Sun, Sea, and Scam: Adland introspects its ‘poor show’ at Cannes Lions 2024

What does the poor performance of Indian ad agencies at Cannes Lions 2024 mean for the ad industry and ecosystem?

By  Akanksha NagarJun 24, 2024 10:06 AM
Sun, Sea, and Scam: Adland introspects its ‘poor show’ at Cannes Lions 2024
One may argue to be less critical of the dismal performance of the Indian contingent at Cannes Lions this year, considering everyone goes through a ‘phase’. However it is to be noted that India is home to more than 40,000 ad agencies. (Photo: Unsplash)

Last week, several Indian adlanders were away celebrating in the French Riviera at the Cannes Lions ad festival, trying to cage Lions for their mantles and collecting more hangovers than awards, as one ad man quipped.

But now that the dust has settled on the festival, the Indian contingent has a lot to introspect.

Following a sluggish and subpar performance at Cannes Lions 2024 by Indian ad agencies, the advertising industry acknowledges the need for some reorientation. The five-day international creative festival brought home a meagre total of 18 metals, including two Gold Lions — this is the lowest tally for India since 2019, which also saw 18 metals.

Out of the global 26,753 entries this year (in 2023 it was 26,992), India sent 826 entries against 808 in 2023. The shortlist count for this year stood at a humble 59, compared to 77 last year — witnessing a 23.38% dip in the overall shortlists.

What caused this?

“It could be the lack of ambition, maybe burnout, even a lack of understanding of what makes an idea award-winning. It’s a combination of all three,” says Ryan Parker, Creative Director, Infectious Advertising.

We’re going up against the world in Cannes, and the only thing that can hold this country down is itself. “The award hunger is alive among young creatives, it just needs to be nurtured better from the agency’s side and reciprocated better from the client’s — somewhere between these two aspects is where you will find the solution,” he adds.

"One needs to reflect, refer to the entries that won and take learnings from there to improve in the future. I would think that others did a better job on raising the bar on creativity, not that we lacked anything. I would say this is a warm-up," adds Nagessh Pannaswami, Founder, Curry Nation.

“It’s the quality of entries. Each of the creatives sent this year received great plaudits on the domestic stage but perhaps didn’t quite make the cut against international competition,” adds creative director Jackie J. Thakkar.

One may argue to be less critical of the dismal performance, considering everyone goes through a ‘phase’, but it is to be noted that India is home to more than 40,000 ad agencies. Just to throw in some numbers and gauge the scale of this industry, India is ranked number eight globally for advertising and continues to be the fastest growing market among the top 10 markets globally, with a total size of the Indian adex expected to be $19bn in 2024.

Naresh Gupta, Co-founder, Bang In The Middle, suspects that the decline in the quality of mainstream advertising has impacted the entries in award shows.

“Real work and winning at Cannes is often not connected," Gupta says, opening the age-old debate on 'scam ads' that is ads made expressly to win awards, versus real work on real problems for big clients.

"Even when India did well at Cannes, the quality of work was going down in India. This is the first year when I saw agencies creating a media hoopla around sending entries to the festival, clearly winning was not on their agenda. What we are seeing is simply agencies getting more and more narcissistic and pandering to their vanity,” he notes.

This year particularly, industry stakeholders from across the world believed that Cannes Lions is back to its old ways - a bloated, irrelevant, overly expensive festival.

Voices from the global industry also highlighted the fewer numbers of younger people attending the festival, space and spotlight hogging by the old guard who've been attending for years, the deemphasis on creativity and over emphasis on tech, and the big tech, ad tech and the media companies occupying Cannes's famous Croisette. Industry insiders also point to the rise of the award-hungry CMOs who are more concerned about their personal brand and vanity metrics than the brand they are meant to built.

Still the number of award entries and festival's attendees went up this year.

All things aside, awards still hold a special allure in ad land — they validate agencies’ late-night brainstorming sessions, their wild imaginations, and the relentless pursuit of the ‘big idea’.

“The applause, the spotlight — it's intoxicating. Metals also boost agency reputations. Clients love working with award-winning agencies. It's like having a Michelin-starred chef cook your brand's meal,” remarks Vrutika Dawda, Director, IdeateLab.

So, yes, there's hunger and agencies compete fiercely. But are marketers aligned to a similar spirit?

“Clients want campaigns that move the needle. If an award-winning campaign doesn't drive sales, it's like winning Best Costume Design at the Oscars for a documentary. Some marketers care less about metals. They'd rather see their brand's stock price rise than their agency's trophy shelf,” she highlights.

Marketers are to be blamed…partially

As brands continue to bucket ideas as ‘more for fame’ or ‘more for effectiveness’, experts note that brands do want award-winning agencies, but perhaps want them a bit conveniently.

“There needs to be a mindset shift and focus on creative ideas that make a real business impact or move a solid brand metric. The ‘more for fame’ kind of advertising is not winning the big awards anymore. There is no shortcut – marketers have to deploy bolder creative ideas if one has to make it big,” points out Sarvesh Raikar, Regional Creative Officer MullenLowe Lintas Group.

Marketers across the world are making audacious moves.

For instance, Heineken printed its brand name wrong on over 2 billion bottles, VW offered thousands of cars to people on probation to solve an employment issue, Heinz launched an all-new product in 24 hrs, Doordash turned a simple promo code into a listing of all ads appearing on Superbowl, and many more.

“To up our game, we need audacious ideas and the support of the marketers to make them happen. These ideas seem impossible to pull off at first – but then the phrase proves itself time and again – no pain, no glory,” he suggests.

Thakkar notes how brand side and CMOs have begun focusing a lot more on whether their campaigns are driving business, creating more top-of-mind recall for their products and building brand loyalty.

“Yes, awards are a nice little bonus but most definitely not the top priority for brands,” he adds.

Gupta, in fact, notes that a CMO wanting to win awards for the work is a good thing, it is much better than agencies gunning for awards. When clients get involved, the scope for scam reduces significantly, plus the clients push for better work.

So, there is an overall win-win when CMOs step in.

What needs improvement

Ad land has undergone significant transformation since 2015, with Cannes serving as a mirror to this evolution — dynamic shifts in consumer behaviour, technological disruptions, and innovative storytelling formats.

Dawda of IdeateLab suggests that the focus should transcend the mere pursuit of awards and instead centre on adapting to this ever-changing environment. “Champion the quality of our entries.”

Consider, for example, the 'Turf Finder' campaign for Pepsico's Gatorade, which clinched a Gold Lion in the Creative Data category, a testament to the fusion of data and creativity. Similarly, the impactful #BringBack2011 from the Oreo campaign is recognised for its effectiveness. Both campaigns were created by Leo Burnett India.

So, while India has consistently submitted entries, there might be a reluctance to take bold creative risks, she notes.

The Brazil route

Time again the award show has witnessed ads that are created with the sole purpose of winning awards that consumers rarely see. In 2011, for instance, MOMA Propaganda of Brazil won a Silver Lion for a Kia print ad that the client never commissioned. The Cannes organisers later stripped the agency of two Lions awarded to the shop's fake ads.

In the advertising industry as a whole, scam work for Cannes is rampant. Within the Indian ad landscape, Dawda notes that while it’s true that there has been an increase in scam work, it’s essential to recognise that the advertising landscape across the world is constantly evolving.

However, the country continues to have the talent and vision to create award-winning work that transcends borders. Raikar concludes that the scam work will automatically reduce once marketers are more open to experimenting and put their faith in the power of creativity to solve their business problems.


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First Published on Jun 24, 2024 8:48 AM

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