We should be hungrier to perform better: Prasoon Joshi, McCann

The agency’s ‘Sweet Change’ campaign for Paytm not only won it Lions but was discussed and talked about all throughout the Cannes. As the contingent returns to India, we caught up with Prasoon Joshi, Chairman, Mc Cann Worldgroup Asia Pacific, to find out about their creative planning that helps them shine at the festival of creativity year on year.

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Jul 4, 2018 9:00 AM

Although not as brilliant as 2017, McCann India did make its presence felt at Cannes 2018 with four metals--a gold, a silver and two bronze. The agency’s ‘Sweet Change’ campaign for Paytm not only won it Lions but was discussed and talked about all through the Cannes. As the contingent returned to India, we caught up with Prasoon Joshi, Chairman, McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific, to find out about their creative planning that helps them shine at the festival of creativity year on year.

Here’s the excerpts

Last year you walked away with 16 metals, including a Grand Prix. This year, the tally has closed on four for you while India’s performance too saw a dip. What was different about last year?

Yes, it has not been as big as last year. Should India perform better here? Yes, considering the size of our country, we should be performing better. We keep trying and we have come a long way. If you see, earlier, we had very little to show in our performance. The year I won 2 gold Lions here, we suddenly said India is winning. Then, we kept on winning. Cut to last year and we saw McCann winning 16 Lions. We have come a long way from no performance to a performance of this sort.

Despite a drop in the tally, you are one of the leading agencies this year with four metals. What is it about McCann that gets you more accolades at Cannes than others?

We are doing well, and I think the work culture is very important for that. We push people to excel in the ideas of the craft. In India, over the years, I’ve tried to work hard to build a culture of excellence. Manthan- the way we churn ideas- happens around three times a year. So regardless of the brand you work on, every day, you’re given problems to solve, and you proactively work for our plans. It’s a simple yet complex process which we have developed over the years. It is our proprietary way of doing excellent work and it has worked for us. All the work you are seeing here has been part of and have come out of Manthan. Last year’s ‘Immunity Charm’ campaign was part of it. This year’s work, for example 'Sweet Change', was also a part of this. Manthan is where we innovatively and holistically look at our clients and not get bogged down by everyday briefs but look at larger planning and problem solving.

Coming back to the question should India perform better? Yes. Is India performing better than earlier? Yes, that is also true. Asking if our performance is enough is a good sign. We should be hungrier. Last year, we had an exceptional performance. This year also we have done well, although not as well as last year.

What was it about the ‘Sweet Change’ campaign that clicked with audiences and the jury?

It is very contextual. We at McCann take pride in understanding the problem culturally and trying to find the larger behavioural solution to it. Even our ‘Immunity Charm’ campaign had cultural significance. I think our Indian talent is fantastic, we are truly global in our understanding of different cultures. Because we live in such a diverse country, when we are faced with a cultural problem, we don’t find it strange; we use it to our advantage.

In relation to the ‘Sweet Change’ campaign, we are trying to encourage people to use digital payment methods. But how do you change behaviour? Behavioural change is not easy and it cannot happen overnight. We are suggesting ideas to encourage people to use digital payments. We believe that our solution should make an impact and allow brands to make in-roads into people’s behaviour. So ‘Sweet Change’ came from the intent to change behaviour and to demonstrate how it is done while keeping the language close to the mother campaign of ‘Paytm Karo’. The team did a wonderful job and the client is in absolute sync with us. Moreover, we won in a category that has been created fresh. E-commerce is a new category and it is futuristic. I am very happy we won in this category because it tells us that we are keeping up with the times.

Any other McCann campaign that was shortlisted at Cannes but did not win?

I think Harpic should have won. People who live in India understand the importance and impactful nature of Harpic and the movement behind its campaign. However, I trust the jury and have myself chaired the jury at Cannes several times, so I know how it works.

Any other campaign from India, not necessarily by McCann, that you particularly liked this year?

I like the Blink to Speak (TBWA) campaign which won. I think Sindoor Khela (FCB) is also good.

How difficult or easy is it to work with political brands? Are you able to treat political parties like other clients?

