Newsmaker - Cannes jury president brings an Asian perspective

If you've ever attended the Cannes International Advertising Festival, the chances are you've noticed Piyush Pandey. He cuts a very memorable figure. There's the wrinkled short-sleeved shirt and shorts with rather too much sweat in evidence, together with what must be one of the world's most confident moustaches, Francesca Newland reports.

There's a buzz of excitement around his presidency of the jury at Cannes this year. Ogilvy & Mather India's group president and creative director has many more fans than detractors.

In India, Pandey is credited with revolutionising the nation's advertising. His work shuns the country's tendency to run Western-style ads and instead uses Indian life as its inspiration. Such is his success that, when returning from Cannes clutching a Cannes Lion last year, he was recognised by the customs officers at Sahar airport.

Neil French, WPP's most senior global creative, concurs: "He has made Indian advertising Indian advertising.

"He's fiercely patriotic. India is his country and he has mastered the Indian psyche."

Pandey's scruffy appearance is not contrived and this naturalness is reflected in the simplicity of the creative output of O&M India. Take the print ad that warned against the dangers of passive smoking: a dead horse lying next to a smoking cowboy. Or there's the Fevicol ad, which featured an old bus weighed down with travellers piled on its roof and hanging out of its windows. The passengers sway to a slow drumbeat before the brand name reveals that they were held in place by Fevicol glue.

Jeff Goodby, the founder of Goodby Silverstein, was president of the Cannes jury two years ago, when Pandey was a judge. He says: "I think he's a great choice. He's won Lions himself, while working in a culture rather different from the historical mainstream of Cannes. His creative judgment is, I think, beyond reproach."

Pandey is the festival's first Asian juror. Given the international nature of Cannes, it seems incredible. Although cynics point out that his appointment will have a lot to do with the volume of potential entry fees that the festival organisers predict could come from the region in the future, Pandey is overjoyed: "There's no better recognition for an individual or the region. It's the culmination of 20 years of solid work from the region. I'm just in the right place at the right time."

He's neither annoyed nor surprised that there hasn't been an Asian jury president before. He says the maturity of the Japanese market could have enabled one of its creative stars to lead the jury if it had produced "better work earlier". He also believes the language barrier for Japanese candidates is not insignificant.

His presence at the helm of the jury has led many to predict that Asian entries will receive more recognition than in previous years. He says that he's not noticed Asian ads at a disadvantage to date but adds that, if there's a nuance that the jury needs explained, he'll be there to do it. "By and large, there shouldn't be a need for an explanation. I won't jump up and start explaining things unless the jury members want to know something." He adds: "We'll not be making up for the past."

However, his stated intent to take unknown domestic brands seriously will affect the outcome. Pandey believes that, too often, familiar brands from large multinationals win over less-known rivals simply because of their familiarity to the jury. This automatically favours entries from the US and Europe.

He also thinks it's imperative to take every entry seriously: "It's important to remind the jury that people have paid through their pockets for these entries.

It's wrong to take a ruthless sword to everything. We've got to keep our eyes open." He warns that it's very easy to rule out so many entries at the beginning that later entries have an advantage simply to fill the quota.

But, in general, Pandey is happy with the judging structure at Cannes.

"I found the process quite satisfactory," he states. So not for him any railing against scam ads, unlike Saatchi & Saatchi's worldwide creative director, Bob Isherwood, when he was the jury president at Cannes three years ago. "I think we should leave the policing of ads to the organisers. It's so difficult to know if, for example, an ad from China is a scam. After all, the guy who says it is might be a competitor."

Pandey also has faith in the wisdom of his fellow jurors: "They are experienced. They can smell a scam and not make a fuss."

Last year, many believed that Wieden & Kennedy's "cog" spot for Honda missed winning the film Grand Prix because of its similarity to a short film by two Swiss artists. Pandey believes the subject of derivative advertising is a tricky one: "It's not good enough just to say it's familiar. You have to say what you've seen and where. If there is something tangible, then there can be a healthy debate on the jury.

"Everything in life has inspiration from something. I believe in using life for inspiration. But whether or not something is inspired or stolen is subjective. My role is to head a debate on a case-by-case basis."

One criticism regularly levelled at the Cannes judging process is that too many ads with slapstick humour are awarded; there is a superabundance of entries whose creative idea relies on farts and/or violence. Pandey says: "A lot of the time, humour tends to win. My take is if it works for juries, it works for people. There's a need for laughter and a smile in our lives."

He becomes animated when talking about Cannes' history of awarding great creative irrespective of an ad's ability to sell products. This subject is a big one for Cannes this year and will become larger in future because the organisers are working hard to attract clients to the festival. This year, Procter & Gamble, McDonald's and BMW are in attendance.

Pandey says: "We must pay attention to whether an ad is working or not; say 'no' to people just masturbating for themselves alone. If you make the show so exclusive of the people (the ads are selling to), you lose its purpose. It's about much more than exchanging gongs; it's important to keep a sense of who it's made for with you at all times."

French is impressed by Pandey's ability with people, a characteristic that has equipped him well for the jury presidency. French says: "He's a very good people person. He can handle bust-ups - he's good at calming people down. He's a master at solving other people's problems. He handles a room very well."

Goodby adds: "While he has his own points of view, he's politically astute enough to lead a group."

Pandey's background makes him a unique president for Cannes. He's got seven older sisters and one brother, he used to be a tea taster, and he was once a professional cricketer. Such influences make him utterly different to the Western presidents that have preceded him.

This makes his presidency an important one for Cannes' evolution. It will confirm the international status of the festival and lend freshness to the attitude towards the entries.

QUESTIONNAIRE

Age: 49

Lives: Mumbai

Family: Three children: two golden retrievers, one Labrador

Favourite ad: Hamlet "photo studio"

Describe yourself in three words: Happy go lucky

Greatest extravagance: More than one

Most admired agency: Many

Living person you most admire: Vivian Richards

Motto: Live and let live

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