Ajay Kakar
Jun 22, 2011

Ajay Kakar's blog: Day 2 and 3 - Cannes ahoy!

Ajay Kakar is chief marketing officer, financial services, Aditya Birla Group

Ajay Kakar's blog: Day 2 and 3 - Cannes ahoy!

The advertising fraternity believes that a client’s life is cushy. I am sure that sometime or the other during my 15 years at the agency side I too would have felt that “we do all the hard work while ‘he’ enjoys himself”.  But in my early days at the client end itself I quickly realized that the grass is greener on the other side.

I was booked to reach Cannes on Saturday, so that I could attend the festival from day 1. But work beckoned and I reached here a day late. Only to find many a friend from the agency side already well settled into the sun and beach routine, while discussing the break cum extended holiday he was going to enjoy on the way back to India. Wonder why the song “those were the days my friend…” comes to mind. Envy! Envy! Envy!

Let me pull back to my flight from Bombay. I was just entering the airport when a warm, friendly and familiar voice beckoned. It was my boss and mentor from Ogilvy, the one and only Piyush Pandey. The short flight to Dubai and a few hours in the lounge passed like a dream, in the company of the advertising guru. I was enjoying the road down memory lane, while remembering old friends and recounting events from my advertising days. Thanks, Piyush. A 6 odd hour flight from Dubai and we had landed in Nice.

A 40 odd minute drive brought me to my hotel. They say that you win some, you lose some. So while my hotel is a hop-skip-and-jump from the Palais, it is neither sea facing and nor is it on the revered Croisette.

Having learnt from my last visit, I combated my jet lag to go to the Palais and register myself in the evening itself, so that I could avoid the serpentine queue the next morning. Outside the haloed gates I met the Bates duo, Sagar and Dheeraj. And inside I bumped into Harish Vasudevan, an old colleague from Ogilvy, now based in Singapore. On reaching the hotel with my registration tag firmly in hand I fell asleep before my head could even touch the pillow. Only to wake up well past midnight and realize that I had not eaten a morsel since early afternoon. Though Cannes enjoys the reputation of being a happening place, it shuts down quite early. Being a pure vegetarian, I had to manage with a cold slice of pizza. And on the way back to the hotel I met Joy, my old friend and big man at ZEE, on his way back from the gutter bar.

The advertising festival at Cannes has now been rebranded as the festival of creativity. But some things still don’t change. The first question when you meet any familiar face remains, “Where are you staying?” While it appears a simple harmless question, wonder why it sounds as if it is your status and standing that is being measured.

On Day 2 of the festival (Monday) I reach the Palais before I can find the time to catch a bite for breakfast. Armed with my ID card, I head to attend the first seminar at the Debussy – a huge auditorium where all the seminars are held. On my way there, I bump into familiar faces, Arvind Sharma being the first one.

The morning session by BBDO promises to enlighten us on how to reach the next billion audiences and consumers. They share the findings of their detailed research conducted across USA, UK, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China.

People live behind different screens, consuming different content. The research aimed to understand individual behavior behind individual screens. And what it means for marketers. The research shows that the way the people use and relate to the 4 screens is very similar to psychological archetypes. A TV is like a friend and jester. The mobile is like a lover. The computer, like a sage. And the tablet, like a wizard. The research findings would like us to create and use content as per the archetype, for and across the screens. The recent Old Spice campaign was given as a good example.

Thanks to Kraft, the famous author Malcolm Gladwell was the day’s highlight. In anticipation of his address, there were long queues outside the auditorium and into the corridor. Malcolm started his talk by remembering that soon after graduation he had applied for a job at nearly every agency in Toronto. But he is yet waiting to hear back from all of them. His powerful talk impressed on us that being ‘first’ is over rated. And it is best to be the ‘3rd’. Rich with examples, he elaborated how the big and mighty Xerox hired the best talent and invested heavily in R&D at the Xerox Park. The company was great at inventing. But not in implementing. And Steve Job benefitted from this. What he observed at Xerox Park, he built on and bettered. And the rest, as they say, is history. Similarly, Facebook was to social media what Google was among search engines – not the first. But the best – because they learnt and improved on what the ‘first’ player had conceptualized. Malcolm believes that the formula to success is the Attitude, Hunger and Desperation of a person who follows the leader.

