NOW : DESIGN + ADVERTISING

22 June 2008
Sudhir Sharma, Founder Director & Principal Designer at Elephant Strategy + Design, India and Chief Creative Mentor at "Brand Planet Elephant"
Sudhir Sharma



This week's Feature is a commentary on the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival which concluded last week. Sudhir Sharma, Founder Director & Principal Designer at Elephant Strategy + Design and Chief Creative Mentor at "Brand Planet Elephant", was the only Indian on the inaugural Cannes Design Lions Jury.




Above: 10,000 delegates from advertising, marketing and media world attended the inaugural Cannes Design Lions awards ceremony - perhaps the largest, most high profile and most glamorous ever. Photo: Sudhir Sharma.

The concept of design in advertising is not new, perhaps owing to the fact that the earliest advertising campaigns were all by designers of all means. But the introduction of a Design Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival is certainly a new development.

The celebration of good design has always been an elemental part of advertising, in traditional media like print, billboards and more recently in the burgeoning categories of interactive, integrated, online and mobile media. Now, the inclusion of a Design Lion category in this year's Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival has cemented the design industry's importance to advertising. The Cannes Design Lions received 1200 entries (double the 600 organisers were hoping to achieve) from 56 countries (India included).

It is interesting to note the kind of entries that we judged under the umbrella of design. There were the usual suspects in the poster, print and publication categories - overlaps and re-entries from advertising agencies, repurposing elements of advertising campaigns. We didn't see the usual poster entries one sees at various Icograda events - these were hardcore product and service campaigns, where posters supplemented TV campaigns or worked as recall for the outdoor campaign. We also saw a fair amount of packaging, environmental design (semi and permanent), corporate identities, logos, brochures and books and calendars. Finally, there were a huge number of self-promotion pieces, which almost every agency felt were works of art.

Stll, the jury did feel that the role of design in advertising seems to have matured from just the craft side of looking good (aesthetics) to becoming more integral and a crucial differentiator in reaching out and communicating to consumers. Design is becoming the language that defines brands as the powerful vehicles of messages that they are today. In fact, it would not be out of place to say that effective design can hold together a brand message when an agency is introducing change within a brand.



Above: The inaugural Cannes Design Lions jury was chaired by Rodney Fitch.

As expected, this year saw most of the entries from advertising agencies. The Cannes Design Lions will need time to reach the design agencies - many who are stars of the design world were absent in this inaugural Design Lion in the Cannes International Advertising Festival. Organisers will also have to pull major design speakers for the seminars to create the same kind of buzz as they have done in the advertising industry. There is also a fact that the entry fees may keep many small designers away and no escaping the reality that Cannes, France is certainly one of the most expensive destinations in the world.

Still, I see design integrating with advertising in business terms, and perhaps in work terms, like never before. The fact is with all the agency, media and business heads here, it is bound to result in business and awareness for designers as well. Designers are shrewd investors, and I am sure they will see this pretty quickly (Rodney Fitch, President of the Design Jury, commented during a lunch that he hosted on the beach that if he had discovered Cannes ten years back, he would have owned one of those anchored luxury boats by now).

The categories this year focused on the ones within the reach of advertising agencies. But do not be surprised if more categories attuned to specialised design are introduced in the future. The inaugural jury brainstormed and gave our advice to the organisers. Fitch also boldly suggested that the name of the festival be changed to International Festival of Advertising and Design.

The role of design is to make the complex simple. Good design also inspires. The effort of design is always to surpass the communication brief: to make it really useful and meaningful. To go beyond success. Design’s role is beauty - that is true - but that is elemental. This beauty has to emerge from the usefulness and usability that always comes first. That's true design. This thought can be a differentiator for the traditional advertising agencies.

We have seen the designer’s role evolving in last 20 years of Elephant. From mere "makers and thinkers of things" we are becoming creatures of collaboration in multidisplinary approaches. We as designers are capable of conceiving, executing and communicating ideas over time and space, in a multitude of manners and in variety of mediums. At this critical juncture, we need to collaborate and understand the big machinery that advertising and marketing has become.

All great brands are built of big ideas. A big part of this idea has to be the product or the service itself. Who understands this better than designers, who spend big time to perfect the basic core of the big idea? In the context of creating a truly innovative product or service (which creates the brand), the audience needs to connect. Sheer marketing can only take one so far if, at the core, the product is not engaging. The opposite is also true and we designers recognise this today.

A simple idea can create an innovative, creative and beautiful product or service (that would no doubt make the world a better place to live in) but still nothing can stir our emotions the way a good story can. A good product or service (pro-ice for example) is the heart of a good advertising campaign. A good story stirs the emotions and taps into the consumer’s imagination. This marriage of product and advertising takes flight to create unforgettable brands.

Designers have always used end-users as their co-creators, sourcing invaluable insight and feedback in terms of their needs, desires and aspirations. Advertisers have started to tap into this resource recently and this is where another meeting of design and advertising is emerging. Designers are used to collecting these insights in a much more intuitive and holistic way. The same insights have been proving priceless to create campaigns of massive engagement in many medias. In fact, it is driving the blurring of medias.

This blurring is significant for designers. And perhaps the best place to see it happening is this holiday place in the south of France during the Advertising Festival. I have no doubt that other advertising awards world over will soon include design as a category. My advice to designers would be don’t resist, but understand and join it in a meaningful way. Today, media like YouTube and other community-based programs are reaching masses and influencing needs and consumption in unimaginable ways.

Consumers need a sense of belonging and need to identify with a brand's immutable position in their daily lives. This is much more complex than just selling a pro-ice in an unfamiliar market. This has everything to do with designers and advertisers coming together and putting our heads together. We need to identify and embrace our differences.

This alone will unlock the value from branding decisions and strategic roles that we play in global paradigms. I do see our roles becoming blurred in an unpredictable future. It is essential that we work together. Only by sharing our experiences, knowledge and ideas can we create simplicity out of this very complex world.

Oh, I will be here next time too, not just for the topless beaches and gallons of Champagne, but also to make sense of where I am going.



About Elephant Design
Elephant is a strategic design and innovation consultancy that partners with an organisation to transform it into a dynamic, profitable and meaningful entity. elephantdesign.com