Adlanders say Goafest needs radical reinvention; Must address real issues eroding the industry

Tuesday, June 04, 2024
Is Goafest still as exciting and relevant to creative professionals today as it was twenty years ago to the then-agency heads? Storyboard18 asked attendees and adland executives.

While most of the advertising agencies today want to steer clear of any debate surrounding Goafest, it so happens that others have strong opinions on the fest. Whether Goafest holds relevance in 2024 or not, despite the participation of over "250 agencies", is a question that remains.

Many of the observers have questioned the relevance based on the quality of work being entered (read: scam ads) in the ABBY Awards and whether the work has solved any real-world problems for its clients. Questions are being raised: How a generation that is high on equality, inclusion, and social responsibility — millennials and GenZ — views an award show run by the "same old, male-dominated guard"? Why are real issues that are eroding the industry not addressed and tackled seriously?

One agency owner who attended the fest this year said, "Everyone is busy future-gazing, but no one will be held accountable for their predictions even a year from now. Instead, the creative industry needs to raise real issues and real threats to its existence."

He added, "The media agencies have somehow managed to take care of themselves with strong leaders at the industry's helm. They've managed to make it a point to safeguard the present and the future. The same can't be said for the creative agencies. For instance, undercutting is far more rampant today, with big networks even undercutting independent agencies and slashing their fees to a point where the whole business becomes unviable. Clients, especially the younger ones, are also to blame - glut of pitches, no remuneration, lack of respect for the craft, short-term vanity goals to build personal CMO brands leading to more scam work for major brands... So many issues that could be raised at Goafest and other top forums."

The founder said, "Goafest is out of touch from reality."

Consider this: This year's Goafest took place in Mumbai from May 29-31, close to the location where an illegal ad hoarding collapsed killing 17 people, and the festival barely grazed the issues that led to the tragedy, said adlanders Storyboard18 spoke to, stating that the advertising industry leaders should have led the charge on action-oriented conversations. Maybe this is somewhat of a reflection of the industry that has become inward-looking and refusing to change at the speed needed, said two network agency executives, wishing not to be named in this piece.

Echoing their sentiment, Naresh Gupta, co-founder Bang In The Middle, highlighted when India was fighting Kargil war, it was the young creative people who created the campaign that made the whole country donate whatever they could to the war effort.

“Maybe we need them back in the industry," Gupta said.

Gupta went on to consider the commercial aspect of the fest as well. "At one level we must remember that any award show of any kind is an expense and the commercial aspect of decision-making cannot be overlooked. In the initial years of Goafest, the whole mela was geared towards the younger talent, and many agencies only partially funded the delegates' travel and stay. The festival from there has evolved and, to a large extent, has also become a showcase of the power equation.”

Goafest passes, it seems, are considered expensive by senior industry professionals as well. One ad executive and attendee at this year's Goafest that is being held in Powai, Mumbai, said he paid Rs 25,000 for a pass and that it was "expensive". We asked another attendee, a young creative director with a mainline agency, if she is getting her money's worth in terms of the learning modules and workshops. "Not really," she answered. Another lamented the pass prices, stating that barring a few conversations there was nothing to write home about. But, he added, at least there is beer.

Goafest 2024 had to be held in Mumbai this year due to the General Elections. Initially, the organizers, Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and The Advertising Club, even considered making it a two-day fest.

The festival and award shows organizers have been attempting to revive Goafest's former glory, over the past two years. It’s good that the who's who of the industry are there and they are running the show, it is a clear signal of where they want to take the industry. This is reflected in the panels and discussions they are mounting, the subjects are future-oriented, but they are still incremental and not radical, Gupta noted.

Adlanders highlighted the fact that the entire landscape of communication and consumer engagement has transformed. The way consumers interact with brands, make purchase decisions, create mental shortcuts for themselves has all changed. The festival is still not waking up to that, they say. Also, the agencies are now mere suppliers, and are never hired as partners that can help the brands grow. This is again a subject that is not addressed and an action plan is not proposed.

There is one thing though that Gupta applauded which is this year they have got in a lot more younger professionals in the jury pool than before: “I would think that by being relevant to the new emerging audiences, we would be future-oriented.”

In fact, Raj Kamble, Founder and CCO, Famous Innovations, noted that over the years the fest has become a media fest from what used to be an ad fest because of a huge number of people running it. “Since it is a festival that sells creativity, more creative people should participate. Additionally, old people should move and new people should be on the board. The old people don't want to leave and they're not letting other people come.”

“Nothing is wrong with the award shows, the way we are doing it is wrong,” he added.

As per an industry source, the Goafest committee has 25 young agency heads this year.

Agreeing that the fest definitely needs to be reinvented to connect with the youth, Gaurav Arora, Co-Founder of Social Panga, said, “They should talk to new agencies and take constructive feedback, especially from first-time entrants. Goafest can remain a vibrant and dynamic event for the present and upcoming generation of creative workers by adapting to the times and welcoming new ideas. Creating fresh and creative award categories can draw in new talent and highlight developing trends in the field. Furthermore, initiating novel projects, and strategically modifying the event's structure can increase its allure and significance.”

Lost its sheen- ‘not yet’

Although there's a mushrooming of advertising shows and it has become "a money making business" across the world, Kamble noted that Goafest is run by a committee with no personal or money-making agenda.

"I don't think Goafest is losing its sheen. Except for a few agencies, perhaps 95% of agencies have participated this year. It is truly an Indian advertising award show. Nobody working in the Ad club charges a single penny and they all work for the entire festival maintaining 5K-10K people for free. So when you do something like this there's no personal agenda or no money-making business," he noted.

Additionally, "Goafest has been a staple of Indian advertising since its first edition in 2006 - long before a lot of us began our careers So, saying that Goafest has lost its relevance is a bitter take,” said Jackie J. Thakkar, a Creative Director. Though he agreed that they perhaps just need to cater to the younger Millennials and Gen-Z cohort more. This could be done by onboarding panellists that are relevant to the youth today.

Goafest still continues to remain one of the biggest in the creative sector, acts as a great networking platform and also to rebuild connections with industry colleagues, said experts. So, naturally, agencies do care about The Abbys, or else there would not be 3,506 entries submitted this year.

“Since there are a lot of new events coming and the young and new talent look up to different awards, The Abby’s still holds quite true and valid,” noted Arora.

While it may seem like younger creatives are losing interest, according to Ryan Parker, Creative Director, Infectious Advertising, what’s really happening is their interests lie elsewhere. Winning awards has a very different meaning today, and awards like The Abbys still stand as great motivation to push the envelope.

“Goafest will continue to be relevant as long as it’s celebrated,” Parker said.

“They say the new guard does not want to take charge of these events. The only question I can ask is are you really willing to let them take charge of it, or do you just want them to join the event workforce? They want control, they want to feel like they’re making a difference. And, if they don’t feel it, they won’t bother, because why should they?”

“A new-age version of Goafest would be a sight to behold,” he concluded.