This year was rather unique for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, devoid of the agency yachts, tech companies’ beach shacks and the harbor view. There was no surround sound, or the deafening applause in the auditorium but the joy of winning a Lion was palpable even when the announcement came on a digital screen inside our homes. Cannes Lions Live, 2021 saw 90 countries participating with over 29074 pieces of work and 982 Lions being awarded two years after the biggest festival of Creativity was paused due to the global pandemic in 2020.
While this can hardly be called a good year for India, we saw a definite climb from a frugal 18 Lions in 2019, to 22 Lions. FCB India and Dentsu Webchutney stole the limelight with eight Lions and seven Lions respectively. While a Grand Prix remained elusive for the second year in a row, we improved our Gold tally from the last time, with two Lions, one for FCB Interface for the most popular campaign this year- The Punishing Signal and second for DDB Mudra which finally clinched a gleaming metal for the #ProjectFreePeriod. FCB India emerged as the highest scoring agency network in India while Dentsu Webchutney became the highest scoring agency in India as per the final score tally.
Rohit Ohri, Chairman & CEO, FCB Group India says, “2021 is FCB Ulka Group’s 60th year in India. We’re delighted that this year we have delivered our best performance at Cannes with eight Lions. I am really happy that Cannes judged two years together this time. It wouldn’t have been fair to great campaigns created in or just before the pandemic. Overall, India’s performance has been good. And considering the environmental challenges, I would say the performance was great.” FCB Interface’s ‘The Punishing Signal’ won seven awards (one gold, three silver, three bronze) at the festival while FCB Ulka’s Out and Proud brought home a Bronze Lion.
The second most award winning campaign – The 8 bit Journo was from Dentsu Webchutney which won five metals (three silver, two bronze), while the two other campaigns by the agency-- The World’s Most Reported Trailer and The Better Half Recipes-- clinched one Silver Lion and one Bronze Lion respectively. Talking about beating their 2019 record of six metals and 16 shortlists with seven Lions and 20 shortlists this year, Gautam Reghunath, CEO, Dentsu Webchutney says, “The categories that we’ve been lucky to win in reaffirms our point of view on where creativity is headed. Digital craft, creative e-commerce, mobile, social & influencer are all typically rare wins for work from our part of the world. 20 shortlists and seven wins are a historical best for us. We’re in wonderful company of world-class pieces of work from agencies like FCB Interface and DDB from India this year. There’s little by way of solace for India in the pandemic, and so much of our reality goes beyond our work. But out of these new realities we’ve seen a sea change in agency culture, creative culture, how we work, and the kind of work that we will start to produce. If 2019 was a kick-off in this regard, 2021 is a tsunami of confirmation bias that India is one of the most vibrant digital markets in the world.”
India won at least one Lion in 13 categories and couldn’t score a single Lion in 15 others. What’s striking is that not a single one out of the 22 winning entries came from an Indian independent agency, to some extent because many Indian agencies considered sending entries to Cannes Lions a luxury during the pandemic. Talking about India’s overall performance, Josy Paul, Chairman and CCO, BBDO India says, “It has been a good show for India at this year’s Cannes Lions, led by Dentsu Webchutney and FCB Interface! What’s fantastic is that 18 agencies contributed to the nation’s tally if you take the metals and shortlists into account. It’s truly heartening to see the depth and width of India’s ideas that won worldwide recognition.”
This year was unusual because work for not one but two years was being evaluated, the very first time in the history of Cannes Lions. Some industry leaders said it felt more like a lucky draw than real awards others while those on jury thought it upped the game further. Prateek Bhardwaj, CCO, Lowe Lintas who was on the Health and Wellness jury says, “The fact that this year we were awarding for two years, and two dramatically different years at that, made it a very interesting show indeed. 2019’s work had no context of COVID-19, and COVID-19 was the universal brief for all of 2020, so to pick one winner from two such different contexts was very challenging.”
On a global level, Ogilvy took quite many a Grand Prix, but one of the biggest campaigns ‘Not just a Cadbury Ad’ that the ad fraternity thought might be the gamechanger for Ogilvy didn’t convert into many metals, and received a Bronze at Cannes. Talking about the agency’s performance at Cannes, Piyush Pandey, Global Chairman Creative, Ogilvy says, “I have been a part of many juries and I know that the thought process differs greatly from one to the other and that is the name of the game. So you just wait and hope for the best, and move on. Obviously, the world knows about ‘Not just a Cadbury ad’ and then there is Savlon – The Artist, unfortunately, for which we have not seen recognition. So, it all depends on what your competition is all about and what are the jury’s thoughts. But yes, I am very proud of that work.”
The impact of the pandemic globally
While the pandemic related restrictions led many to believe that creativity at the biggest advertising festival of the world will be compromised, the entries told a different story. Bruno Bertelli, Global CCO, Publicis Worldwide whose agency network scored a Grand Prix hat trick on the opening day of the festival says, “I think, if anything we are seeing a better caliber of work in this year’s competition and it seems that agencies are focusing on their great work when it comes to submissions. Creativity needs to add value to consumers through brand experiences that resonate in culture, and sustainable ideas that continue to inject themselves into people’s daily lives. Our Grand Prix winners for Heineken, Renault and Burger King have this common element of being a topical part of culture whilst adding value; from putting sustainability at the heart of a village, recognizing innovative solutions throughout the pandemic to showing that real food does in fact get ugly.”
