Should Indian Advertising attend Cannes Festival

Everyone in advertising loves awards. Now the clients’ love awards more than the agencies. Fame is a potion everyone wants to be drunk on. Even if it means that the potion is self-brewed, self served and is self-serving. That to me is the Cannes Advertising Festival. The Festival is a self-created indulgence that is insidious and expensive indulgence. Cannes is the equivalent of a selfie. Today we know selfies are not good.

There are three key reasons that are key to not attending Cannes. First is pure financial reason, second is strategic and third practical.

First lets go through cold financial reasons. Cost of an entry is about Rs. 65,000 to Rs 100,000 depending on the category you choose. Rarely do agencies sends just one entry. This year India has filed entries that must be in hundreds. No entry is filed in isolation, there is a significant expense in creating the entry: usually a short film that narrates the whole story, which costs as much as the entry fee. Each delegate pays around Rs. 200,00 to get to participate in the show, not including stay and travel. If you do the math India this year may have spent close to Rs 20 Crores to enter, participate and travel to French Riviera. While this money at overall level may be small from the overall industry perspective, for an industry struggling to up profitability, this is a huge cost.

The second reason is pure business strategy driven. Participating in any industry award show is driven by how the managers see the long-term benefit accrue to the agency. Advertising is a business where the creative team works to get famous, they want their peers to celebrate them, be proud of them. The agencies that win awards believe that good showing at the award show helps the agency in winning new business, grow exponentially, and improve its overall standing. Likes of Gunn Report who rank the creative folks by the awards they win furthers this feeling of improved reputation. Nothing can be farther from truth actually. The agencies win new business despite not winning awards. Agencies’ reputation is not linked to only winning awards, but also linked to how the consumers react to brand messages and how much of trust they have won of their clients. If anything the agencies lose their key creative talent after the award shows, those who win awards put a higher price for their talent, hungry agency heads make them better offers and a slew of musical chairs are played after awards shows. Imagine if the industry had distributed the 20 crores they spent for awards between the key talent who matter, how much better it could have been?

The third is reasons of practicality. There was a time when participating in festival like Cannes meant greater exposure to best of art and craft in the world and thus improving your own skills. Today in the connected world, everything is available in real time; there is no new grand discovery that is being made at the festival. This years big winners from ALS to Apple are all well known and have been debated by the entire fraternity. The industry also knows clearly what is true brand work and what is ‘created for awards’ work. Organizers at Cannes do call a slew of key speakers to come and address the fraternity; today most of what they say is available across many seminars and TED talk videos. It makes little sense to hop across to other end of world to get to hear increasingly stale brand ambassadors.

This is the age of connected world. In this connected world a reclusive, self-contained, self-indulgent award festival has lost relevance. Selfie, but why?


Published first in Business Today, July 5th 2015 issue as part of Cannes Debate


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