Let’s begin with the good – and the truth is, it is very very good. From the early triumphs of Ericsson’s ‘One Black Coffee’ and the mosquito-swat double spread (for Hexit, if I remember right)in the mid ‘90s, India has romped home with an ever growing pile of metal year upon year. A couple of near misses in Print for the Grand Prix, a big one for TOI in Direct, strong showings in newly included categories like Design and Film Craft - it has been an impressive march.
Print and Outdoor have always been our areas of strength. Over the recent past, we have done well in Design. We have had far fewer strong contenders in Television, but have managed to bring home a metal or two each year.
And you don’t have to go all the way to Cannes to see the progress – you can see it at Goa, or, even simpler, on Ads of The World or any of the dozen sites that have become a must-browse for every creative person. The handful of stand-out ideas is capable of standing out anywhere. Craft, particularly in Print and Outdoor, has progressed by light years. Film production is getting closer to the best in the world, even if our budgets remain a fraction of theirs.
All of which is great. Today’s creative kids are connected as earlier generations never imagined they could be. The standards are higher, the benchmarks are tougher, and a metal at Goafest is the beginning, not the end. Thanks to Creative round-ups from the Gunn Report and others, today’s young turks measure themselves not just against colleagues and competitors in this market, but against the best creative people in the world.
The global networks that most agencies are part of add another element into the mix – they now count metals as assiduously as they count beans. Suddenly, awards are no longer nice-to-get, but have become have-to-get. Everyone beginning with the NCD and CEO want awards – and let’s face it, when it comes to just newsworthiness, a shiny Lion or two at Cannes has no equal.
From the young creatives’ point of view, this is terrific news – as long as they can come up with fresh, clutter-breaking ideas, money is no longer a problem.
From the industry’s point of view, the picture is perhaps not so rosy.
With the usual exception of TOI, and to a lesser extent, Fevicol, awards seem to be reserved exclusively for scams, parading under a variety of names. Or to make it less offensive to some, most of our awards are won by work created for awards, seen by very few people apart from the creators and the juries.
Nothing wrong with that - except that in the longer term, we are probably creating stars who have never done a real campaign for a real brand that made real money for anyone.
There are enough people who argue that doing proactive work designed exclusively to win at Cannes in no way precludes you from doing strong work on actual campaigns. Theoretically, I agree. In practice, that is not what I see happening all around.
Doing real work that is good enough to win at Cannes is not easy. Getting an idea sharp enough, fresh enough is not easy. Selling it to most clients is not easy. Keeping it sold is not easy. Getting the execution right is not easy. And once the agency gets used to enjoying the relatively painless fruits of the ‘patli galli’, trekking uphill carrying someone’s real problem on your shoulder starts looking like far too much work.
Which is where the culture and the value systems of the agency’s leadership become critical. Yes, we live in a global village, and awards have become the price of membership whether we like it or not. We can accept that and use it to drive our creative youngsters to push harder, think smarter, think laterally – as long as we are very clear that bigger reward will be for ‘real’ work on real clients. Because the alternative is more of what has been happening for some time now – clients who respect us less, and pay us accordingly; specialists who take away more and more pieces of the communications pie; servicing and planning people who see no real role for themselves; and creative people who are unfit to talk to anyone but each other.
In the meantime, though, here is to hoping all the entries from India bring home our best haul yet – we can always pontificate on deeper industry issues after the hangover passes.