Ajay Kakar
Jun 23, 2015

Cannes Lions 2015: Ajay Kakar's blog: Why Indian marketers don't make it to Cannes (and why they should)

The CMO notes that the festival has moved beyond advertising and creativity, to celebrating creativity in big ideas and innovation

Cannes Lions 2015: Ajay Kakar's blog: Why Indian marketers don't make it to Cannes (and why they should)
Aah Cannes!
‎Whenever the name Cannes comes up in any conversation within the advertising, media or marketing fraternity, you can be sure to remember the old advertising tagline: 'Neighbour's envy, owner's pride'.
Since my days in advertising (more than a decade since I moved to the other side), Cannes has been the envy of all, at the agency side. It was then and to a great extent has to-date remained the ‎perquisite of a very select few. Only the creative stars were assured a place at this Mecca of creativity. And a few CEOs exercised their rights as the cheque-signing authority, to also attend this annual pilgrimage.
Years have moved on, and the suits and planners still await their turn. The new generation remain hopeful. But the regulars seem to have no intent to give up their seat at the table.
That's the story at the agency end of the marketing mix. So what about the other end of the spectrum; the clients, the marketers?
‎I was one of the aspiring hopefuls during my stint in advertising. Every now and then there was a promise – "If we deliver XYZ, the entire leadership team will go to Cannes". A promise that remained a promise irrespective of the delivery. My story at the client end has been slightly different.
I have been fortunate to attend the festival for many successive years. Thanks to a boss who believes in the power of marketing. And wholeheartedly supports my need to remain informed and inspired.
But I do see myself as more of an exception, in the Indian context.
Today I take this opportunity to speculate on why Indian marketers don't make it to Cannes. And why they should.
Perceptions remain that Cannes is about advertising. Cannes is for the ad folks. Cannes is where the creative folks go to enjoy the French Riviera. It's too expensive.
What's there for us marketers?
Yes, a visit to the Cannes Lions International Festival of creativity is not a 'bargain deal'. But is it paisa vasool, oh yes it is!
Don't take my word for it. Let the numbers speak for themselves. Last year the festival attracted over 12,000 delegates, from over 4,000 companies, representing over 90 countries.
And yes, till "yesterday" what appeared to be merely an advertising agency's industry event has today become a magnet not only for the creative agencies, but also for every member of the marketing and communications mix.
Today, Cannes Lions 2015 boasts of clients and marketers from the A to Z of of the believers. To name just a few..Adidas. Amazon. Audi. Bank of America. BMW. Citi. CNN. HSBC. Heineken. IKEA. ING. Kraft Foods. Levi. Nestle. Nike. P&G. Pepsico. Red Bull. The Coca-Cola Company. Toyota. UBS. Unilever. 
I do believe that they are all here, in recognition of the festival being a Mecca of learning and inspiration. Where else do you get to see, hear and experience the world's best, under one roof, across all the disciplines of our ecosystem!
Yes, till "yesterday" the festival was skewed towards advertising and creativity. But over the years it has shifted with the changing times. Today it celebrates creativity of big ideas and creativity in innovation.
With the changing times, clients and marketers have come to take centre stage‎. The Marketer of the Year has become a coveted and celebrated award, as McDonald's and Coca Cola will bear out. And the rest of the pack aspire for this pride of place.
This year, The Economist has created a platform at the festival where every morning the most powerful CMOs from the most celebrated brands are available to share their views and learnings. And you can place before them all the client-specific worries and questions you had, and didn't know whom to ask.
The world's biggest marketers and spenders P&G and Unilever are here, every year. Not only to learn, but also to share. Where else will you find die-hard competitors agreeing to be under the same roof!
And in this new world, you also have an opportunity to learn from the giants, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Google, Yahoo, et al. Once again, under one roof.
And for me, personally, just attending the awards nights is a learning treat. Every evening you can get a glimpse of the work that actually won a Gold, thanks to a two-minute clip for every such win. Learnings from the best of the best across 12 months and 90-plus countries. In a sachet pack of two-minute capsules.
Yes, a visit to the Cannes festival remains a "Neighbour's envy". But I do hope that more and more marketers from India seize this learning and inspiration opportunity. 
As I heard a young CMO from an Indian bank smile and say, "I knew I would have to emotionally blackmail my boss to agree to send me. But I did it. Happily."
Rest assured, as a marketer the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity will force you to think and confess...whichever country, category or brand you represent, there is so much more that can and needs to be done.‎ You will go back humbled with the realisation that it's not a case of "Picture abhi baaki hai" (The movie isn't over yet), but in the life of your brand, "Picture toh abhi shuru hi hui hai" (The movie has just begun).
- Ajay Kakar, CMO -- financial services, Aditya Birla Group. Views expressed are personal.)
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