Indian advertising has scored once more. The industry bagged 24 Lions this year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June: three golds, 10 silvers, 10 bronzes and one award for creative effectiveness. This year's tally beats last year's, which was 17 Lions. The highest number of Lions won by Indian agencies was 25, in 2009. In 2008, they notched up 21, including a Grand Prix, the highest award in the competition.
It was a far cry from the mid-1990s when India began its Cannes tally with just two awards - one for the "How to kill a mosquito" campaign for Hoechst's Hexit mosquito repellent, and the other for the "One black coffee, please" ad for Ericsson mobile phones.
Until the year 2000, Indian agencies made virtually no news at Cannes. They hardly sent in entries, and just a handful of senior executives attended the event. Only the occasional jury member was Indian.
It was not just India. China and Japan too remained low-profile. The reason was not that they could not create good advertising. Rather, it was because advertisements that worked in these countries did not seem to work on international juries. "For many years, we believed that advertising from countries with different cultural codes (from the West) had no chance of winning awards that are decided by international juries," says M.G. Parameswaran, Executive Director and CEO, Draftfcb Ulka. But the scenario has changed drastically across Asia in the past decade.
So what brought about the change for Indian agencies? "Being present at Cannes has become important for global recognition, and winning here is like winning an Oscar," says K.V. Sridhar, National Creative Director, Leo Burnett India."
"We can now make better quality entries, we can voice our opinion in the highest forums, and, most importantly, India is no longer just seen as a land of snake charmers and elephants," adds Parameswaran.
With 1,177 entries, India was the sixth-largest participant in terms of the number of entries at Cannes this year. Industry stalwarts say the country's position in the global economy is playing an important role in its wins. Santosh Padhi, co-founder of advertising agency TapRoot India, says two other reasons for India's improved performance are that execution standards have risen tremendously, and clients are willing to pay for cutting-edge work. TapRoot India won a silver this year, in the outdoor category, for its campaign for Audiobook India, a publisher of biographies. There were three creatives in the campaign - the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Adolf Hitler - that showcased the use of bookmarks in audio books.
However, Padhi says India still has a long way to go. "Everything you do will have to be linked to digital media," he says. "That's what I see here at Cannes. We have to generate ideas that include digital. Currently, that's happening on a minuscule level in India."
Bobby Pawar, Chief Operating Officer, Mudra Communications, says that presenting one's work at Cannes is also an opportunity to learn about the best work elsewhere in the world. Mudra Communications leads the India tally with 39 points this year. It has notched up three silvers, five bronzes and nine shortlists. One of these was for Silent Anthem, a film that promotes Big Cinemas and features hearing-impaired children enacting the national anthem in sign language.