'I will be looking for big ideas & fresh human insights in Cannes 2021 entries'

Santosh Padhi, Co-founder & Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu, opens up about judging the Lions virtually, his best memories from the in-person festival, and more

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jun 2, 2021 9:49 AM
Santosh Padhi

As we know it, Santosh Padhi, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu, over the years, has served as a jury member for numerous national and international award shows including Cannes Lions, Clio, New York Festival, London International Awards, Dubai Lynx, Adfest Pattaya, AdStar Busan, ADC, ANDY Awards, Kancil Malaysian Award and Chilli-SriLankan Award, along with many other local advertising shows. With over 200 international (includes about 2 dozen Lions), and over 300 local awards as well as multiple Grand Prix titles under his belt, he has made it to the list of top 10 Creative Heads of the world, according to the 2014 Cannes survey. So, exchange4media catches up with Padhi on judging the Lions virtually, his best memories from the in-person festival, what it will take for Cannes 2021 entries to impress him, and more. 

Edited excerpts below:

How does judging the Lions virtually this year make you feel?

Have judged a few in the last one year’s time, so by now I’m used to the new normal of judging virtually as well. Although it’s never the same as live or in-person judging experience, the face to face human vibes, interaction, standing for or against a piece of work specially in the last round, which gives a grip to hold the other jury to make the point well. Also, when you are locked in a room and going through hundreds of good and bad pieces of work, the only thing you are doing in those few days away from home is judging, judging and only judging, that too along with many other jury members who are also doing what you are in that room for, versus doing online judging easily distracts when you are alone with the inhumane screen you tend to switch off as you have never done this before. 

I have always believed that energetic people around do keep the environment energetic and alive.

Share any of your best memories from the in-person festival?

When few industry friends meet over a drink at work, that’s the best honest brutal and the most insightful thing that happens around work culture and industry. And I always get richer via such conversations especially when I meet my global friends from different parts of the world, (if someone records, such contents can easily go viral).

Another thing I have been doing for the last 18 years is I have a collection of most of my judging pictures clicked with the jury members, be it local or international, small or big jury forums, I make sure we are framed together in a photo (which award festival guys also click for their record/collaterals as well) I have also been collecting as my personal memory, I have 66 different pictures of them which I just counted, fortunately, unfortunately, this year's pictures have been very different, a screengrab of multiple frames in one frame with multiple backgrounds, lightings, timing, etc.

What would you look for in entries in order for them to stand out from the rest? What metrics wow you in entries?

Direct category is very sharply defined yet a bit confusing when you start rolling, we as a unit will make doubly sure if all the work submitted fits this category or not.

With more and more case AV’S made to look sleek with a mega-production budget and detailing to the core, I will make sure I’m not diverted and fooled with glossy execution, I will be looking for the big ideas or fresher human insights and how brilliantly the idea resonates, and at the end will try to apply my gut to really figure out if work really worked with respective TG/in the market.

Which are the categories and work in the category that you have seen really evolved over the years? Sweeping changes are taking place in the ad industry today. Which according to you have been the major ones?

Most new categories are growing, barring Print/Press and Posters Advertisements, which are dying as categories because of few reasons. Firstly, if you have a 3-4 ads campaign, you cannot enter them as a campaign with single fee payment, one has to pay for all 3-4 ads individually, whereas if you have a series of ambient or social approach you put them in a 2 minute AV and just pay for a single entry, hence agencies are using their limited awards budgets smartly with this kind of logic filters.

The second reason is, Print/Press being seen as a scam by most juries these days and they act really tough on Press and Posters despite they tick all the boxes from entry criteria and after all due diligence the entries have reached the jury table still they are a lot more ruthless in comparison to many other categories.

Third, let me be a little blunt and honest here, some of the new age judges have very little idea about the art of static medium storytelling, as some of them have never written enough in all formats of writing or haven’t explored art directed possibilities, as I strongly believe if you haven’t done enough of either by yourself you’ll never be able to do justice with the craft side of it. Agencies have gradually decided to decline to enter these categories after observing such signals in the last few years.

Fourth, as we know more and more creative agency fees are getting reduced, and thankfully media guys are doing well, which reflects in the entry pattern as well, media agencies are entering more and winning more (no not with the more formula).

When creative guys are judging a film category, they are far tougher and ruthless and get into many filters before they reward the work compared to media guys judging media awards. Ultimately an award is an award that does not matter what category Lion or Pencil it is, you can scan through any award show and it’s pretty evident.

What do you hope you’ll see in the overall work at Cannes in 2021? Conversely, what do you hope you won’t see in this year’s entries?

Ideas that are big, insightful, which makes you feel small and gives a feeling you should retire, ideas which absolutely well integrated with the core of the brand and creates a new standard /benchmark in our industry, as we have witnessed some unbelievable ideas in last two-three years which are beyond advertising and I’m expecting few of them this year as well despite being a low year for us.

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