Cannes Lions 2022: We may have manifested this win, say Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya

Reghunath and Aditiya, co-creators of ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’ while at Dentsu Webchutney, talk of the most awarded campaign at Cannes this year, as well as their new agency, Talented

Srabana LahiriUpdated: Tuesday, June 28, 2022, 10:34 AM IST
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Former Dentsu Webchutney CEO Gautam Reghunath (L) and CCO PG Aditiya, who launched their agency, Talented, in April | File

In November 2020, even before ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’ campaign for VICE Media was officially launched, the team at Dentsu Webchutney had a feeling that they were on to something big. So, when the team sat together to share notes about working on the campaign, they actually recorded their award acceptance speeches in advance, pre-empting the glory the campaign was to bring.

Cut to the Cannes Lions festival last week and sure enough, ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’ became the most awarded campaign in Indian advertising history at the festival, picking up an unprecedented 12 Lions - a Titanium, 3 Grand Prix, 1 Gold, 4 Silver and 3 Bronze awards. The coveted Global Agency of the Year title was won by the newly minted Dentsu Creative on the back of these awards.

Above: Harsh Shah, Ajay Gahlaut, Amit Wadhwa, Gurbaksh Singh, Ananya Rao of Dentsu Creative India along with Fred Levron, Global CCO, Dentsu on the stage at Cannes

Looking back, ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’ does have a history of its own too: Created by the team at Dentsu Webchutney in 2020, and acclaimed by the industry ever since its launch, it was already a strong contender for metals at the Cannes Lions festival this year before its historic run began.

But just before the start of the festival at Cannes, the Dentsu Webchutney brand had been merged to become part of Dentsu Creative, the global creative network announced by Dentsu on June 20, 2022, uniting all its creative agency brands, and intended to be its sole creative network by the end of this year.

Notably, Webchutney, a leading digital agency founded by Sidharth Rao and Sudesh Samaria in 1999, had been acquired by Dentsu India in May 2013, its first acquisition in the digital agency space. Dentsu Webchutney led by Rao made its name as a top performer over the years, keeping India among the metals at all major award forums including Cannes.

Most recently, at the Spikes Asia Festival held in March 2022, Dentsu Webchutney Bangalore emerged as the most awarded agency with ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’ picking up four Grand Prix and several other awards. In May, Dentsu Webchutney’s outstanding performance at The One Show 2022 was again led by ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’. Also in May, Sidharth Rao moved on from Dentsu to pursue other interests.

Meanwhile, Dentsu Webchutney’s then CEO and CCO, Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya – creators of the campaign along with several others – too had moved on from the agency early this year.

On April 6, 2022 the two launched their creative agency named Talented, with the avowed aim to reimagine the industry’s relationship with its talent and clients; especially to focus on the talent, ensuring better pay, work hours, employee ownership, among other aspects.

In this scenario, naturally they could not be up on the Cannes stage to receive the awards, nor will the Lions be theirs to keep, but that did not take away from their pure joy on the mega win or keep them from sharing all the excitement. Happily, Team Dentsu has been very particular about giving credit where it is due and has called out the creators of the campaign – both present and past colleagues - on all media platforms.

Here are excerpts from a conversation with Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya, co-founders of Talented:

What are your thoughts right at this moment after this mega win? Has it sunk in as yet?

Gautam Reghunath: We’ve been thinking, dreaming and planning our magnum opus - The Unfiltered History Tour’s best version for the better part of two years now and its success has been such a high for all of us. I’m personally overjoyed that it has introduced the discourse around colonialism to the creative world.

VICE is an incredible client partner which exponentially elevated this campaign’s promise. Over a hundred contributors worked on this project and they’ve all got their own individual parts to play in all of this. Yes, the awards are certainly nice, so we celebrate for a couple of days and move on right after.

The scope of the project absolutely deserves future versions. On our Global Agency of the Year win, it feels like an amazing way to cap off Webchutney’s 23-year journey. To be India’s first Global Agency of the Year is quite the note to sign off on.

As the agency enters its finale before the consolidation, it’s been the honour of our lives to be a part of this institution that Sidharth Rao built. He can be so very proud. Our aim is to now carry forward the Webchutney legacy through our work at Talented.

What is a fun back story about the campaign - while it was in the making or later after the win...

PG Aditiya: Talented is currently India’s youngest creative agency with the oldest reputation. Our founding team’s work at Dentsu Webchutney is now part of Indian advertising history. Even before the campaign was launched, we had a feeling we were on to something path-breaking. And so, the team came together a few weeks before the launch to share their experience of working on this campaign, and pre-emptively gave their acceptance speeches - back in November 2020. Maybe we did manifest this win. We’ve had this footage lying with us and I’m going to drop it soon.

Winning at Cannes is as much about packaging of the work as the work itself. What did you do to present it right?

PG Aditiya: The core team - many of whom are now part of Talented’s founding team - have stayed committed to the project and delivered the first version of the case film that was entered at Spikes Asia. We wanted to ensure our case film for Cannes Lions truly captured the enormity and authenticity of this campaign.

Funfact: By the time we were ready to submit the case film for Cannes, we had already launched Talented, and The Unfiltered History core team took on two jobs, as they ensured the last mile delivery of the case film for Cannes, along with building Talented. I’m confident seeing the work we’ve done so far at Talented - including the viral Mother’s Day campaign for Tanishq, the launch of RazorpayX Payroll & Swiggy’s D2C marketplace - Minis, that we’ve done the balancing act well.