You must, or else they don’t need you. You must define and understand your task and do your homework. You must be honest about their strengths, weaknesses and the brand personality. You must carve out a place in the consumer’s mind for your brand so that they want to associate with the brand. Brands that are more social in nature, including social movements, become more complex because everything impacts them. Political and media brands are also difficult because they are advertising themselves every moment.

I’ve worked with many brands and they have all been a learning experience for me. Your experience with the last brand you have worked with helps you. The better we target our understanding of the consumer, the better professionals we become. This cannot be done simply by reading an article or data. Reading will only give a first-level understanding of the consumer. To understand the consumer behaviour and psyche, you must go out and talk to them and constantly be in touch with them.

Do you agree with the statement made by Sir John Hegarty that only 10% of the present day ads are creative?

I will not say it is 10%, but I do agree that a lot of great opportunities are wasted and that there should be more good work. There are many reasons for this in every country. There can be reasons, but there shouldn’t be excuses. The biggest excuse that I hear is that clients don’t allow great work. I consider that to be absolutely incorrect. In my experience, all the great work that I have been able to produce is because of great clients who have really partnered with us. Yes, you do need more clients who believe in you and who are willing to partner with you, but saying that clients don’t allow us to do great work is just an excuse, it is not the reality.

Coming to reasons, they can be varied. Sometimes there are cultural reasons. If you don’t understand the cultural context or significance, you may dismiss those ideas. I remember there was a campaign we did about the eunuch community in India. Most of them go to sing, dance and celebrate in a home when a baby boy is born. The idea was to make them understand that the girl child is also important and so they should also dance and celebrate the birth of a girl. We wrote a few songs for them which gave examples of great women in the world and how beautiful it is to have a girl child. It didn’t reach where it should have reached globally, because understanding this culture of the eunuch community in India and their role in the celebration of child birth is an alien idea to outsiders. Indians praised the campaign, but I don’t think it had gotten its due in terms of recognition.

Ideas do their job as they should. They make people more sensitised towards the problems and they allow other organisations to come forward and take up the cause. That is the purpose of a festival like Cannes. Otherwise it is just about a few people feeling good about their egos and going back.

Coming back to Sir John Hegarty’s point of view, I do agree that we have less great work. There are reasons and there are excuses. We may not fully appreciate an idea that is truly trying to make a difference. We may not understand the nuances of the appeal and therefore it doesn’t get recognition on a global platform. Then, some work is purely done because people are lazy. They are just happy with formulas that are working for them, so they don’t want to change them. There are some people who love their job, while others are very mechanical about it.

Any new clients that you’re excited to work with?

We are excited about our upcoming work with Sony Electronics as well as Nokia.

The Pandey brothers were felicitated at Cannes this year, what is your favourite piece of work of theirs?

We have all worked together and I have a great relationship with them. I prefer their work where they draw ideals from their families. There are many such as Cadbury, Fevicol, or campaigns for insurance companies.

You create ads and manage one of the leading creative agencies, you write films and songs, you head CBFC and also follow a lot of your passions. How do you manage your time?

I follow my passion. For me, life is a learning journey. I always try to face new challenges and take on new responsibilities. I may not able to do everything, but the learning in it is immense. For example, unless you work in areas of e-commerce or FMCG, you wouldn’t understand it. People may try to explain it to you, but you must work in the domain to understand it. This goes for social issues as well. One of the things that drive us in this profession is the everyday challenges.

What piece of advice would you give to younger people in your field?
Doing the work is the best teacher, and always be humble. It is great to be confident, but there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. Always take the opportunity to learn. Don’t hurry, have patience and faith, if you have great work, your time will come.

I have been very fortunate that my horizons have been very broad. I essentially came from a world of literature and poetry. I am fortunate that I have read and have been exposed to the work of masters such as Mirza Ghalib, Premchand and Shakespeare and various other types of literature. Also, I was first exposed to masters then to the popular culture, so much so that until a very late age, we were not allowed to listen to film music at our home because my parents were classical musicians. But throughout, I’ve had various kinds of influence and I am fortunate that I can look for inspiration from all these, be it film, cinema, music or literature. But the biggest inspiration is life and its experiences, and that is incomparable.

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