Not enamoured by Cannes, not yearning for admiration: Kawal Shoor & Navin Talreja

Founding Partners of The Womb talk about why they feel the advertising industry has a ‘slave mentality’ and more

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Jun 11, 2019 8:42 AM

Last year, Kawal Shoor and Navin Talreja, Founding Partners of The Womb, sent their first entry for Saregama Carvaan to Cannes Lions, but didn’t win a metal. The campaign went on to win accolades worldwide, even topping the WARC global Effectiveness ratings. Exactly a year later, the duo has been invited by Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to speak on the same campaign. Well, life has certainly come a full circle for these two.

In a conversation with exchange4media, Kawal Shoor and Navin Talreja, talk about why they feel the advertising industry has a ‘slave mentality’, what do they think about speakers selected from India and more.


You are addressing two sessions at Cannes this year, which is also your first time as speakers, what are you talking on?

Navin Talreja: Usually, Cannes doesn’t repeat speakers whether it’s on the same day or through the week. They have obviously made an exception this time, so clearly something has worked for us.

Kawal Shoor: We are speaking on the same day twice, at two different platforms. One is The Work platform and the invite from them was natural because Saregama Carvaan was ranked as number one on WARC Effectiveness ratings so we are talking about our journey and learnings. The second one is on the larger theme of how the measurement of creativity has evolved from brand score to business transformation, something we two have always believed in. We will be talking on the brand experience.

What do you think about the speakers selected from India this year?

Navin Talreja: For us it has always been very simple, if you are doing great work which is sort of creating a case study for the world, then the world would want to listen to you. Progressively in the last 8-10 years, India has been only doing better each year.

Kawal Shoor: What I find interesting is that at least 3 out of 5 speakers selected from India are from the non-creative side. And this is the world’s premiere creative platform, Cannes. We think it’s a sign of where Cannes itself is going, and where the world is going. They want creativity to get strongly linked to effectiveness because the time when creativity was celebrated just for the sake of it is far gone.

Ironically, this is the same platform that wants to hear out your Carvaan story despite the agency not winning a single Lion for it last year.

Navin Talreja: Yes, we had entered it last year across categories. But I guess Saregama was culturally rooted here in India, arguably Cannes did not award it or even understand it to an extent. Many people told us it was strange we didn’t win.

Kawal Shoor: May be we are just wired differently. We are not particularly enamoured by Cannes. Somebody has called us, so we are going. That’s about it. And I think there is so much of interesting work happening in India now, and maybe we have come to a stage where we are not yearning for admiration from the world. As long as people are happy in India, we are fine with it.

But you have sent an entry this year as well?

Navin Talreja: It is in the same category, for a Delhi-based start-up that launched a smart fan called Ottomate about two months ago. We don’t create work through the year unlike some agencies who create work specifically for Cannes or award shows. At the end of the year, we just pick what is Cannes-worthy and decide on sending it.

Overall, do you feel there are categories in which Indian entries do badly?

Navin Talreja: Yes, we don’t do well in Film, Digital and Integrated. In fact, we are never there on the last day of Cannes when all the big awards are given out. And that happens because of two reasons --a lot of work that we create is obviously so culturally rooted that it does well in India but the international juries don’t get it. Second, if you are so enamoured by Cannes and you want to win, then the easiest categories for you to win in are posters, activation, experience, etc. Agencies tend to create that kind of work which are one-offs, which many people haven’t even heard of but end up winning.  That isn’t necessarily work that’s created on a brief or to solve a business problem. Like Kawal said, we are wired differently, our work solves real business problems and helps our clients grow. If it wins, we are happy, if it doesn’t we don’t fret over it. The client who we created the work for needs to appreciate. Honestly, beyond that person we really don’t care.

Kawal Shoor: Lastly, I’d like to add that we underestimate the cultural influence that plays a big role in our industry. There can be a Mohammad Rafi song that can move India to tears and there can be a Bob Dylan song in the US which people connect with there, but in India people just won’t understand it. And that’s exactly how it works. It’s only in advertising where we have a slave mentality, where we want their appreciation. See, if they like it, great, if we like their work, great for them but otherwise as long as we are doing well in our own market, it’s fine.

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