Gautam Reghunath: It was a truly collaborative effort with the teams who were still at Webchutney. Outside of the creators, I also want to specifically call out some of my dear former colleagues - Harsh Shah, Anindita Sarkar, Amit Wadhwa, Ajay Gahlaut and their current teams - who have helped champion and elevate this even after we left in January this year. Some of them are super-shy about the spotlight but are people very close to our hearts and very, very relevant to this campaign’s success.

What lies at the core of Talented… tell us about the 'radical ideas' you set out with… and what are some of the goals you have on the horizon?

Gautam Reghunath: We’re starting up because we have ideas that we believe can fundamentally alter what our business means, first for those working in it and therefore for our clients. It’s no mystery around what the agency business needs to do to get better. What we need is a commitment to act - action around tackling inequity, how we value our work, how we pay, the demanding hours, the lack of skin in the game, the looming irrelevance staring agencies in our faces, etc. It’s a long list.

PG Aditiya: I am a little cynical myself about small, young organisations that entirely dismiss the way big industry works and promise a brave new world without thinking about how it scales. A lot of our plans are sensible and scalable if done right. I want to repeat something I mentioned in another interview - at this point, of course, we miss the ability to offer certain services that are a direct function of our agency size. But we absolutely don’t miss the quality-dilution in the work and risk-averse mentality that plague large agencies.

Employee ownership is one of the big tenets at Talented. Do you think the big agency system fetters creativity and growth?

PG Aditiya: Most large legacy agencies are usually structured for a very tiny group of people to bear most of the glory and the upside. We most certainly want to leave these 20th-century notions behind. This is not how modern companies are built. The inequity around which our industry has been built is a reality of advertising that history will not be kind to.

Gautam Reghunath: One of our first moves was to relook at base pay for a lot of levels and positions. Talented is also one of the first agencies in our part of the world to have stock options in the picture, so that’s already been a refreshing conversation with a lot of those who’ve joined. It’s important to us that those who build their careers here in the long-term have enough skin in the game. There’s so much we can learn from our friends in tech.

Through Talented’s equity allocations and further on through those who are part of our ESOP programme, upwards of 20% of Talented will be employee-owned over the next few years. If we have a successful trajectory over the coming years, the spoils of that success will be shared amongst those fellow optimists who are taking this journey with us now. This isn’t something radical in business but just a simple first step in ensuring the best minds are rewarded and motivated to do their life’s best work while they’re here.

What do such huge accolades on the global stage augur for the future of Talented?

PG Aditiya: To start an agency right after, with the core team that worked on The Unfiltered History Tour as our founding team, has helped us set our benchmarks incredibly high for both - the future of the Unfiltered History Tour, and every other project we undertake. The aim is to do loads of popular, artistic, purposeful and effective work - both in India and across the globe. If you want to join Talented as a colleague, client or external partner - we’re listening. And we won’t let the ones who are rallying around us down.

‘A moment to rejoice for Dentsu Creative India’

“It is hard to describe how we feel on receiving three Grand Prix awards, let alone a Titanium, and to top it all off, Agency of the Year - it is a moment to rejoice for each one of us at Dentsu Creative India. This indeed fuels the fire of passion and commitment in the team that has relentlessly worked on it. The entire credit goes to each one of those who have been involved, to all our present and ex-colleagues who have worked so hard on the campaign. They are the real winners.”

- AMIT WADHWA,

CEO, Dentsu Creative India

‘I doff my hat to the entire campaign team’

“No one in the entire Indian ad industry has been part of such a huge haul of Lions ever before. I do believe we are the first full-service Indian agency to win the title of Agency of the Year. I doff my hat to the entire team responsible for The Unfiltered History Tours. Those who are with us now and those who have moved on. Congratulations, all!”

- AJAY GAHLAUT,

Group CCO, Dentsu Creative India

‘Happy that colonialism is being talked about’

“We’ve been thinking, dreaming and planning our magnum opus - The Unfiltered History Tour’s best version - for the better part of two years now and its success has been such a high for all of us. I’m personally overjoyed that it has introduced the discourse around colonialism to the creative world.”

- GAUTAM REGHUNATH,

Co-Founder, Talented

‘Core team took on two jobs for last mile delivery’

“We wanted to ensure our case film for Cannes Lions truly captured the enormity and authenticity of this campaign. But by the time we were ready to submit the case film for Cannes, we had already launched Talented, and The Unfiltered History core team took on two jobs, as they ensured the last mile delivery of the case film for Cannes, along with building Talented.”

- PG ADITIYA,

Co-founder, Talented

ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN

The Unfiltered History Tour is an unofficial guide of the British Museum, which gives visitors an immersive insight into the museum’s most disputed artefacts, their origins and how they were obtained.

Visitors are invited to scan objects on display, such as the Rosetta Stone, or the Parthenon Marbles, and are transported back to the time and place of provenance via Instagram AR filters and extended podcasts. Through the experience, users can listen to audio guides narrated by experts from the countries from which the artefacts originated.

The campaign provides visual depictions of moments in history shown from the perspective of the once-colonised, and the narratives are designed to transport listeners back in time to the homelands of the artefacts, while giving often silenced voices a chance to express colonial trauma.

From Egyptologists, to the seventh descendant of the Gweagal Shield, to the Governor of Rapa Nui - 10 experts play tour guide in narrating the true histories of artefacts from their homelands, dismantling the British Museum’s narrative, and by extension, centuries of imperial narrative.

Clearly, the Tour was developed right under the British Museum’s nose and visitors can even connect to its wi-fi while taking the tour! The campaign, made for VICE Media, highlights its commitment to make marginalized colonial voices heard.

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