Cannes Predictions: BBH's Work for Oasis and a James Ready Beer Campaign

A Q&A With McCann's Prasoon Joshi

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Besides crafting ads for marketers such as Coca-Cola, Cadbury, CNN and Ponds, Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman and regional creative director, Asia/Pacific, at McCann Erickson, has written song lyrics and dialogue for Bollywood films. It's not surprising then that he comes to look at creativity from the point of view as an artist as well as a ad creative.

Prasoon Joshi
Prasoon Joshi
Ad Age: How has the recession affected creativity?

Mr. Joshi: There's been the good and the bad. The latter first: From an advertising point of view in this climate, clients are obviously more cautious and most often when there is over-consciousness, the tendency is to be extra sure to measure every move. Creativity suffers because the elbow room, the head room, the space for imagination is curtailed. There is more research, less risk and increased inclination towards the tried and tested, which often brings results that are less exceptional and less path-breaking. Now let me contradict myself: The other side is that whenever there is scarcity, lack of resources and limitations, more innovative approaches are born. So there is opportunity.

From a more overall and general perspective and by dint of being a poet at heart and an advertising person by vocation, I tend to see creativity in two distinct compartments, for self-expression and for commercial purposes. The first is innate, spontaneous. The commerce of it is just a byproduct.

Lately I have sensed this joy of creation taking the front seat once again. For a while now, art and commerce worked in tandem, perhaps too much so. There were too many market considerations: the booming economy; the growth of new consumer segments; research and forecasting of consumer needs; which art would be lucrative; where to buy and invest. Markets were growing at breakneck speed. The aim was maximum output with minimum input. Creativity, and its expression, was increasingly becoming made to order.

Today, as we have to contend with an economic slowdown, compounded by the struggle to come to terms with collective terror and the systemic failure of many socio-political structures, creativity is becoming more spontaneous. Overwhelming emotion, evoked by prevailing societal conditions, will let creativity take its natural course, less dictated by market considerations, in turn making it more genuine, more rooted. It is true that art and creative pursuits often serve as light relief for a people in trying circumstances. But they are being viewed more responsibly than ever before. There's genuine desire to get a grip. Creativity will perhaps be more profound, gritty and socially conscientious.

Time I guess for the arts to find genuine lovers, believers and patrons, and not just consumers.

Ad Age: What work -- that you're not affiliated with -- has most impressed you in the past year or so?

Mr. Joshi: BBH's campaign for Oasis' new album launch. The concept of getting street musicians all over New York to learn and sing the album songs in order to seed and popularize it before the actual launch was a super one. Then the Buenos Aires Independent films TVCs too was a wonderful take.

There was also this campaign for Canadian beer James Ready that requested the consumer to help keep the price of their favorite beer down by contributing $1 for the cost of billboards and in turn getting their photograph printed on the billboard in their town. It's such an innovative way of involving people with the brand, of fostering a sense of co-ownership. I think increasingly in our business there is a tendency to look down upon salesmanship for the regular products that we work on -- the shampoos, the soap, the everyday beverages. ... Campaigns like the one for James Ready, for me, assert the basics of our profession of advertising and selling products in the best manner possible.

Ad Age: In terms of creativity, what region or country or city are you most impressed with and why?

Mr. Joshi: Great work in different periods of time has come from different places -- Latin America, Asia, Thailand, Singapore and lately, of course, India, have demonstrated their creative prowess. Personally speaking, apart from the creativity for creativity's sake kind of work, what impresses me is the work from the U.S. The manner in which work from the U.S. has invented and reinvented brands and the impact it has created. Clearly when it comes to brand thinking and building, the U.S. does some great stuff, and when I think of nuances and sheer craft, work from London impresses.

Ad Age: What campaign should clean up at Cannes this year?

Mr. Joshi: Hopefully some of the work mentioned above may gets its due. Besides I always believe that one should celebrate unpredictability. Cannes does throw up surprises and I am looking forward to that.

Ad Age: In an era of GPS and micro-targeting, what's the future of the global campaign?

Mr. Joshi: Most people thought that globalization would lead to standardization and more pan-continental kind of work. But whilst some silos are breaking, others are taking form. It's not about standardization or even multiculturalism, it's leaning more towards transculturalism, towards the interplay of your culture and my culture. And a third form of culture is emerging that is not linear but more complex and nuanced.

Yes, it is increasingly more difficult to have a common global campaign. Consumers are deriving their own meaning from the brand and expressing it freely. In many cases consumers will co-create a brand -- one brand will mean different things to different people. The question then emerges: Is there anything in the control of the brand? Or that of the marketer and advertiser? Yes -- the core value system. The emphasis should not be so much on creating a global campaign but on the global value system of a brand, which is more sensory in nature. But if you try and articulate it too narrowly you will get disappointed. We need to understand more than ever that the brand is a living, breathing organism.

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