Ajay Kakar
Jun 28, 2011

Ajay Kakar's Blogs from Cannes

Ajay Kakar is chief marketing officer, financial services, Aditya Birla Group .This is a collection of his blogs from Cannes Lions 2011

Ajay Kakar's Blogs from Cannes

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…

Day 4: Of early days and late evenings at Cannes

Shortlist screenings. Shortlist exhibitions….  All of these going on, simultaneously, back to back, in different parts of the Palais. Not to speak of the opportunity to meet and network with like minded people from around the world… With no break in the official schedule for tea or lunch, what do you attend? And what do you miss? The days start early. The evenings never seem to end…and still, you find yourself short of time. You feel that you are missing out on one too many listening and learning opportunities.

Today there was no time for breakfast. And no time for lunch. Running between sessions, I had to keep my sugar levels going with an ice cream, thanks to the dispensing machine put up by Walls, in the waiting area.

The first session, courtesy MOFILM, had Jesse Eisenberg, the star of The Social Network. Made me relive memories from last year, when Mark Zuckerberg was here, on the same stage, in person. Interestingly, rather than dwell on his movies, Jesse spoke about a website that he had launched in 2006.  A wordplay site, OneUpMe.com attracts people who respond to a daily topic in an attempt to ‘one up’ each other with the cleverness of their response. Like a proud father describing his young one, Jesse spoke about the 300 odd responses that the site averages on a daily basis and the thousands of votes that come in, to the different takes on the topic of the day.
The audience was amused to learn that the hero of The Social Network who enacted the role of founder of Facebook was not on Facebook himself. “I am not part of any social network”, he said, with a naughty smile.

The other panelist shared the recent and interesting brand journey of the car giant, Chevrolet.  They initiated an interesting program, wherein they let a diverse creative community tell them what Chevy meant to them. It was amazing to see 3 of the films that emerged, brimming with personal memories, experiences and emotions.

And recently, the company has decided to capture the adventures and spirit of Chevy owners. Under the banner “Chevrolet route 66”, they have the producer of the Avataar look into a camera, inviting people to film their favorite drive and tell their stories. With a super offer that follows…upload your film. And the winning film will be aired during the Super bowl 2012. Wow! What an inspiration and offer for film makers from around the world, to come forward and have their experience and work displayed in front of the whole world! Crowd sourcing at its best. Makes you realize that a brand may not find it easy to own a community, but it can most certainly use it.
The next session was equally interesting and engaging. Thanks to Time Warner, we heard a session entitled “Thinking inside the box (The golden age of TV, Everywhere)”.

TV has 3 billion users worldwide. And still, we were made to recognize that the TV medium has just about scraped the tip of the proverbial iceberg. When we think of a TV, we think of the TV box. But with the growing accessibility of TV on the internet, and the internet on the handset, conventional TV screens are no more the only measure of the medium’s popularity. Your favourite show can now be seen across all platforms. So, as a marketer, you have more engaged users. And you have the power and technology to now make different users see different ads.

We had the chance to hear the views of 2 great content writers from the world of TV. David Simon opined that TV is now akin to a library on demand. It is no longer a matter of viewing by appointment. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter of The Social Network observed that the best of writing talent from movies and theatre was now coming to TV, thereby making the viewing even more compelling. He gave an example of how social networking has the power to actually drive TV ratings. He was interviewing Charlie Sheen on CNN and happened to tweet about it a few minutes before the show was shot, live. And in addition to the program’s loyal viewer base, his entire base of tweet followers was also viewing the show to see their favourite and controversial star on the screen.

The Google session reminded us that over 5 billion citizens of the globe now have a window to access information from around the world, in their language. When asked about the ills of the internet, the Executive Chairman of Google reminded us with a gleam in his eye of consumer led revolutions that have succeeded in toppling governments in some countries, while exposing them in others. He shared his belief that the internet has brought discipline for governments to be more transparent. He gave the example of Netflicks, which thanks to technology and analytics knows you well and can help you take a decision. And his leave behind thought for us? The power of “Yes” that gives you the power to believe that nothing is impossible. He believes that platforms like Google and Facebook will prove to be even more powerful, because others will learn how to build on and capitalize on them.

We next had the legendary Dr. Edward de Bono. With his old world charm and humour, he presented off the now-forgotten OHP (over head projector), with acetates on which he kept writing and doodling with a sketch pen. ‘What’s the biggest problem facing the world’, he asked. And before one could say ‘climate change’, he specified that it is ‘poor thinking’. He shared his belief that we have never been conditioned to use creative thinking to create value. And to elaborate on his belief, he shared an example of a small town who called on him for advice – every citizen taking and parking his car in the town square was making the down-town area very crowded. So, just as the town was proposing to install expensive parking meters, he suggested a simple law that all parked cars must keep their head lights on. So simple. That’s lateral thinking! A driver will want to return to his car quickly, before the car battery drains out. Problem solved.

