Sanjeev Kotnala: ‘Be bad and don’t hold back when it comes to creativity’

02 Apr,2015

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Adfest 2015, held recently in Pattaya, Thailand, was a like well-choreographed dance sequence. As session after session delved into the theme of ‘Be Bad’, the event stood out as a very region-focussed festival. A kind that is, surprisingly, not quite popular with Indian delegates yet. My take, though — if you get a chance, do attend it.


It’s tough to try and repackage the three-day fest. But here are some key learnings from it. First, as the sessions showed, the theme of ‘Be Bad’ urges agencies and creative folk to not take things for granted, or give in to constraints. They should explore, question and stretch the boundary of possibilities. The idea is to do something unexpected; because you will never get marks for doing just what is expected of you.


The fear of loss of business is a very real one. As is the question of lack of trust and honesty between the client and the agency. Clients will go to anyone who is willing to invest in, and understand, their business, and they see this as a lever to elevate them to the next level. But an agency ‘ivory tower’ attitude does not help either. Agencies need to get out in the field as well, and try to connect with their target audience, the consumers. Understand and draw on insights, and study consumer behaviour. What, for instance, are the threats and opportunities present in the situation? Then provide your client the best connect and understanding, and that will be the best service you can provide.


Today, everything is about multimedia or cross-media, and now things are moving towards trans-media. Your target audience is no longer as patient with your brand message as they used to be — unless you serve up a story that both engages and involves them. The art of storytelling, therefore, remains the same but must take on a slightly different form. Every story has a beginning, an introduction of characters, some issues or problems that complicate the situation, and a twist in the tale and, finally, a satisfying end. This is how audiences define a story, and agencies must be mindful of this.


In this age of dependency on technology, we have crippled the art of execution. The way out is to do better than your best. Plan things in detail, and then try to execute them as brilliantly as possible. Get the postproduction team synced and  involved in  the initial stage and you will get benefit a lot.


As the agency, you are the people with the ideas. Remember an ‘idea’ is really big, if it can be carried out by just about anyone, draws on easily-available technology, does not need huge budget commitments and can be adapted across categories. For that to happen, you need to get in deep with the consumer and try to stay on top of ever-changing technology. The idea, to ‘Be Bad’, and perhaps also fail every now and then in the process, are a part of the job.


Lastly, do not expect to be guided about skill upgrades or the changes one needs to make. The agency has to be the ‘hero’ and drive the change. But the first change should come from within you.


Do attend Adfest with me next year. You will realise how a simple step of displaying all entries (as a mark of respect) amplifies experience many fold.  Be a part of the ‘Jury Crossfire’ sessions, where jury presidents defend and articulate their thinking behind selecting winning or special work. This is a highly educative exercise.



Sanjeev Kotnala is Head Catalyst at Intradia and believes the best way forward for an organisation is to enhance its interanal team’s potential and capabilities instead of depending on external resources. He is a Management, Marketing and Braand consultant and conducts specialised workshops in the area of IDEATION (Harvest and Liberate) and Innovation (InNoWait). To contact email  or tweet at s_kotnala visit


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