The French Riviera means different things to different people. We talk to five top creative heads on their Cannes experience through the years; the good, the bad and the morning after.
Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and NCD, O&M
To me, Cannes is a congregation of creative people, a place that allows for the exchange of ideas, and one that allows one the chance to see what the world is doing. It is a competition, as also a learning experience. My most compelling memory of Cannes would be in the year 1994, when I, Kailash Surendranath, his wife Arti, Pradeep Guha and Rajeev Agrawal were the only Indian delegates there. We must have been the smallest contingent in the world back then at Cannes.
The fact that this year will see a more somber mood at Cannes goes without doubt, given the current economic scenario. Agencies do have to restrict themselves during times such as these. Having said that, it is important to keep the morale of the creative team up.
The one word that best describes my first time at Cannes would be overwhelming. The year was 1994. It was the first time that we had stepped out on to a festival of this dimension. We got to see the best of the work, and although we were not participants back then, we were observers, imbibing all that the festival had to offer. We were an audience which had no stake there. I remember the first time we won a shortlist, that was a great moment for us. It was a shortlist for Cadbury Perk and me and Sonal (Dabral) got our picture taken in a café because we were so happy after having a shortlist. It didn’t matter that were so many other shortlists.
The one place that I would never miss when I am in Cannes would have to be this little bistro called Casanova. There is a man by the name of Jean Mitchell who makes Indian style ginger tea for me when I am there. There has never been a time when I have been to Cannes and not met Jean Mitchell.
I would like to see more work from the streets of India winning at Cannes. I would not like to see scam ads there. We would like to see what the public enjoys on the stage at Cannes. It would be great if we could find a balance between what the public enjoys and what the jury enjoys.
The top three essentials in my luggage for Cannes would be bikaneri sev, achar and buknu. These are three things which will definitely help me when I am there.
Ravi Deshpande, chairman and CCO, Contract
The most compelling memory that I have of Cannes was when I was at Lemon. There was a presentation made by Donald Gunn to the Havas group about creative agencies and what constitutes the making of one.
During that time he also ran a little contest for people at the Havas group on what aspects make a really powerful creative agency.
Whoever got the answers right, was to win an excessively large champagne bottle. I happened to win the champagne bottle. And what followed was a lovely lunch with Jacques Seguela, Donald Gunn, a couple of guys from Arnold (Boston) and Roberto, the writer of the Peugeot ‘sculptor’ spot.
Cannes is a deceptive little place.
The façade is glamorous. Yachts, beautiful people, the beach, blue sky, the Carlton, pretty little villages selling a variety of olive oils, soaps and fragrances.
The reality however, is far from glamorous.
It’s about nothing else but great ideas, brilliantly executed. Come June, and the clear waters of Cannes mirror our creative performances.
It doesn’t matter who you are. A metal won at Cannes is the second most effective leveller in advertising. The first being alcohol.
Cannes advertising festival is all about the celebration of great ideas, great craft and curious minds.
The best thing about it is that it provides an equal platform to everyone, regardless of nationality, to go out there and compete globally on the basis of creativity.
More recently, given the nature of the seminars at Cannes, the festival is charged with discussions around popular culture and it influences buying habits.
More marketers are attending the festival than ever before.Besides, there’s no other festival that’s held in such a relaxed environment and at such a leisurely pace (over a week!). It’s a happy mix of excitement and nervous anticipation before the awards.
I visited Cannes for the first time in 1996. The first thing that hit me when I reached the Palais was the power of ideas in every corner.
I was especially impressed and inspired by the high degree of finesse and artistry in films.
Fortunately in 1996 Contract picked up India’s first lion along with Nexus and SSC&B. And since then India’s presence at Cannes has gradually grown.
Contract has always been a steady contributor to India’s success at Cannes.
Be it in the case of representation of delegates or awards won.
I must say today when I visit Cannes, India competes on an equal footing with every other country.
And the work that wins or even gets shortlisted from here, is often beautifully crafted.
I would like to see mainstream television work from some of our biggest advertisers win at Cannes.
