Goafest superjury to decide on controversial ads today

MUMBAI: It’s judgment day for some of India’s most prominent ad agencies. On Tuesday, the super jury put together by the Awards Governing Council of Goafest will look into allegations of plagiarism against tens of controversial advertisements and decide whether they be allowed to retain their trophies. Estimates about the number of entries under the scanner have been on the rise.

Latest industry figures put it at 58. Apart from mounting a defence, affected agencies have been trying to figure out the source of complaints. An agency chief feels it’s the work of a creative leader at a rival agency, a recent convert to the anti-scam brigade, who ironically enough earned his spurs creating dubious advertising at one of his previous assignments. Be that as it may, the season of controversy began long before the latest scandal: with JWT’s unauthorised advertising for Ford Figo evoking global outrage.

And then, a silver-winning radio spot for Tata Salt created by Leo Burnett was withdrawn by the client because it wasn’t a legitimate work. All of this has placed a great deal of pressure on Indian advertising, which already has chronic problems of talent and inadequate remuneration. The fear is that such incidents will further sully the image of the industry that has already seen some of its value eroded. “The industry is definitely going through soul searching,” says Josy Paul, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO. “The industry can’t be held hostage to a few vindictive elements operating anonymously with personal agendas. We should not forget the bigger picture. This is the time for greater consciousness as much as it is a time to forgive and move on, gracefully,” he says.

There are voices speaking up for advertising even out of the industry, though some of these agree that there’s a good deal about the business that needs fixing. Marketing consultant Nabankur Gupta says, “Brand managers get influenced by awards that an agency has won. The unfortunate part is it’s not necessary for a winning campaign to be aligned to the original brand strategy or business direction.” At the same time, he believes there are inadequate checks and balances at agencies and a huge sense of overconfidence that winning at awards inspires.

Mahesh Madhavan, president and CEO, South Asia, at Bacardi India, says, “For an agency client relationship to really flourish it ought to be built on trust. You will always have various situations thrown at the relationship. How we chose to react to it as a client is what sets us apart from the rest.” Anisha Motwani, chief marketing officer at Max Life Insurance, says, “The agency and client need to be clear that strategy comes first… creative follows.” She advocates greater attention being paid to tactical work. The industry is now focussed on the decisions of the super jury, which comprises leading creative people like Senthil Kumar from JWT, Agnello Dias from Taproot, Paul from BBDO and Prasoon Joshi from McCann Worldgroup among others.

If industry moles are to be believed, hectic lobbying has already begun. There are some leaders who hope the super jury will be a venue for deeper discussions on the future of the business. Prasoon Joshi says, “Is the race for winning awards becoming unhealthy? Is it time to evaluate certain core issues? I would like if the super jury can discuss the bigger picture. Certain things have happened that should not have happened.” Irrespective of the results, marketing consultant Harish Bijoor says the crisis will soon be over. “The advertising industry in India is thankfully thick skinned. This crisis of faith shall also pass. Give it time, and all that happened pre, during and after the Goafest 2013 will be forgotten,” he says.