Cannes 2013: ‘We have worked very hard to change the ‘poor execution’ perception’: KV Sridhar, Leo Burnett

The CCO of India subcontinent talks about his agency’s showing at the Festival, and the rise of the Cannes Lion in Indian adland

Jun 12, 2013 02:11:00 PM | Article | Pritha Dasgupta

In conversation with Campaign India, KV Sridhar, chief creative officer, Indian subcontinent, Leo Burnett, reflected on the rise of the Cannes Lion in Indian adland. Indian agencies started taking Cannes Lions seriously from 1994 after Rajiv Agarwal became the first Indian on the jury, he noted.
“For Indian agencies, One Show, D&AD were much more popular because of the Books. Then in 1996 Cannes Lions came back in focus because two Indian creatives, Hexit mosquito repellent ‘How to kill a mosquito’ print ad and Ericsson ‘One black coffee please’ TVC picked up Gold and Silver respectively. That suddenly put an ambition is people’s mind. It also gave a confidence to agencies that we can win even in the Film category,” explained the CCO.
According to him, what also fueled the quest for Cannes Lions was a number of Indian agencies being bought over by MNCs between 1992 and 1996.
“Along with the exposure to the world came the pressure to participate in international award shows. Also from 1998-’99, Donald Gunn launched the Gunn Report and Cannes Lions played a prominent role in it. Back at home, at many creative directors were taking leadership position at agencies and that accelerated the ambition to participate more at Cannes Lions,” he added. 
Following India’s first win at Cannes Lions in 1996, Leo Burnett picked up India’s third metal in 2000 for Forte India’s ‘Battery operated toy’ TVC. Known as Chaitra Leo Burnett then, the agency picked up Bronze in the Film Lions category.

Recounting the making of the campaign, Sridhar said, “They wanted to make a campaign on organ donation and got a small copywriter to write the script. They then presented the idea to us and we instantly liked it. But they had very tight budget. So we got Aggi (Agnello Dias) to rewrite the film. In the script we drew an analogy between batteries/lifeless toys and organ donation. We then approached Ram Madhavani to shoot the film for us and told him about the limited budget but he agreed to do it.”
The film was shot in Benaras on the stairs of the ghat. Forte India liked it so much that it was presented to the Health Ministry of Karnataka. The money paid was used to buy spots on satellite channels. And then of course, it went on to win a Cannes Lion.
Soon after, in 2000, Sridhar quit Leo Burnett and joined Lowe Lintas. His first visit to the Cannes Festival in2001 was as part of Lowe. “When I was at Leo Burnett, I had taken an oath that I wont go to Cannes Lions unless I have the chance to win something. So to that extent I kept my word,” he quipped.
Sridhar returned to Leo Burnett in 2003. Since 2004, the agency has been winning at Cannes consistently for work on Heinz Ketchup and Luxor Pens, among others.
“So far, we have won around 21 to 22 metals at Cannes and it’s stupid if I say that the number of awards don’t matter. However, I would rather prefer one Gold versus five Silver. Also, earlier the perception about Indian agencies was that our ideas are good but execution is bad. And we have worked very hard to change that perception,” surmised Sridhar.