Vinita Bhatia
Jul 8, 2024

How a toilet joke got two interns their first Cannes Lions

Nidhi Shah and Rag Brahmbhatt were pleasantly astonished that their work for Macrogol Hexal tickled the funny bones of jurors judging entries for the ‘Audio and Radio Lions’ category.

Nidhi Shah and Rag Brahmbhatt with their Cannes Lions award.
Nidhi Shah and Rag Brahmbhatt with their Cannes Lions award.

Telling a toilet joke in a room full of people is often met with awkward smiles or polite silence. Now, imagine crafting a radio campaign around this topic as an intern, and having industry professionals at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity laugh at your "crappy" ad (pun intended).

This surreal moment was experienced by Miami ad school students Nidhi Shah and Rag Brahmbhatt when their spot 'Otter' won a gold Cannes Lion in the ‘Audio and Radio’ script category.
Their broader campaign was also shortlisted in the newly introduced ‘Humour’ category. What made the moment even more remarkable was that they had no idea their campaign would be submitted to the Cannes jury in the first place.

In a world where discussing constipation is often met with embarrassment, laxative ads often end up sounding the same. It is difficult for a brand to stand out, without coming across as crass. When Germany’s Macrogol Hexal was looking for a fresh approach to promote its laxative product, it chose radio as a medium for its ads. Wanting a script that brought home the message with a touch of humour, but without losing the essence, the company told Serviceplan Group’s creative board that it should not be too ‘salesy’. This was exactly what Shah and Brahmbhatt set out to do.

As interns with Serviceplan, they were invited to participate in global briefs received by the agency, thanks to their mentors Michael Wilk, Serviceplan’s global creative director, and chief creative officer Till Diestel. Fortunately, the brief did not require them to include numerous USPs or must-say laxative terms.

Since Macrogol Hexal is well known in their target markets, particularly in Europe, the duo believed it would be easy to narrate a story in 60 seconds without explicitly mentioning the product. However, the moment they said the brand name followed by the phrase ‘Smooth laxative relief,’ laughter would start rolling in, helping to retain the spirit of their original idea of making the spot sound like a nature documentary.

“Our approach to the client’s brief was very spontaneous. The moment we heard it, we had an idea pop in our heads. Within 30 minutes we shared the idea with our mentor Wilk, and Diestel,” Shah told Campaign. “They instantly started laughing at the idea and we were soon asked to write longer scripts. Since there was no pressure of an end result, we were simply enjoying the process of crafting the spots.”

Laughter is indeed the best medicine

‘Otter’ was the first spot that Shah wrote with Brahmbhatt, though the duo did explore several routes that didn’t make the final cut. For the four spots that got through till the end—they followed a simple thumb rule. If it made them laugh when they wrote it, when they pitched it, the night after and two days later, they knew it was working. Funnily enough, she recalled how everyone was chuckling in the recording studio as well, after hearing the spots for probably 20 times.

They both never stopped to ponder whether listeners would be offended with the allusion to poo or risk changing radio channels to not listen to the spot. This also stemmed from fact they were new to the medium of radio, and had no references.

“That helped us in bringing a fresh perspective to the medium. We had a bunch of other euphemisms, but these spots fit the narrative of a documentary better. And we didn’t really worry about a poop joke offending anyone. It's a natural phenomenon, that's why it is funny!” Bhrambhatt explained, while speaking with Campaign.

Fortunately for them, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity decided to introduce a humour category for this year's awards to push for "real creative courage" in ads. While talking with Campaign about this category’s creation, Marian Brannelly, global director of awards for the festival, said that entrants would be judged fairly in the context of comedy—“like a great comedian landing that punchline."

Shah was delighted with the introduction of this category, as she believes that it is a breath of relief amongst all the serious cases one sees at Cannes every year. “Humour has always been well received in our industry but to have it get awarded now is a much welcome change,” she added.

Geared up for the future

Winning a Cannes Lion so early in one’s career can be exhilarating and intimidating. While some of their well-wishers believe it could place pressure on the kind of work Shah and Bhrambhatt create, by putting curbs on their unfettered creativity, the duo thinks otherwise.

Bhrambhatt would love to create work that gets more attention since that is literally the job, but they wouldn't want to burden themselves by expecting awards for it. “We don’t believe winning awards will curb our thinking, in fact, we hope people will trust our creative instincts more,” he said.

Nidhi Shah and Rag Brahmbhatt with Michael Wilk, Serviceplan’s global creative director and its chief creative officer Till Diestel.

Sharing some suggestions to junior creatives, who might be inspired by their win, he added that they need not concentrate on being perfect. Instead, he urges them to trust themselves and their unique perspectives.

“Look for seniors whose work you admire and make them guide you. As for the Cannes submission, this was our first one, so we don’t have much to suggest! Hopefully we can answer it better in a few years,” he confidently summed up.

They want to continue creating ads that their moms and their few friends outside of the ad world understand. But for now, the two are looking forward to graduate from the Miami Ad School in September this year and then land a job at an agency that would embrace everything they bring to the table—their humour, passion, culture, and ideas.

While keen on working with global agencies, as long as the work is satisfying and the team that they work with is amazing, they are perfectly fine to be anywhere in the world. Because creativity, they believe, can’t be chained to any location. 

Campaign India

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