But some changes in the face of the pandemic were inevitable. As per statistics companies have shifted to short term strategy in the face of unprecedented circumstances, work that relies on long term strategy and results appears to have been hit this year, with entries into the Creative Effectiveness Lions down 38% and the Creative Strategy Lions seeing a 20% drop. With the global pandemic causing a shift from real world experiences, digital has continued to boom, with other Lions seeing increased engagement including the Social & Influencer Lions having gone up by 14% and the Creative eCommerce Lions which have seen a 12% increase year on year. The newly launched Creative Business Transformation Lions - celebrating creativity that drives business forward - has had a strong first year, indicating that creative companies are now being asked to solve real business problems, with creative thinkers increasingly applying their skills to the business as a whole.
But overall Dheeraj Sinha, CEO and CSO, South Asia, Leo Burnett says he was very impressed with the winning entries. “Some of the work that has made the mark globally has been spectacular. I would say that the pandemic has infact enhanced the creativity of the industry. The work that has won this year is at par or better than the work of previous years. So definitely, pandemic hasn’t pulled down the quality of the creative work. The online judging format seems to have worked as well because you can’t quarrel with the selection. So overall it has been an equally inspiring year at Cannes, but ofcourse for the Rosè on the Riviera,” he signs off.
The campaign, ‘Punishing Signal’ was launched in order to check the noise pollution problem prevalent in Mumbai. It uses decibel meters connected to traffic signals and when the decibel exceeds 85dB, the signal timer resets itself, forcing the people to wait longer at the signal. This is meant to ‘punish’ them for their impatience. They honk more; they wait more.
A campaign launched to help women step out of sex trade, #ProjectFreePeriod held a vocational training programme to equip these women with skills that could help them sustain themselves all in three days. These three days of their periods have turned into days of learning. These women have been taught skills like candle-making, embroidery, henna-art and basic beautician courses.
Residents of Jammu and Kashmir had been suffering a complete blackout, living without any access to the outside world. However, after the return of SMS services, Vice Asia came up with an elegant, lawful solution with the world’s first Teletext news portal called the 8-bit Journo which condensed news from the last four months all into 8-bit SMS articles.
Dove’s #StopTheBeautyTest is a film which reveals the dismal situations that women across the country are faced with when they are judged by their looks during the matchmaking process. The effect of such judgement on self-confidence is long-lasting. By capturing the stories of women the campaign spreads the message that we must stop putting women through nonsensical tests of beauty.
The ‘Good Vibes’ is a smartphone application that revolutionizes communication for the blind-deaf. It allows them to send messages by tapping on the app, using Morse code, comprising dots and dashes. Incoming messages need not be in Morse code, because the app converts normal English messages into long and short Morse code vibrations for the blind-deaf.
The promotional campaign featured on YouTube and other official social media sites of the film included the scene from the movie, ‘Thappad’ where the male lead slaps his wife during a party, in front of the guests .To spread awareness about domestic violence, the audience was asked to report the trailer, which was finally reported over 400,000 times.
With the ‘H for Handwashing’ global campaign, Lifebuoy seeks to transform the letter H into a symbol for hand-washing. They call on people to participate in this campaign by creating their own versions of the letter H and sharing this on social media. They hope to ensure schools and curriculums include changing hand-washing behaviour.
The crippling effect the pandemic had made it important to support small businesses. ‘Not just a Cadbury ad’ was initiated to lend a hand to struggling businesses. The campaign created advertisements that doubled as ads for thousands of local businesses. Depending on where the viewer was located, they would see an ad for a local business that they could support.
Lifebuoy hijacked the existing hand-wash behavior of washing hands only with water in India and replaced it with ‘Hackwashing’, the process of using a wearable ink made of Lifebuoy formula which turns into antibacterial soap on coming in contact with water. By stamping people’s hands outside toilets and food courts, people used germ-killing soap every time they rinsed their hands.
Gone are the days when cookbooks were written for sole readers. Cooking for the family has been an activity largely reserved for women. But in order to break this stereotype, the ‘The Better Half Recipes’ cookbook splits the instructions into two halves- one for each partner. Launched on Valentine’s Day, couples can now cook a meal the fair way.
The campaign was launched by The Times of India in 2019, roughly a year after section 377 of the IPC was revoked, to celebrate LGBTQ Indians offering its classifieds section as a place to share stories of connection and acceptance, which are considered the two biggest challenges for all those who are born different or choose to be non-conventional.
The Cannes Live Experience
“I enjoyed the Lions Live format. The awards, the virtual experience, the debriefs, they were amazing! You felt you were right there with the speakers asking questions and sharing comments. It felt intimate. I was thrilled to hold a community ‘meet up’ session on the virtual stage. The interaction was very meaningful. Given the uncertain times and the anxiety of travel, I found the virtual Cannes experience to be most rewarding.”
