N. Shatrujeet

Cannes 2004: India's showing draws mixed response

The question that has been nagging many Indian ad professionals is whether the country’s performance at Cannes has registered a dip. The opinion is sharply divided

With the Cannes International Advertising Festival 2004 having come to a close at the Palais des Festivals last weekend, India's metal tally reads four Bronze Lions. Of course, as is very often the case, scorecards reveal only half the story. However, despite the inequity of the thing, history always refers only to the final score sheet, and the finer details tend to dissolve into the grey of oblivion.

In that context, the 24 nominations India had in this year's Press and Outdoor categories or the four shortlists it had in Film - or a near miss in one sub-category or another - get reduced to mere statistics, to be quickly relegated to some little-accessed cellar of number-led trivia. In the final analysis, all that will count is four Bronze Lions.

Pretty naturally then, the question that has been nagging many Indian advertising professionals over the last week is whether the country's performance at Cannes has registered a dip. The opinion, as we shall see, is sharply divided, but let's have the facts (or should we say statistics?) first. The feeling that Indian advertising could have fared better is largely based on the upswing in the nation's performance (fortunes could be a better word here, as many anyway see award shows as a lottery) at Cannes over the past two years. Last year, particularly, was a watershed, with the Indian contingent returning home with three Gold Lions, two Silver Lions and one Bronze Lion. Relatively speaking, this year's haul of four Bronze Lions looks puny.

"Poor show… We've got to up the pressure on ourselves in the coming months," Josy Paul, country head & national creative director, rmg david, is clearly among those who see India on a slide at Cannes. If Paul indulges in plain speak, Agnello Dias, executive creative director, Leo Burnett India, is almost brutal in his assessment. "I think India has performed poorly at all (international) shows this year," he says. "Part of the reason is atrocious mainstream work passing off under the guise of ‘Indian' advertising. All those who say Cannes doesn't understand our advertising may please explain why Latin America, Japan and Eastern Europe continue to dominate."

Ramanuj Shastry, senior creative director, McCann-Erickson India, touched upon a similar point while reporting for agencyfaqs! from Cannes last week. Shastry had urged Indian advertising to awake from "our complacent slumbers" and do "some serious soul-searching". Specific to the work from India, he had written, "What is most frightening is that we do not have a voice."

"Look at the Thais. We can learn from them. The Thai films are so unabashedly… Thai. They are not embarrassed about poking fun at themselves, and are utterly unafraid of the slapstick. They are proud to be loud. And the world is loving it! We, on the other hand, are trying to second-guess the award jury. Trying to second-guess the trends. Trying to find a pattern. And that is the death of creativity. We are trying Yank humour, Brit humour but what about ‘Indian humour'. Isn't there something out there which is ‘us'?" Shastry had argued. Speaking of Thai advertising, it would be pertinent to note that Thailand picked up two Gold Lions in Film for the Soken DVD and UNIF Green Tea commercials.

Another sore point is of course India's continuing dependence on the Public Service sub-category to make a dent at Cannes. Of the seven Indian entries that had been nominated in Press, four carried public service/social awareness messages for NGO clients. In the Outdoor category, of the 17 shortlisted entries from India, while four were directly for NGOs, six were for mainstream clients and brands - with themes centered at social awareness and safety. And two of the four Lions that India won this year were for social awareness ads.

The feeling that is increasingly gaining ground is that the mainline work isn't pushing the envelope enough. And while public service advertising may be seen as ‘honing the craft' and ‘R&D' by some, the perceived inability to take that ‘craft' to mainline advertising rankles. "If you take off all that public service advertising over the last three years, India's glorious surge on the world stage is going to look rather tragically like the ‘India Shining' campaign," says Dias.

For all the criticism being heaped on Indian advertising in the context of Cannes, there is a section of opinion that doesn't agree with that line of thought. "I think we are doing just fine," says Prasoon Joshi, national creative director & executive vice-president, McCann-Erickson India. "It helps that we are more at ease with Cannes. Yes, we want to win, but the desperate desire for approval has reduced. In a nutshell, we have matured." Joshi has a point, perhaps. Even though some of India's shortlisted entries didn't end up in the winners' lists (Lowe's ‘waiter' film for Saint-Gobain, for example), there is a tacit understanding locally that the ad is really good, never mind the fact that the jury there didn't think it was up to the mark.

Paradoxically, it is the disappointment over seeing good work go unacknowledged that hurts the most. "Would have loved to have seen more metal for India," admits Sumanto Chattopadhyay, senior creative director, O&M India. His thoughts are mirrored by Shastry, who wrote, "India bagged three Cannes Bronzes (in Press and Outdoor). And if you ask me, at least a couple of them should have been Silver when you see the kind of work that has bagged Gold and Silver." Burnett India's Bronze-winning entry for Senso Restaurant is one that many feel was worthy of a Silver Lion, for instance. And, of course, the Saint-Gobain entry not winning was a big letdown.

"Yes, the entire Indian contingent is a bit disappointed that the Saint-Gobain film didn't win, as it was clearly the best in the category," said KV Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India, speaking to agencyfaqs! immediately after the results in Film were announced. "But I am happy the Saatchi entry (for Sony Handycam, which won a Bronze) has been received well. It was a simple idea and deserved to win." Sridhar, incidentally, is of the opinion that none of India's entries this year were in contention for top honours. "Having seen all the work, I don't think any Indian work deserved a Gold. Yes, one could say we should probably have got a few Silvers and a few more Bronze, but that is all a relative assessment."

Relativity and subjectivity are ultimately the cornerstones of any award ceremony. "This is a subjective business," Sridhar reminds. "Also, a lot depends on the kind of competition you are up against. Before coming to Cannes a lot of us thought the ‘Mountain' film for Sony PlayStation 2 was the favourite (it eventually did win the Grand Prix), but once we saw the ad for Argentine Airlines, most of us fell in love with its simplicity. Some years, even mediocre work will win because the competition was poor. In some others, great work will be outstripped by even greater work. The competition and the jury are beyond your control, so you are bound to have good years and bad years."

Which is why Sridhar would rather not have us look too severely at this year's four Bronze Lions - especially in the light of last year's showing. "The last two years were exceptional, so people are a bit disappointed with the four Bronze Lions, which is natural," he says. "But look at it this way; we had some 30 finalist nominations across categories, which is almost the same as last year. This shows India is on the move, because consistency is what is important. Piyush (Pandey) was telling me that there is a category in which the US did not have a single Gold Lion this year. It is such a big country and does so much good work, but it too had a bad year in that particular category. I think this puts our performance in perspective."

"As long as we have 25 to 30 finalists and convert four to six of them into metal, it is good for now," he concludes. "It proves we have a width of ideas and work. I think even being a finalist at Cannes is pretty prestigious, as it shows your entry was one of the dozen or so best ads in a category that could see anywhere between 300 to 400 entries." © 2004 agencyfaqs!

Have news to share? Write to us atnewsteam@afaqs.com