De Bono sounded us off to the perils of EBNA thinking ie. Excellent, but not enough.

He left us with the thought that beware India and China, “When they start thinking, you can all go on a holiday.” And to demonstrate his belief, he gave an example of an Indian, who suggested that all parents should be given an extra vote on matters pertaining to the future of their country, because they have a selfish interest in the betterment of their country and society – their children’s future.

There were 3 disappointing sessions, soon thereafter.

RGA, the creative hot shop, chose to present a very inward thinking perspective on why and how they reorganize their agency every 9 years. Leo Burnett sharing their perspective that speaking to consumers is no longer adequate. Brands should speak to humans, in the language of the people.

They believe that all brands must ask themselves these 2 questions:

  • What is the human purpose of your brand?
  • What do people really want from your brand?

And the legendary Facebook, preferred to disappoint the audience by making a sales pitch on the power of their platform.

Today was the awards night for the Design, Press and Cyber categories. My observations:

  • Design was the only category so far, not to have an Indian on the jury panel
  • Mudra won a Bronze and 2 Silver, while TBWA won a Silver
  • The second Gold for India was won by an agency from Delhi, called Out of the box. Let no big agency ever believe that size matters
  • For some reason, there was no one from the agency present to receive this enviable award and honuor
  • An agency from Madrid won a Gold and also the distinction of bringing a dog on stage to receive their award
  • Under the Print category, Grey won 2 Bronze, while Mudra won one. McCann and Ogilvy won a Silver
  • Under Cyber, there were 42 Bronze winners announced, from across 10 countries. Alas, India did not win a single. In fact, India has not even a short list to its credit
  • While the metal tally so far appears to have taken us a bit ahead of our last year’s wins, perceptionally I believe we are well behind our potential
  • Mudra appears to be the most awarded Indian agency so far
  • For the final tally let’s await the last of the award nites on Saturday

Not too surprising to have the Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, announced as the Media person of the year. A $ 28 billion ad revenue speaks for itself,

The day ended on a high, with the by-now most sought after Times of India party. For all the Indians, the ghar ka khaana was most welcome. And with the bollywood music, the firangs had a great time too.

While I sign off for the day after writing this blog at 2.45 am, I am sure that the gutter bar overfloweth. Cheers! 

Day 5: Why does a client attend Cannes, an advertising festival?

McCann (Prasoon). BBDO (Josie). RK Swamy (Sundar). Bates (Sonal). Ogilvy gang (Xenobia, Sumanto, Keenu, Rajeev). GroupM (Dalveer). Leo Burnett.(Pops). Lintas Media (Lynn). Karishma Media (Sathya). Adclub (Bipin). Lodestar (Nandini). Team Mudra (Arijit, Sandeep, Bobby, Andy, Pratap, Aditya). Grey (Malvika). Creative Land Asia (Sajan Raj), TOI gang… with every passing day you spot more and more familiar faces from back home. The Indian advertising industry is well represented at Cannes. Out of the total 9000+ delegates from around 90 countries at the 58th international festival of creativity, at last count there were 179 registered participants from India.
The agency world is well represented, but can’t say the same about the Indian marketing/client fraternity. While I hear that some of them are here, haven’t spotted any, so far.

But I was happy to see more Indians in the Palais, this time, than years gone by. Guess the 57 Seminars, 20 Workshops, 28,828 award entries and 4 award ceremonies – all together, have managed to create the desired magical pull.

India has also been generous with the number of entries submitted for the awards. Am told that we have the 7th largest number of entries (have heard numbers ranging from 1173 to 1742). We will only know the total metal tally that India is going to take back home, by Saturday night. But it is heartening to see the wins coming in from diverse countries like China, Korea, Romania, Columbia, Tunisia and Peru.

Today the ‘town was painted red’, literally. Ogilvy was celebrating David Ogilvy’s 100th birthday today, at Cannes, in a big way. A red carpet was spread out along the length of the Croisette, right up to the steps of the Palais, with the words “What’s your inspiration” written at regular intervals. The legendary billboard of the Cannes festival, just above the steps, was replaced by a picture of David Ogilvy and the agency’s tribute to him. A befitting exception made by the authorities. Am told that a very large Ogilvy contingent from across the globe has gathered at Cannes to remember and salute the agency’s legendary founder. Among others, Miles Young, the Worldwide CEO and DO’s wife are also at Cannes.

Rather than do the routine synopsis of today’s sessions, want to address a question oft asked off me, “Why does a client attend Cannes, an advertising festival?”