In the afternoon I sneaked out of Cannes to the Accenture Tech Labs, a 40 odd minute drive away for a closed-door session on ‘Everything you need to know to make social media work for you’.

I was back in the Palais in time for the Diageo (the name behind the famous brands like Smirnoff, Baileys, Guiness and Johnnie Walker) session. We heard about the need to persuade people to fall in love with our brands. While the world is changing rapidly, the fundamentals remain the same. FACE – the need for Flair (passion), Agility (because a good idea that you can’t execute is a bad idea), Consumer insight (finger on the customer’s pulse) and Execution (because you can’t take a great strategy to the bank).

And then it was time for the Awards night (the first of the 4). Promo & Activation, PR and Direct. My observations:

  • Thanks to the Times of India group, India remain well represented on every jury panel
  • We opened our tally - In Promo & Activation India won 2 Bronze (Mudra)
  • In PR we won 2 Silver (BBDO and Mudra)
  • Both the wins under PR were for work done by ad agencies
  • We did not win a single metal under Direct, a specialization that we have believed and invested in for over 2 decades

Post the awards ceremony Meera Chandra (now settled in London) and I enjoy an Indian meal at the Maharaja restaurant. Ravi Deshpande soon drops in, having been without Indian food for nearly a week.  While I walk towards my hotel post the meal, the advertising world has yet to reach 72 Croisette, aka the Gutter bar.

Day 3 – an all woman’s panel, discussing the man-woman equation in the advertising world. The famous Martha Stewart recounted her early days in Madison Avenue. She was asked to parade in a bikini, while auditioning for an ad. On realizing that the ad had nothing to do with a bikini, she walked out of the audition and the advertising industry.

The next speaker was from China. She believed that the women in advertising in China succeeded because they had less of an ego and were more adventurous. We then heard about life in the 80s when men got cigarette breaks, but not women. A suggestion for the fairer sex was to articulate what you want out of your career and then make it known to those who can make it happen.

Given that women represented more buying power than India and China put together, there was a business case for more women to join advertising and represent the needed diversity of thinking.

Later in the day we had ‘the’ Robert Redford, reiterating that content is king and the need to tell a story. The shutter bugs could not have enough, taking his pictures while I couldn’t get over the wrinkles on the face of this still-very-handsome actor. Robert spoke about the need to take risk and back an impulse. He went down memory lane – his early days when he got kicked out of college. And thanks to some money he had saved, he came to Europe and reached Cannes. With hardly any pocket in his money, he sat on the pier and dreamed about what life would be for those who lived at the Carlton hotel. Fate had something else in mind. 16 years later he was in Cannes with a film…and staying at the Carlton. “Keep taking risks, as if it’s your first time”, was his leave behind thought. On being asked what keeps him going, he gave a very tongue-in-cheek response – “Sex”!

The next seminar highlighted the potential and power of the mobile and sms, with an example of BBC Janala in Bangladesh. And mobile money in Kenya.

The Good Work session brought by YouTube spoke about the USD 450 billion adspend in 2010. And the need to share prosperity.

And then for the 2nd award night – Radio, Media and Outdoors. My observations:

  • The ipads have taken over the world. There was one being used, all around me
  • McCann won a Bronze in the radio category
  • A Gold and a Silver came to India in the Media category, courtesy Lodestar and Maxus, respectively
  • In Outdoors we won 2 Bronze and a Silver, thanks to BBDO, Sorrento Healthcare and Taproot, respectively
  • The Digital short lists were announced earlier in the day. And not even a short list from India
  • The medium has caught our attention and fancy. Having spoken about it for a while now, why have we yet to wait for international recognition for our work
  • Yeh dil maange more – much more

Now to make my list of what all I want to attend tomorrow…

Campaign India

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