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Reality Check: Indian advertising – the promise is there, but falters near the winning line

17-January-2008
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Reality Check: Indian advertising – the promise is there, but falters near the winning line

Much has been said about India’s potential to truly make an impact globally, especially in advertising. But has India really made its mark? Doesn’t seem that way if we take a closer look at the number of recognitions India has bagged at prestigious international advertising awards. The One Show, The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, The Clio Awards, The D&AD and other coveted recognitions have till now not seen good numbers, both in terms of entry registrations and winning awards.

What is interesting to note is that even after all the hype about India’s potential in advertising, we see other emerging nations like China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Russia register a greater number of entries in reputed international awards and also win a quite a few more in comparison with India.

Let’s recall India’s performance at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival 2007. Not a single Indian entry made it to the shortlist of the Titanium and Integrated Lions – the toughest and the most prestigious category of the Festival that awards great ideas. Out of a total of 324 entries, India had sent four pieces of work, and sadly, won nothing. India did win three metals under the ‘Films Lions’ category in 2007, and managed to equal last year’s performance by winning 12 metals in aggregate. But still India hasn’t won a Gold yet under the Films Lions category.

It’s the same story at the Clio Awards 2007. Of the 10 Indian finalists, only one – JWT – bagged a Bronze for its print work on Levi’s Slim Jeans. At the One Show 2007, too, India managed to win just a Silver Pencil out of its total 36 entries.

With some global network agency heads having visited India, and also having emphasised on the importance of India as the future-country, it becomes important to understand the country’s current standing, at least on the creative front. exchange4media speaks to national as well as international advertising experts to pin-point deficiencies and mark the way forward.

Roadblocks on the Indian journey

Trevor Beattie, founder partner, BMB agency, had a surprising remark to make that perhaps the reason behind the India’s low winning string was that it didn’t cheat. “Unlike some ad communities, scam ads and cheating is not a burgeoning cottage industry in India. Better to lose fair than to win bent, as the world of athletics is discovering,” he said.

Sonal Dabral, Chairman, APAC operations and Creative regional Director, Bates David Enterprise India, believes that there is not much importance given on ‘craft’ and ‘execution’. “Great ideas can only be turned into world beaters if they are crafted beautifully. Indian creatives are taking things a bit easily, and everything seems to be happening at a rapid pace. Advertisers are not taking a step back to improve their communication, and to even make them clutter breaking or world class,” he added.

Chris Thomas, Chairman and CEO, BBDO Asia, felt that the difficulty in understanding the Indian culture by international juries was deterring India from winning more international awards. “Thailand, too, had this problem, but now the juries have understood how Thailand advertising works, and thus, we see a lot many awards going their way. India, too, will have their time, it is just a matter of time,” he said.

Even though Kevin Swanepoel, President, One Club, thought this report was selling India a bit short, he did agree that the awards won by India had been less in numbers. “Countries like Japan, Brazil, the US, Germany and others send in a lot more entries, and hence, they win a lot more. It is difficult to win at the One Show given that there are about 18,000 entries and only 200-odd to be awarded. India has won merit awards, which shouldn’t be ignored,” he added.

V Sunil, Executive Creative Director and Partner, Wieden+Kennedy Delhi, noted that Indian advertising during its early days was known in the world for copying the West. But slowly and gradually with agencies taking some local work, that problem seemed to shimmer away. Citing other hurdles, Sunil said, “Everything in India is process driven. All of us have grown up with this kind of conditioning where it does not matter if the idea is good or bad; all that matters is to have a good process.”

Some important tips

Beattie advised, “For India to be truly globally recognised, it should look no further than India. India’s advertising should reflect its culture – past, present and future. It should do this regardless of how others do theirs. Mimicking or being over-influenced by the way others do it is as embarrassing as wearing a baseball cap backwards to impress young people.”

According to Swanepoel, “Indian creatives should lighten up a bit more, somewhat like the Thailand advertising community, which produces much more quirky, funny, and humorous ads that appeal to the international juries.”

Sunil cited the need to understand the society. “Advertisers should not resort to aspirational advertising and give what is a piece-of-their-mind without understanding the consumer’s need,” he maintained.

According to Thomas, creatively, the Indian voice was being increasingly heard through the impact of great literature and Bollywood, and the same would be true of its advertising. “It is important for Indian creatives to not write for juries, but to rather talk to customers. The awards will come as a by-product,” he said.

Dabral stressed on the importance of ‘not being satisfied too early’. “Creative heads should invest enough time and money in executing ideas, and in getting the best people in-charge for execution. Budgets can be a problem, but there are ways to tackle these issues,” he stressed.

The Way Forward

Foreseeing India’s position on the global map, Thomas said that India would be in the spotlight for the next few years. “India’s economic potential is well documented, and the barriers to development such as infrastructure deficiencies and bureaucracy are also well understood. The momentum of a young, well-educated work force, who are eager to participate and contribute at a global level, will make India one of the most stimulating and interesting places to do business in the next few decades,” Thomas pointed out.

Beattie, too, believes that India has great promise. He is all praise for India as he said, “Individualistic, beautiful, eccentric, loud, colourful is all what Indian advertising is. There isn’t any reason why it shouldn’t be at the top.”

Today, India is a clear priority for many multinationals who think they can reap a disproportionate share of the potential of the growing Indian market. Indian businesses are growing at rapid pace, and we can only hope that with that growth, India’s name would stand out among those countries that win the most of international advertising awards. We will then be able to see more Indian names than just Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi and R Balki representing a country that is one of the most respected in advertising on a global platform.

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