And I think there is a lot of potential. It has already happened in the case of Happydent.
But it should be a regular feature considering the number of commercials we make here in India.
I would like to see more wins in new media categories. Integrated, titanium....
Mobile marketing has been touted to be the next big thing in innovative communication in India. But we haven’t seen an example of that yet.
So I’d like to see that happen at Cannes.
I’d like to see the Indian intelligentsia being represented at Cannes seminars.
Prasoon Joshi, exec chairman, McCann Worldgroup
To me, Cannes is a truly international award show. It gives me a chance to catch up with international friends, see work from across the world, meet delegates from every country and get a sense of what is happening globally.
It isn’t just an award, it’s a festival, there is a vibrant sense of life that I get when I go there. The only drawback is that it drains you completely once it is over. I see Cannes as a very good training program, especially for creative people, they imbibe so much from a trip there. It may not be possible to do everything, attend every single event/seminar at Cannes but one picks what one wants out of it. Whenever we have sent people to Cannes, they came back highly informed, motivated and energized, it’s where one can feel the sense of being part of this exciting profession. As the advertising industry loses its sheen, Cannes is a place where one gets a sense of the true respect for compelling creative work. It keeps the glamour quotient of the industry alive. I have not experienced too much politics there. I have been going to Cannes for the last 11 years and every time I am there, I feel humbled.
I have many compelling memories of Cannes that I cherish. One of the earliest happen to be from my earlier days at O&M. We used to all stay in one hotel called the Touring Hotel, which had small cheap rooms. We were all together, so it was alright. We would all have tea in the morning. Piyush (Pandey) used to carry ginger with him, which this French café owner called Jean Mitchell would use to make ginger tea for him. Another memory for me is the first year that I went from McCann, it was a very good year as two of my ads won Gold for Coca Cola. It was 2003 and I was having breakfast at the Majestic at Cannes with Naren (Multani) and Ramanuj (Shastry) and I remember getting a call telling me that I had won. That was a very good moment. Also, I had a great judging experience last year as jury chairman for the out of home category. The chance to take the judges through the various pieces of work and watch how people behave, how the human mind takes in all this information, it was a learning experience. I also have great memories of my favourite advertising professional Neil French. I have a ritual that I have been practicing for the last ten years, where I spend one day with him every year. We talk until the wee hours of the morning.
I still remember my first time at Cannes, back in 1998. I was completely wide eyed, there were so many things to do, events and parties to attend. I would be awake all night and till six in the morning. When it’s your first time, you tend to take everything so seriously. I remember the first year, I would be awake all night and then Piyush, who is an early riser, would pick me up in the morning for breakfast and tea. I would be dead beat in the morning so I devised that if I slipped a note under his door saying I had just left, he would believe me and I would get a few hours of sleep. He caught my trick soon, though. If I were to describe in one word my first time at Cannes it would be awestruck.
I think India needs to chill at Cannes. We expect too much out of the awards. In the early years, for all of us Cannes was the place to meet people from across the world, interact, see great work and learn. The problem is the amount of expectations that have built up over the awards. Cannes would be most beneficial if you go there with minimal baggage of expectations. The one place that I would not ever miss during my trip to Cannes would be St Pauls where I meet Neil French every year. Alka Seltzer is one thing that I would necessarily pack for Cannes.
KV Sridhar, NCD, Leo Burnett
To me, Cannes signifies much more than just awards. Cannes is about learnings, meeting people and getting inspired by each other’s work. One of the biggest joys for me is to find Indian adfolks there. We never seem to find the time back in India. But in Cannes, we are all like one agency, and I love that spirit. Whatever rivalries we may have back home, when we go to Cannes we stand together at Gutter bar, sing the same national anthem and carry the same national flag.
My most compelling memory of Cannes would be from last year when we won two Golds and went up on stage. For the last so many years that we have been going to Cannes, you feel humiliated even winning a silver because they never show your work, they never call you onto the stage. It’s only Gold that gets that honour.
