Cannes Lions 2021: What explains India's absence in the first shortlists of the year?

From Covid fallout to budgetary constraints to execution challenges, reasons why none of the categories has an Indian entry, according to industry watchers

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri & Mansi Sharma
Published: Jun 14, 2021 9:26 AM  | 5 min read
cannes lions

The first set of shortlists — for Titanium, Innovation, and Glass: Lions For Change — announced by Cannes Lions a few days ago has given us a hint of the flavour of the season. It has also indicated how difficult it will be to secure a metal this time. Unfortunately, none of the Indian entries has made it to the shortlists thus far, surprisingly even in the Glass category, which has been a strong suit for the contingent.

Understanding India

DDB Mudra Group’s CCO Rahul Mathew, who has also been a part of the Cannes jury in the past, notes that winning metals in Titanium and Innovation isn't exactly a cakewalk. These categories mostly don't see a huge representation from the Indian region.

Reminiscing about a time when the agency did manage to secure these, Mathew remarked: “I remember the year we got shortlisted in Titanium for Stayfree Project Free Period. We were the only shortlist from the whole of Asia. These are tough categories to get into.”

Year after year, India impressed the jury with its social campaigns. A testimony to this is the fact that Indian agencies have won the Glass Lion every year since it was launched. However, what’s shocking is that they have failed to even make it through the Glass entries this year.

Mathew too is taken aback; Glass is a category that India has always shined in over the years. He observed, “Glass, however, has become a category where one now expects to cheer for an Indian entry. It may be because gender inequality and prejudice are raging issues in the society we live in. I am surprised we do not have anything from India. Then again, most social conversations in 2020 shifted to the pandemic. And while even next year we may turn a blank in this category, seeing the way 2021 has gone so far, I do feel as brands return to address the gender issue, we shall start seeing India once again shine in this category.”

We hit the jackpot in the very first year after the Glass Lions were launched, winning a Grand Prix, and repeating the feat the next year, both thanks to wins by BBDO India.

Demystifying the reason, another industry watcher who didn’t wish to be named added that these aren’t ordinary times and most agencies over the past couple of months have been grappling with whether they want to burden their teams with crafting entries when most are trying to manage Covid situation or are recovering from it.

“This year, for everyone, the priorities are different. Even the best creative powerhouses have been stretched with helping clients who might have got impacted in the second wave and as partners would want to support,” the source observes.

In the past, campaigns like “6 Pack Band” by Y films and “Sindoor Khela” have won the coveted Glass Lions, the former picking a Grand Prix in 2016.

Budgetary constraints

Industry observers remarked that the budgets fail us too.
“It's important to have that pro-level of detailing in our films. Given the ongoing situation, it has made it even harder as many agencies want to but can't pay for all technical teams across advertising,” says a CCO of a leading independent creative shop.

In 2018, India has secured 6 nominations across Glass, Titanium and Innovation Lions at the Lions.

Another industry CEO who didn’t wish to be named shared that Indian ideas are yet to impress juries in the Titanium Lions. “While at times, our ideas are as good as any others, sometimes we do fall short on the execution for various reasons like budget constraints, technology support constraints and epic scale,” the source says. He adds that another reason we miss the mark is the packaging of the case studies which is an imperative aspect of presenting the idea right.

Years of glory

Looking back at all the years at the Lions, 2008 was the year when India walked into the global limelight. India had hit a six that year by bagging a ‘Grand Prix’. JWT walked away with the country’s first Grand Prix.

2009 was another progressive year with 25 odd metals out of the 1,182 pieces, which were entered from India. We hit the bell again in 2011 with 24 metals. 2013 was again a good year for India as we bagged 34 metals and kept it steady with 28 lions in 2014. 2015 became a low year with only 14 metals though India was the first winner of the newly introduced Glass Lions award with a ‘Grand Prix’.

In 2016, the momentum picked up again with 31 metals and again a ‘Grand Prix’ in Glass Lions and Medulla Communications was chosen as Healthcare Agency of the year.

2018 was another marquee year for the Indian ad world at Cannes for two main reasons. First, the Pandey brothers became the first Indian recipients of the ‘The lion of St Marks’* award. Second, Amit and Praful Akali of Medulla Communications took the stage, speaking at the Lions.

In 2019, FCB Ulka became the Indian agency that managed to bag the only gold for its entry 'The Open Door Project for Millennium School.'

As they say, Indians know how to change the game, be it cricket or award shows. We hope that the Indian contingent manages to surprise us in other categories.

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