's appointment as an accolade for not just India but the whole of Asia), she says, "The Leo Burnett network feels there is a big spotlight on India. We want to do India proud, and we're here to push our Indian team to the pinnacle of creativity."

If there's a need to push the Indian team to the pinnacle, it follows that there exist rough edges and problem areas. For Locke and the network, Indian television commercials need some amount of fixing. "India has always been strong in print, but television is something you have to work on a lot more," she says. "There is a lot of emphasis on television these days, and it also happens to be one of the most important categories at Cannes. South America, which shares a similar ethos and business environment to India, produces good work in print and television. It's now India's time to make a big leap in film."

To Locke's mind, the problem with Indian commercials extends to almost all departments of filmmaking - scripting, casting, production… "You need to keep your ideas simple," she enumerates the solutions. "You need better production timelines to allow for finer crafting. You need to grow directorial talent. You need to inspire and educate clients to look at the quality of the craft. And you need much better casting." Interestingly, Ahmed, who accompanied Locke on this visit, shared her learnings on the process of better filmmaking with the Indian team through much of yesterday.

Lifting the level of the craft is the real challenge, Locke feels. "I saw a lot of the work that is being created in this agency today, and let me tell you there is no shortage of ideas," she avers. "Eighty-five per cent of what I saw had good ideas. It only needs a focus on crafting. A tweak here, a little nudge or a push there, and we could improve the same work by 10 to 40 per cent. It is the crafting that takes an ad from a decent 5+ to a desirable 7+." (For the benefit of those who can't make sense of this, 7+ is a rating scale that the network's Global Product Committee uses to evaluate every piece of work produced by the agency every quarter. An ad that gets a 7+ score (on a scale of 1 to 10) is deemed worthy of credit - and usually ends up winning acclaim at international award shows. 7+ is the Burnett standard, to state the obvious.)

That explains why Burnett India is so thrilled with the 16 pieces of work that have clocked 7+ scores this year so far. (The work that has hit 7+ scores includes ads for Sanctuary Magazine, Tide, Benetton, Hitachi, Darna Mana Hai, Senso Italian seafood festival, Himalaya Throat Drops and Diet Coke - the last two created by sibling Orchard Advertising.) But the real flush of success for the Indian agency is that in the process, it has become the Burnett agency with the maximum number of 7+ scores in the region. "India is currently at the top in the Asia-Pacific, and I am very happy with the performance," Locke smiles. "I set them a target of 10 for the year, but they've already managed 16 in just three quarters."

Locke particularly likes the ad for Senso Italian seafood festival. "It has subtle humour, it has insight. It was perfect… a clear 8+," she says. The ‘bar graph' ad for Sanctuary Magazine ("I've seen lots of ads with a tiger's stripes in it, but this one was different, dramatic and elegant"), the Tide campaign, the Himalaya Throat Drops outdoor campaign ("an ambient guerrilla campaign perfect for the product"), the Hitachi ‘bill' commercial ("it just grows on you") and the ‘power failure' film for the National Association for the Blind are the other pieces of advertising from Burnett India that have appealed to her.

Sixteen 7+ scores in three quarters is great. Topping the network's regional charts, outstanding. But within India, the test for Burnett (or any agency, for that matter) lies in breaking O&M's near-hegemony over the Abbys, the local creative barometer. Yes, O&M has a much bigger basket of clients, but an agency needs just two or three great campaigns to tilt the balance, a fact even Locke concedes. While Burnett was the No. 2 to O&M at the 2002 Abby Awards, this year, it slipped to a joint fourth position behind O&M, McCann-Erickson India, Enterprise Nexus and Mudra Communications.

Locke agrees that Burnett India has its work cut out. "I think we admitted that we had to correct some things, and that was the first big step," she says. "We've now got a national-level executive creative director in KV Sridhar, and I have faith in him to lift the game. I want Burnett India to be Indian and to be fresh in all the advertising it does." And yes, she is mindful of where she wants the Indian agency to be, creative-wise, in the near future. "In India, Burnett India should be the clear No. 2 if not the No. 1 in the next 12 months. And it should have a much stronger showing at Cannes, the AdFest (the Asia-Pacific Advertising Festival) and overall, in the Gunn Report. And we will achieve all this," she assures. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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