‘Outsider’ is the word that best describes my first time at Cannes. This was way back in 1999. There were very few people from India then. We used to get some shortlists and feel really good. But we never won big time then. We were all full of awe about the world, the work and the people going on stage for awards. Meeting global network people, attending seminars and lectures, one felt like an outsider. In the last two to three years though, I haven’t felt like an outsider. Today, we feel like a part of the festival. As much as one feels for Goafest.
Given the current economic situation, this year most agencies have two choices: either you can send the work or you can send the person. That’s the cost difference. People would rather have their work go there and win, than to have the chance to go there. Also, this is one of those extraordinary circumstances that globally everybody is facing. The fact that even those agencies that usually have their global network meetings timed around Cannes are evaluating the need to do so this year speaks volumes for the mood right now. If it is, you have to go for those compulsions. If it’s not, I would rather not have people losing jobs in India, than sending three people there. We are not keeping away in terms of participation, but we will be sending less people than last year. Hopefully if the next quarter looks better, then probably we may send delegates at the last minute.
Indian entries at Cannes have been doing well. Where our representation is less, is in terms of speakers at seminars. We have many things to share with the world. In the last five years, we have only had one talk by an Indian- that was Piyush (Pandey). Apart from that, there has not been much representation. India needs to be a part of not just the awards, but also the discussions, talks and knowledge sharing. I would wish to see more of that in coming years.
The one place that I would never miss at Cannes would be Gutter bar. I particularly remember last year at Gutter Bar, when the Indian delegation sang the national anthem there, creating a roadblock. It spilt over to the entire street because of the sheer number of people, there were close to 150 people from India present there. It was like a show of confidence. The top three things that I have to pack for Cannes would be MTR, MTR and more MTR Ready to Eat food.
R Balakrishnan, chairman and CCO, Lowe Lintas
My most compelling memory of Cannes was the hotel that I stayed in when I was judging a few years back. Usually when you go to Cannes, you end up staying in seedy hotels. When you are judging, though, the organizers put you up at the Carlton. The second most compelling memory that I have of Cannes is not at the Cannes Lions but at the Cannes Film Festival, when my film was screened.
Every year there are four or five absolutely path breaking campaigns that strike you, which I love to see. At Cannes there are a lot of innovative ideas that one gets to see. What I like particularly is the exhibition of work on display. You also end up meeting the entire advertising fraternity at Cannes, which never happens in India.
As a festival, Cannes does not symbolize anything special for me. Some of the seminars are interesting, some are plain boring. I haven’t been there in the last few years. That’s out of personal choice because of my experience there as a judge. When I was judging a few years back, I came back disappointed and disillusioned with the way work was being judged. There was nothing wrong with the people judging the work, it was the most that one could do in the given format. But the futility of the exercise disappointed me. The year that I was judging was when the Thanda Matlab Coca Cola campaign had been entered. Nobody watching the films there seemed to understand them, no matter that the film had moved a country of a billion. The films should have been hailed as landmark films for Coca Cola. Instead, they hailed the print work as some of the best that they had ever seen, while the film work was largely ignored.
That was upsetting, because it shows that one does not even seem to understand what they are judging for. The work seems to be judged on absolute terms. I don’t think advertising was created that way. It was created to solve a particular problem. If the definition of advertising is the most interesting way to solve a problem with people being oblivious to the problem itself, then I am not sure what one is judging.
My first time at Cannes involved a lot of walking as the hotel that I was staying at was very far away. I slept through a couple of film screenings and I particularly remember our visit to St Pauls, which was beautiful.
What I remember about my first time at Cannes was a lot of alcohol, too. The second time I was at Cannes, I remember I was with Whitelight’s Namita and Subir and one of them lost their passport and we were in and out of cop stations, trying to sort it out. At Cannes, I would definitely not miss the bars. Among the things that I would carry there would be good books and a DVD player. Cannes is an absolutely wonderful state of truly recognizing interesting communication solutions. It’s not about which country wins, I would like to see them crack an advertising judging process that truly does justice to the term advertising.