To start with, I do not see Cannes as an advertising festival. I see it as the opportunity to observe and learn from the most creative and inspiring work that has happened around the advertising and communications world, from across the globe, in the last 12 months. Work that makes you think. Work that motivates you. Work that inspires you….irrespective of whether you are an agency or a client.

Also, while I am the first to acknowledge the invaluable role of our agency partners in creating our brands, I do believe that the best brands are built when the client and agency come together, to co create their joint dream for their brand. And towards this end, I do believe that the client should be by his agency partner’s side in their moments of learning, inspiration and pride.

On a personal note, I do know that I go back home brimming with ideas and learnings. And with renewed respect for the fraternity that, like a ‘mother-child’ relationship, helps give birth to and nurtures our brands. I also go back humbled with a reality check of how much more can and should be done on my brands. I always return home with a renewed determination and commitment to support my agency partners in their ideas and work.

Before I sign off for the day, an observation…or am I just imagining it…I spotted many many Indian tourists in Cannes this year. Don’t think I had spotted any, last year.

Day 6: Final day at Cannes Lions 2011

The 58th international festival of creativity is coming to a close. And it shows…today’s official agenda at the Palais started at a leisurely 10.30am. And closed by 4pm.  There was a fall in the audience within the auditoriums. There was a larger crowd outside the Palais and on the streets of Cannes.

All the delegates were looking forward to the last and most awaited awards night. In anticipation of the overwhelming crowd the doors of the Palais opened at 5.45pm for a ceremony that only began at 7pm. And the crowds had started lining up from well before 5pm, with everyone keen to get a good seat.

As always, the show started on the dot and the auditorium was packed, with many having to sit in the aisles and on the steps.

This year has been special. So far we have seen winners emerge from all over the globe, including first timers, like Bahrain, Serbia and Tunisia. Grand Prix winners include Romania, Korea and China.

Today’s awards night was reserved for the biggies – Film Craft, Film, Advertiser of the Year, Independent Agency of the Year, the newly introduced Creative Effectiveness Awards, The Integrated & Titanium Awards, the Lion of St. Marks, the Holding Company of the Year, the Network of the Year and the Agency of the Year. And the winners are…a few observations:

  • Film Craft – Nirvana + Ogilvy won a Gold for the best use of music
  • Film – a Bronze for JWT and Mudra
  • Film Production Company – the Top 10 were predominantly from USA and UK (one from Argentina)
  • The Advertiser of the Year was Ikea – having won 50 Lions in the last 20 years, this definitely came as no surprise
  • The Independent Agency of the Year – Wieden + Kennedy, Portland
  • The newly introduced Creative Effectiveness Award – this was contested by invitation, from among last year’s Lion winners, evaluated on the basis of business results. While there was an Indian on the Jury panel, regrettably there was no Jury member from India for this prestigious category. From among 10 contenders, there were 5 awarded a Gold. This included BBDO India’s work for Gillette, which held its own, along with McDonalds, Old Spice, HBO and Snickers
  • The Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness was won by Pepsico UK for its campaign for Walkers, entitled Sandwich
  • For the Integrated and Titanium categories, once again, there was no Jury member from India
  • The Integrated category saw a Gold awarded to Old Spice and Nike Football
  • The Integrated Grand Prix was won for Decode Jay, a very unique and intriguing book launch with Bing
  • The most coveted Titanium saw a Gold go to Volkswagen, for their speed camera lottery idea and to American Rom, the chocolate campaign that played up the national prestige and ego among Romanians. There was no Grand Prix awarded
  • The first Lion of St. Mark, awarded to Sir John Hegarty, for having served as an inspiration for the industry. Was very humbling to hear him give credit to his agency for this win, because “None of us is good as all of us”
  • The Holding Company of the Year was WPP, with Omnicom and the Publicis Groupe following
  • Given all its wins, was no surprise that the Network of the Year was BBDO, followed by Ogilvy and DDB

The Agency of the Year was ALMAP BBDO, Sau Paulo, just ahead of W+K Portland and BBDO New York

The announcements all over, the crowd and focus shifted to the beach opposite the Carlton Hotel for the Celebratory party. And in keeping with tradition, an elaborate fire display was the highlight of the evening. Though, from an Indian perspective, we see such displays every Diwali.
Before I sign off for this year, a few more observations:

  • India ended its tally with 4 Gold. Are we satisfied with that?
  • Our performance in the Direct, Cyber and Film categories remain disappointments
  • All the winning films seemed to follow the long (very long) duration format
  • People at Cannes seem to love ice cream and dogs. You spot both of them, everywhere
  • The dogs come in all shapes and sizes. But you only see them. Didn’t hear any of one them bark
  • Until we meet next year, au revoir for now!
Campaign India

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