Shreyas Kulkarni

Is a Cannes Lion still the benchmark for creative leaders?

As one can get creative and career-high from many other spaces nowadays, has the Lions' might come under threat?

The Cannes Lions metal was the marker of creative excellence, heralding its holder and their advertising agency as masters of creativity. Spotting a Lions at an agency office would often lure aspiring advertising folk to interview there in the hopes of working on a campaign that’d win that coveted metal in the French city.

Is the Lions’ pull still a potent force? Today, one can get a creative and career-high from many spaces – a creative side hustle, an influencer gig alongside your day job, a LinkedIn top voice tag, winning and leading a cool big account.

We (afaqs!) called up a few creative chiefs to ask them about the relevance of Cannes Lions today versus when they started their careers, and how it stacks up against these diverse avenues to satiate the hunger for a creative high.

Josy Paul, chairman and chief creative officer, BBDO India

Josy Paul
Josy Paul

It’s a bit like climbing Mount Everest. You are trying to push yourself to the limits of advertising creativity, to see where you and the brand stand in the world. And you do it again and again to see how far you can go. You want to see how your work influences the world.

There’s no comparison. Cannes Lions is like winning at the Olympics. Everything else is like winning in a local colony competition.

Santosh Padhi, chief creative officer, Wieden+Kennedy

Santosh Padhi
Santosh Padhi

As a creative head, my role now involves managing clients, ensuring agency growth, and maintaining culture, whereas 25-30 years ago, my focus was solely on creating. Despite these responsibilities, Cannes Lions, or creative glory, remains important.

Your industry peers giving your work the tick and saying ‘Your brilliant piece of work has inspired me’ is needed.’ Without it, advertising will become a cold, clinical sector.

Our advertising aesthetics have significantly evolved over the past three decades. We’ve witnessed several examples of brilliant storytelling; if we hadn’t practised, we’d have been far behind our global peers. We are still behind, but I think there has been an improvement compared to two decades ago. Somehow, I will give credit to the awards where craft, edginess, and bravery are being rewarded.

Two decades ago, we would celebrate a Cannes Lions shortlist.

On the other hand, if you become an influencer, I think that's a very different level of traction. One, if you're receiving appreciation from anyone, from your uncle or aunt from Ludhiana to an industry guy on LinkedIn, it is very different from some of the sorted guys in the industry coming from all over the world and applauding you.

I think winning a jury's heart is very different from winning a consumer's heart. At times, you may have a piece that does both jobs, but at times you may not. I would say the Shah Rukh Khan piece for Cadbury accomplishes both.

There is no comparison.

Vikas Chemjong, chief creative officer, Cheil India

Vikas Chemjong
Vikas Chemjong

While work is a reward in itself, external validation is always welcome, especially of a kind that roars. From a time when a nomination meant a ‘hangover’ for an agency, to today when India wins a fair share of gold and the ‘Grand Prix’, the Indian advertising industry has come a long way.

And one of the main reasons for this creative leap forward has been the award shows. Where else would the best creative professionals come together to showcase their work, discuss it, judge it, improve it, share it, and reward it?

I shudder at the thought of what the work would look like today if it were not for the shows… There wouldn’t be a roar… just a whimper.

Harshad Rajadhyaksha, chief creative officer, Ogilvy India

Harshad Rajadhyaksha
Harshad Rajadhyaksha

The most telling answer to this question is not to be found with me or those with as many advertising years against their name. The answer is out there with the freshest minds, the Gen Z creatives, the newest chapter in our industry.

I believe that the desire to walk up those steps to Cannes stage glory has not diminished one bit from the time my peers and I were in their shoes. The Cannes Lions have retained their position as the ‘Oscars of advertising’, evolving as a constant benchmark of creativity for newer generations too.

Every year or two, we see a reflection of this evolution not only in the kind of new-age work categories that Cannes Lions introduces but also in the type and quality of sessions that the creative community benefits from. It continues to transform a creative person in the most meaningful way, to keep pushing the boundaries of what the world expects.

Every new business win, every social media accolade, every promotion, and every side gig for a creative person are all relevant spotlights that bring healthy satisfaction. However, none of these can match the inspirational and emotional high, and spur them on to push our profession ahead like winning a shiny Lion at Cannes can do.

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