Some sand is sure to be kicked up on the usually lazy stretch of Cavelossim Beach in Goa this week, when two competing ad awards unite for the first time. The decades-old Ad Club Bombay’s Abby award will become the centrepiece of the three-year-old Goafest ad event, featuring as the Abby awards section of the three-day extravaganza starting Thursday.
This rapprochement is worthy of an award in itself, since it promises to bridge the long-standing rivalry between two ad bodies (the Advertising Agencies Association of India, or AAAI, and Ad Club) and their respective awards.
Over the past two years, most big agencies—including Leo Burnett India, JWT India, Saatchi and Saatchi India, McCann Erickson (India) Ltd, Contract Advertising (India) Pvt. Ltd—had boycotted Abby and entered AAAI’s Goafest, while Ogilvy and Mather India (O&M) only took part in the Abby awards.
Ad chiefs, who do not wish to be identified, say that some agencies felt Abby’s judging process was flawed since O&M had been sweeping these awards for many years running and, hence, decided to take part only in the AAAI event.
Now, under a blue Goa sky, most creative big guns will once again compete with each other for medals. This year, however, McCann Erickson will keep away, and see how the newly merged awards pan out in the debut year. Lowe India will also keep away, as it has been doing for some years since.
Says chairman of Lowe India R. Balakrishnan (Balki): “We do not believe in awards. We would continue to do good work for our clients, irrespective of what awards we win.” He does, however, believe that there would be bigger and better participation in the Goafest Abby this time around because “there are sensible people handling the show”.
The spring of contentment may, however, not blossom fully this year. The union of the awards is still labouring under transition pangs, especially as very few categories of Abby are being taken forward by the Goafest committee in the new Abby. Many feel these are not progressive enough, say some committee insiders. Other industry veterans, however, say that if the Cannes festival can carry an Agency of the Year award, then the logic of eliminating this and some other old Abby slots at the Goafest Abby eludes them.
Still, ad and creative luminaries such as Josy Paul, chairman, BBDO India, are enthused about this union. “Just like you go to Cannes to win a Lion, you go to Goafest to win an Abby. The idea is to make Goafest and Abby synonymous. What we are seeing here is a marriage, and it will evolve and strengthen with time. This is no longer a half-baked award. Everyone is coming,” says Paul.
Adman Kurien Mathews, director, TBWA\India, agrees: “In its third year, and with the Abby joining in, it (Goafest) provides an unparalleled, unified platform for the Indian advertising industry to celebrate our work and our people.”
Officials on both sides also seem gung-ho. Says Bhaskar Das, executive president of Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL) and president of Ad Club: “The industry is witnessing challenging times for which we need to focus our priorities on doing things in a collaborative manner and not dissipate energy through frictional losses.”
Jagdip Bakshi, chairman of the Goafest 2008 committee and CEO, Contract Advertising, says that the objective is to have a Cannes-style festival, where young talent gets to rub shoulders with internationally renowned names. “Work gets importance here. We are not here to tout any one agency, but to celebrate good creative work.”
Madhukar Kamath, managing director and CEO, Mudra Group, and president of AAAI, adds that Abby is clearly the centrepiece of the show. “It enhances Goafest 2008. We have taken a format for the festival which works best for everyone.”
In Goafest, Abby gold, silver and bronze medals will be given across 14 categories of products and services advertised. Entry for any product category is classified under one of five verticals: print, film, radio, out of home, and integrated advertising (the last is a new category). Each vertical will have a separate a jury panel.
In addition, there are media categories such as ambient media, interactive, direct, print craft, film craft, and radio craft. Direct and interactive media will feature additional subcategories this time. For direct media, the subcategories tacked on are dimensional mail, direct response through print/TV, radio or online, flat mail, field marketing etc. The subcategories in interactive are website banner, viral and email marketing and mobile innovation.
At the pinnacle are four Grand Prix awards—one each for print, radio, film and integrated. One cannot enter for these; only winning entries will make it to the Grand Prix.
The Goafest event will also feature seminars, panels, and global and local speakers, including luminaries such as Lowe Worldwide CEO Stephen Gatfield, JWT chief creative officer worldwide Craig Davis, Donald Gunn, founder of The Gunn Report, Garick Hamm, creative partner at William Murray Hamm Ltd, and Scott Goodson, CEO and chief creative officer of StrawberryFrog Llc.