Josy Paul, Chairman and CCO, BBDO India
“Due to work pressures we haven’t caught the festival online., except for one day. We really miss being there at Cannes, listening to the speakers and attending the sessions. When you are in the place, you are committed to attending more than when you are back home. As far as awards go, frankly we expected more conversions. But hey, every jury has its own preferences and we must respect that when we enter a competition. Ogilvy Worldwide rocked it and we are thrilled about that.”
Harshad Rajadhyaksha and Kainaz Karmakar
CCOs, Ogilvy India
“From our Facebook and LinkedIn feeds it looked like everyone has won a Lion. But that’s only because we are seeing results of two years of work. I also felt that this is the year I would see work which said, “Here is my Covid, where’s my Lion.” But I am thrilled to see that the kind of work that is winning is going to inspire all of us to try newer things. “
Chief Creative Officer, Cheil India
Campaign: Moldy Whopper
Brand: Burger King
Agency: Ingo, Stockholm (owned by Grey and Ogilvy); David, Miami (owned by Ogilvy); Publicis, Romania
This laudable advertisement for the Burger King’s anti-preservatives pledge decided to go against the grain with a disgusting rotting Whopper at its forefront. Each ad shows a Whopper laden with mould, along with a date stamp showing how many days the burger has been exposed to the elements for. The tagline reads,“The beauty of no artificial preservatives.”
Campaign: Sick Beats
Brand: Woojer; Claire’s Place Foundation
Agency: Area 23
(an FCB Health Network Company)
SICK BEATS is the world’s first music-powered airway clearance vest for cystic fibrosis. This revolutionary vest syncs with a smartphone to pull therapeutic 40Hz frequencies from music and send them to the chest. This is an advanced airway clearance method which uses music to remove the mucus from the lungs making it easier to breathe.
Campaign: Shutter Ads
Agency: Publicis, Italy, Milan
Heineken decided to help alleviate the financial strain of bars that had been shut down due to the corona virus. Instead of buying out billboards, they bought and repurposed the shutters of these bars as advertising space while they stay closed. Positive messages adorned the shutters of 15 closed bars across Barcelona anticipating their reopening.
Campaign: Courage is Beautiful
Agency: Ogilvy, UK /Ogilvy, Canada; UniWorld Group
With the Covid-19 pandemic engulfing the entire world, Dove decided to pay a tribute to the frontline health care workers who endanger themselves in order to treat patients. In the incredibly simple but heartfelt first ad, the faces of doctors and nurses are flashed with marks from the protective gear they wear every day.
Campaign: Superb Owl
Agency: R/GA, San Francisco
Marking Reddit’s first-ever Super Bowl ad (and TV commercial), ‘Superb Owl’ went for a blink-and-you’ll miss it strategy. It had nothing big or flashy like most others, instead played the self-proclaimed underdog with just five seconds of airtime. “Big game spots are expensive, so we couldn’t buy a full one, but we were inspired,” read the advertisement.
Campaign: Naming the invisible by Digital Birth Registration
Brand: Telenor Pakistan
Agency: Ogilvy, Pakistan
This campaign has made paper based birth registration systems obsolete by the introduction of a simple, highly effective Android mobile application. This application, called Date Birth Registration, allows those living below the poverty line to register births in just ten minutes without any paper work. It worked tremendously, increasing birth registrations from 30% to 90% in the pilot phase itself.
Brand: Warner Music Group; Apple Music
Agency: Rothco (part of Accenture Interactive, Dublin)
This ground-breaking initiative used music and technology to augment the speech therapy experience for young people. Rothco identified commonly challenging speech sounds and developed an original algorithm that analysed the lyrics of songs and looked for patterns of repetition. Using this algorithm, Apple, working with a language therapist, identified 173 songs and created playlists with strong amounts of repetition.
Campaign: Stevenage Challenge
Agency: David, Madrid and David, Miami (owned by Ogilvy)
Stevenage FC is a not very well known British Football team sponsored by Burger King. Moving things online, in order to gain some publicity, the brand urged people to convert it into the biggest club on the game FIFA 2020, asking users to play for Stevenage FC or to bring in the world’s most famous players to Stevenage, then completing several challenges and sharing them on social media for the chance to win free Burger King.
Campaign:True Name credit cards
Agency: McCann New York
Being referred to as their dead-name is a painful experience for transgender and non-binary individuals, which occurs while using their credit card. They have been denied service, endured harassment in terms of their true identity. With ‘True Name’, people can now have their chosen names proudly displayed on the front of their Mastercards.
Agency: Chelsea Pictures, Los Angeles, USA; AMV BBDO, London, UK
Including endometriosis sufferers, sneezing during periods, the turbulent journey of trying to conceive, being a trans-male, choosing not to have children and post-partum trauma- the advertisement captures the beauty and brutality of biology, with an anthology of #WombStories.