Sanjeev Kotnala: Goafest is too democratised, says Sonal Dabral

22 Apr,2015

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Sonal Dabral

I met Sonal Dabral, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, DDB Mudra at the Adfest at Pattaya where he was Jury President for the Direct Lotus and at Goafest earlier this month. In a freewheeling chat, he gave him me his sharp and straight-from-the-heart views. Read on…



Adfest Pattaya is regional-focused but the criteria of judging remain same. There must be a big/great idea.  It must be relevant to the audience it is talking.  Each place with its own setup comes with its own character. Cannes has a much larger jury. Which has its own pros and cons. At Adfest, there is a smaller jury. It has its own advantages, and challenges. There are more things common across festivals than there are differences.


Sonal believes that the jury has to be dispassionately ruthless. They do not have to award just because there is a need to promote or awards needs to be given. Awards are after all an encouragement. Juries must not have a hidden agenda and must be able to clearly speak their mind. Jury must not be worried how their comments will be interpreted.


In Adfest Pattaya, the jury was Badly Ruthless.



When I spoke with him about the abysmally low count of delegates from India, which has been propped up by their promotional activity by Dainik Bhaskar group, Sonal was equally shocked. But he recovered fast.


All of us are guilty of it, he said. “I do believe that this being a regional festival and an important one, we all should have been sending delegates. Give the young professionals a chance to be exposed to such a spectrum of work.   Even I should be sending some from Mudra.”


I just did a simple math and told him that a senior abstaining from Cannes can send eight juniors to Pattaya. He did not bite and side-stepped. But he was absolutely clear that the participation must be enhanced. In his view, Adfest needs to be marketed in India. May be some roadshows need to happen.



This was a loose ball for Sonal and he gave it the treatment it deserved. He pounced on the subject and like a saint in an unbiased observation added words of wisdom.  My grouse has been that we don’t push ourselves. As people we are not diligent enough. Our thinking is good. We do world-class work and that is not even from award point of view. But when it comes to execution we do not reach the level it should.


It is not that there is a lack of talent. We are one of the best, if not the best. There is lot happening in India and maybe ‘Lot’ is a problem. We are not diligent enough to take the idea to its logical end, exploit it and amplify it. We somewhere get trapped in doing too many things


On my comment that we adapt easily and have a ‘chalta hai’ attitude, he objected to my trying to put words in his mouth. But he shared the sentiment by saying ‘we lose interest and we shift focus too early. We are not BAD ENOUGH as we do not take it to the next level’.


We in India always work under pressure and deadlines that seem want things yesterday. Remember a good idea needs time, time to think, time to create, time to incubate and time to implement. Till we don’t give it the time it needs, we will never be able to take ideas to next stage. For a certain piece of work be it the print, website, TVC, event or anything else, the tussle between marketers agencies continues as to how much time will it take. And then there is always the budget issue. As a fraternity, we are equally to blame along with clients for not taking ideas to the level we should.



I used the bait of Direct as a medium not getting its due and Sonal took me on. He said “I do not agree that Direct is decreasing.  Direct used to be a mailer that went to a specific identified audience to evoke a response. Now you can get that audience from targeted TV, Web, installation etc. There are many many more channels to reach the audience directly. It is a function of the technology, time and budget. Its up to you how well you use it.”


Sonal suggested that it might really be a good idea for the agencies and the clients to see what has won across categories. It will help us identify and visualize many opportunities and mediums available for us to reach a targeted audience to evoke the desired response.


Direct is bubbling with possibilities. Gone are constraints of envelope and mail. There is a wide canvas outside to play with. It is about addressing an identified specific audience directly to get a predefined response. It can happen by events, web, outdoors, activation, connect, melas, augmented reality or what you have. This is field that has opened new opportunities and has a new set of challenges. Exciting times are ahead.



Sonal believes Goafest is the original festival and award show for Indian advertising industry, so it’s a part of a whole generation of Indian advertising professionals. It has heritage and history is one of its big pluses.


I could not hold myself asking his comments on Goafest and he said the timing of Goafest has always bothered him. In its bid to make it affordable it is held in the summer. If it has become India’s premier advertising show, it has to behave like one., he says. This year at least the quality of speakers was very high, so that’s definitely a step in right direction.


“Any festival still have a sense of gravitas around it. If I am sending people or a company sends someone, it is an incentive. It is a reward for something you did. It should not be so democratized that anyone can go. Then everything gets affected. To democratise, you need to meet certain budget and hence it needs happen in certain months and scale. Thankfully it is now held indoors. Adfest also happens at a beach resort and can be a good learning.”



“Right, there are too many awards and too many categories. But, let’s not complain. No one is forcing anyone to enter all the award shows and all the categories. We all need to decide what is right for us and what we can afford and chill. I would rather have more awards than have none!”


That was Sonal Dabral, speaking straight from heart.


Sanjeev Kotnala is Founder and Head Catalyst at Intradia. He 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 Brand 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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