Industry opinion is still divided over decisions on adding or eliminating certain categories in the Goafest Abby. For example, one issue still being discussed is the value of having categories such as integrated advertising.
Saugata Gupta, CEO, consumer products, Marico Industries Ltd, is happy that integrated advertising has been added as a new vertical. “Integrated is far more relevant today because of media fragmentation. Advertisers and creative people should be given an incentive to put in good work on different mediums, which would hold audience attention—a 360-degree approach,” he says.
Paul, too, thinks integrated advertising as a new vertical is good because it promotes media-neutral ideas. “It is about the power of the idea over the media.”
A leading creative director, who does not want to be named, however, says that Abby, in its earlier avatar, had multimedia campaign as a category, which was easier to enter. “You could have a print campaign, a poster campaign, and you automatically qualified for multimedia. The integrated campaign is a lot harder to get around, because you need to have work in more media. It has to be truly ‘integrated’ work.”
At meetings with AAAI members, Ad Club members had requested that more Abby properties be included in the Goafest section, but these proposals were rejected, says another creative director, who too does not wish to be named. “This is understandable since the Abby as an awards ceremony has not really kept up with the times. Until recently, they still had categories like alcohol, even when the category suffered from several legal restrictions,” he says, adding that not too long ago, only a fraction of the Abby juries judging the commercials were creative people; most were film-makers. Similarly, other juries were dominated by advertisers and CEOs and managing directors of agencies.
Another creative director, who does not wish to be identified, voices a different grouse: “It was the Ad Club that began this regressive trend of Bollywood stars presenting awards to creative people. I can say this for most creative guys in agencies: Film stars are not exactly our role models. We would rather accept awards from people we respect (seniors in our own fraternity).”
There is a much sharper divide over the fact that high-profile Abby categories such as Campaign of the Year, Agency of the Year, etc., have been done away with in the new Abby, since some directors and officials feel they are “not progressive”. Also, some additions to Abby made last year, such as The Young Abby, have not been included.
Says Bakshi: “In the Olympics, Russia may have won enough number of medals, but it is not called the country of the year.”
Some ad men, however, don’t buy that. A leading creative director says the Olympics of advertising, Cannes Lions awards, still has an Agency of the Year category, so why not Abby? And Ashish Khazanchi, joint national creative director, Ambience Publicis Advertising Pvt. Ltd, wonders why the points system hasn’t been adopted. “Everyone mentally makes a tally of who has won what. You may not formally recognize the agency that won the most medals, but the creative directors keep an account. Having said that, it is an awards ceremony and it is meant to be competitive. I don’t see any harm in keeping Agency of the Year as a title.”
Mathews of TBWA agrees that Agency of the Year and Advertiser of the Year ought to be there as award categories. But, he adds, “the categories are probably there or not there for very good reason, best explained by the chairman of the Goafest committee.”
In a similar vein, BBDO’s Paul reckons the Agency of the Year slot ought to be included, and predicts that, in time, young creative professionals will demand its return. “I am told that the Agency of the Year title has been dropped because the festival is more about the enjoyment of creative ideas than (about) who topped the list. But everyone is going to make their own calculations (on points) in any case.”
Scam ads, or ads created specially by agencies for non-existent clients or for the explicit purpose of winning awards, are the bane of any such event. Earlier forms of Abby had a scrutiny committee, says an ad veteran who has worked with both organizations. “There is no scrutiny committee in the ‘new’ Abby to weed out scam ads. In the past, some big agencies were charged with submitting scam ads by such committees. So now, there is conveniently no specific committee,” he says.
The AAAI website (aaaindia.org), however, does say that the committee seriously vets the legitimacy of all entries. Says Arvind Sharma, chairman, Leo Burnett India: “For us, if you qualify the criteria for entry, it is a legitimate entry. We don’t get judgemental about entries post that, because it gives enough opportunities for select people to knock off entries of competitors, as has happened in the past. Some of these judgements could be motivated. The Goafest has never had a scams (scrutiny) committee.”
For all the angst, there is a lot of buzz and excitement—and Abby has the star role. There is hope that the various transition issues will be addressed. In time, more specific awards will be added within the Goafest, says Kamath. Already, some suggestions are coming in. Paul says there is room for more specific awards, such as design and specific craft awards, and awards for young creative professionals.
Photographs by Madu Kapparath/ Mint