More of the (same) thoughts on Goafest

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Goafest is likely to be a dull affair this year, with some leading ad agencies opting out. Industry observers and journalists have written about the problems facing the Goafest brand and things that need fixing.

I remember the advertising awards of early ’90s (held under the aegis of Advertising Club, Bombay then too) – an evening celebrating the best work of the year. Over time, the venues got bigger – from a suburban hotel to a college in town but the routine was the same: awards distribution mostly, with some song & dance routines. As with most events, things have become bigger over the years. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the event’s purpose doesn’t get scattered and unfocused.

Things took a turn for the worse in my view, after the decision to move the advertising festival to Goa and renaming the event Goafest.

The earlier avatar of advertising awards evening was business-like with an after party thrown in. With the decision to make it a festival lasting over 2-3 days in Goa, business-like takes a back seat. The residual imagery is of fun, frolic and food. There’s nothing wrong with being a ‘festival’ lasting a few days or having fun, you say? Absolutely. Award shows like Cannes Lions are spread over a few days and celebrating (OK, partying) is part & parcel of such festivals. But what is the residual image of Cannes Lions festival? Ask someone who has never attended a Cannes festival (yours truly, for example) and the most likely response will be: a place to see great work and learn something new about the advertising business. Key words – great work, learn, business.

Creative award functions like Kyoorius Designyatra have garnered positive feedback – most of the attendees were all praise for the quality of speakers, the overall content and the value they got out of  primarily a learning experience. It suggests that the ‘core product offering’ is valued – people come away inspired by the profession they are in. I doubt if that is the motivation before the event or the feeling after the event, with Goafest. Those who attend the festival (not referring to the industry bigwigs, but those who pay their way through or get sent by their agency) see it as a getaway to party. Can’t blame them, since Goa inspires such emotions. You could say that about French Riviera riviera too, but Cannes Lions does not have that primary perception.

At Goafest, it is not uncommon to see truck loads of attendees partying away at the rain dance area or elsewhere when some pretty good sessions are going on as part of the ‘knowledge seminars’. No amount of coercing or incentivising the attendees to participate in the knowledge seminars is going to work if they did not think it was important for them. The fault partly lies with the product and its positioning. Even if the organisers bring in the world’s best speakers, if people set out for Goafest with a mindset to have a gala time, they will. And it will be at the cost of missing out on some knowledge sessions. If the event is positioned as ‘fun & frolic in the beach with a little bit of learning thrown in’ guess what the attendees will prefer?  Recently, when asked to tweet an appropriate ad agency song, some one tweeted this: ‘Har pal yahaan jee bhar piyo…jo hai sama kal ho na ho‘ – an obvious to a famous Hindi film song. It may be a trivial example, but points to the top of mind perception of Goafest = party time. Incidentally, as per the official schedule, the finals of the Goafest Tug-of-War Shield starts at the same time as the seminars.

I am not for a moment suggesting that advertising should not be fun or that industry awards should do away with a celebratory atmosphere. It is a question of priorities, the core product offering, its positioning and perceptions. A new print campaign promoting Cannes Lions may have a lighthearted approach but the key take away is clear: you will come back inspired. The unsaid part is about being inspired by the work on display.


Saurabh Verma, the new CEO of Leo Burnett talked about why the agency is sending 25 young employees to Cannes this year. The underlying message – advertising today is vastly different from what it was just a few years ago, boundaries are blurring and the new storytelling calls for a different kind of thinking. And merely attending Cannes Lions festival, hearing the best minds , watching the best work is perceived to help youngsters – equip them to become better professionals. I wonder if Goafest is perceived along similar lines or seen as a paid vacation.

Aside from the above, there are other softer issues which add to an event’s perception of being ‘with it’, contemporary and therefore, desirable, valuable. A few areas in which Goafest has not improved over the years:

– a decidedly 80s style, flash-based web page design. I mean, this is 2014, where is a responsive, mobile-friendly site? Just compare the official sites of Goafest and Cannes Lions on the web and on mobile to see the difference. Wouldn’t it be ironic when a speaker talks about the need for a device-agnostic approach to websites?

– the site does not display current & past short lists and winners

– poor presence and management of social media. While this year there is an official Twitter account, it remains to be seen how it is used; social media has not been used effectively at all over the past few years.  Effective use of social media is de rigueur with international award shows

– other events have moved on to useful, native mobile apps. While Goafest had one for last year, I get a feeling that it is a checklist approach at work

Add to all this is the other issues related to Goafest: scam or obscure work being awarded, the cost of travel and stay (some of the juniors may find it prohibitively expensive to attend, even if the cost is subsidized). I realize that there is a massive effort that goes behind organizing such an event and it is very easy to be an armchair critic. But this is about an industry close to one’s heart and a profession which is more of a passion. We all need to take some steps to constantly improve ourselves. Will we?

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