Our winning strategy is to redefine and marry tech with ideas: Prasoon Joshi

Joshi, CEO and CCO McCann Worldgroup India and Chairman, McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific, spoke to exchange4media on the agency model, lack of diversity on international award juries and more.

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Jan 14, 2019 8:24 AM

Winning the EFFIE Agency of the Year title on Friday night, Prasoon Joshi, CEO and CCO McCann Worldgroup India and Chairman McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific, said that there is no formula to win. The only formula is that one needs to keep reinventing. 

Speaking to exchange4media on the sidelines of the award night, Joshi said that the narrow definition of advertising needs to change. He said that the focus should be on content rather than the medium of communication. He further said that agencies will need to do away with the siloed structures. Agencies will have to redefine themselves “in a fluid fashion - that’s the truth of tomorrow” he said.  

Joshi also shared his thoughts on the lack of diversity on international award juries and the WPP agency mergers. 

Read edited excerpts of the interview below:

Can you tell us a little about McCann's work culture that has led to the kind of effective award-winning work that we have seen?

We try to reinvent ourselves all the time. We try to look at the problem from a fresh vantage point because people should not get fatigued with the work that we do. We make sure that the message which could be the same as what we gave last year but we find another way of giving that message. Also, we are cognisant of the change that technology has brought. We really work hard on marrying our ideas with technology. 

The advertising industry is going through a flux. What are the main factors according to you that are contributing to this challenging situation?

That’s because you are defining advertising in a very narrow way. I think the focus should be on content. I have never debated this, from day one I have been writing films, books, music etc. I never once thought that brands can be built only through ads. What do you call an ad? When you look at advertising in a holistic sense, there are various touch points, then you will see that there is no tension. 

The problem is when you start defining advertising in a narrow fashion. Of course, in that narrow definition advertising is declining because people are consuming communication in various other ways than one conventional way.  

How can agencies survive this flux?

You will keep finding nomenclature; that’s unimportant. What is important is - have you been able to communicate what you wanted to communicate for the brand. We need to focus on what we are trying to say rather than trying to narrowly define what we call communication.  

Are the kind of mergers we have seen with JWT and Wunderman and VML and Y&R a solution to the pressure that agencies are under?

There is no formula that if you combine one kind of skill set with another it will be the answer for tomorrow. No. You need to design yourself around your clients’ needs and that would be the answer. We all will need to find our own DNA and our own inventions and reinventions. 

You will see more of such experimentation. But you need to be dynamic about it. Even if the mergers don’t work you need to be able to move on.  

More often than not we see Indian campaigns that tell the Indian story for social struggles and despair win at international festivals. But they don’t turn the dial for clients always...

Certain campaigns are awarded and they don’t work, and that has happened.  

Sometimes people do not understand the cultural nuances of the country. Not just India, many other countries have cultural layers and they consume things differently. Their problems are different and you should not use broad strokes to define these cultures. In fact, even our film community faces the same problem. Our films are not well-understood and appreciated. 

In fact, this is happening less now. Earlier, when I used to go to Cannes and other international festivals the jury’s understanding of India was rather poor. And only the campaigns that met the universal criteria were considered worthy for awards. 

Understanding what works in a country is a very complex issue. The more you familiarise people with your culture you will find people appreciating the nuances. In the juries where I participate, I try to explain the culture of India. So suddenly when you set the context for them, they reconsider a lot of ideas that they did not think worthy of an award. 

We cannot dissociate ourselves from our cultural past and say we are in a suspended reality. We are a continuum. And if we are a continuum, that continuum has to be shared. It is not the fault of the jury that they do not understand. I do not think anybody has tried enough to explain it to them. 

Therefore, what are your thoughts on the lack of diversity on international award juries? 

Not everyone is doing a lip-service of representation, few are. Some are very serious about it. In fact, the Cannes Lions organisers have invited me earlier. I have presented masterclasses and workshops there.

Has enough been done? I would say no. Should more be done? Yes. Can it only be done around award shows? I think no. I think during the year various workshops and interactions should be organised. Especially when the cultures are so diverse. 

It is not the reality of India alone, it the same with China. We see a lot of work from China and we think “I didn’t understand it.” We didn’t understand it because we don’t understand the background. 

I refuse to believe that any civilisation around the world would lack creativity. That is a very hierarchical and condescending way of thinking. Around the world, they would have developed their nuances in a very different way than we are used to. It is just that we don’t know. 

We think that the culture and creativity of the dominant cultures is the only yardstick. I think the world is changing; people have started calling a lot of experts from various countries into the jury room. There is a lot of time for debates. Whenever I am chairing a jury I like to hear from people from different parts of the world. That’s true diversity. Diversity does not mean that I conveniently take what I understand, but to take the pain or efforts to understand what you are not. 

Finally, what are some broad trends that will define the advertising industry in 2019?

One important trend would be that the narrow definition of advertising will change. Advertising agencies are going to redefine themselves and understand that there are various ways of reaching out to people. 

They will also understand that technology is not a novelty anymore, it is a part of life. Understanding how technology is impacting the basic wiring of people’s minds would be very important for advertising people. It would help understand purchase behaviour. 

The paraphernalia around it, the structure of advertising agencies will need to evolve. The compartmentalised structure of set departments is over. I think you are either an advertising professional or you are not. And you have to redefine yourself in a fluid fashion - that’s the truth of tomorrow. 

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