Vinita Bhatia
Jul 1, 2024

Creativity is the penultimate business truth for Leo Burnett's Amitesh Rao

Fresh off winning five Lions at Cannes, Rao discusses the agency's tilt to forward-thinking creative solutions and its commitment to producing impactful work that truly makes a difference.

Amitesh Rao, chief executive officer of Leo Burnett South Asia.
Amitesh Rao, chief executive officer of Leo Burnett South Asia.

On the last day of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2024, people were seen grooving on the streets to a medley of international songs, including Bollywood hits. On closer look, the foot tapping music and the exuberance came from an impromptu party that Leo Burnett had thrown after having its roaring time during the week.

The agency had plenty of reasons to celebrate with gusto. It had emerged as India's top performer at Cannes 2024, securing five Lions, including one gold, two silver and two bronze.

However, the real celebrations were waiting for the team when they returned to India, where bear hugs and shouts of hurrah! greeted them. Amitesh Rao, chief executive officer of Leo Burnett South Asia was delighted to celebrate with the folks who put in the work that got the agency its prized wins.

“We are delighted to be the number one agency from India at Cannes this year! We had a town hall across all offices to celebrate, acknowledge the teams, and set the bar higher going forward,” he told Campaign, still basking in triumphant glow.

The Leo Burnett team at Cannes 2024

Leo Burnett led when it came to shortlists from India for Cannes 2024, with 16 listed campaigns. With five metals in the kitty, its strike rate is around 31%, something Rao is immensely proud about. 

According to him what made Leo Burnett’s winning streak more special was that it spanned across multiple categories. This included their work for top brands like Gatorade, Mondelez's Oreos and Pepsico Lays, which garnered recognition in ‘Creative Data’, ‘Creative Effectiveness’, ‘Sustainability Development Goals’, and ‘Glass: The Lions for Change’ categories.

“This is testament to our belief in future facing creative solutions. And to win with key clients and big brands like Pepsico and Mondelez demonstrates our commitment to create real work with real impact,” he emphasised. However, he maintained that this is never is a numbers game for the agency and it is not how it judges itself. “That being said, undoubtedly we are hungry for more,” he laughed.

Creativity as a business goal

Many in the creative industry believe that creativity can no longer function for the sake of it; it must play an effective role in driving business goals. Rao pointed out that they are in the business of creativity, and this is, therefore, a truism, not merely a belief.

“Leo Burnett is an agency that believes in the power of creativity to transform lives, communities, businesses and the planet, and the work we do lives up to this. In fact, the only work that matters is the one that is creatively powerful in adding value to the brands and the businesses it is created for—it is always a means to an end,” he emphasised.

To illustrate his point, he pointed out to the agency’s best work, not just at Cannes this year, but over the years. Last year, 29 of its work made it to the Cannes 2023 shortlist and it won four bronze, six silver and one gold. It has consistently worked with prominent clients including P&G, Spotify, Ikea, Flipkart, Acko and Red Bus to craft campaigns that are poignant yet impactful.

The work celebrated at Cannes this year is no exception. Rao nods at the Gatorade Turf Finder campaign, which bagged a gold in the 'Creative Data' in Cannes Lions 2024. He stated that it is a program that simultaneously manifests the brand in the lives of its consumers, stays rooted in its product truth, and solves the real-world human problem of a lack of space to play in crowded urban Indian cities. “It won a gold Lion, but you will see the program continue to expand and gain real traction over the coming months,” Rao added.  

Similarly, the Lays Project Farm Equal campaign, which got Leo Burnett a silver Lion at Cannes this year, is a supply chain solve that works for the increasingly female work force in agriculture, and ergo, for the business. “Equally, the Lays 'Drops of Joy' initiative is an example of purpose that works strongly for the brand by helping it resonate with consumers who buy irresistible chips as much as they buy into sustainable behaviours,” Rao pointed out.

The Oreos #BringBack2011 campaign is quintessential Oreos in its brand of creativity. That it was one of the most organically talked about brands underlines how new age creative work resonates with consumers.

Rao also reiterated that creativity's role in business is both powerful and essential. Leo Burnett is exploring innovative approaches to brand storytelling, aiming to stand out and set new industry standards. Its recent successes at Cannes have invigorated the team, who are eager to produce fresh, impactful work that connects with audiences in today’s ever-changing landscape.

Campaign India

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