Behind McCann India’s roaring win at Cannes Lions 2024

Creative Agency McCann India walks home with three lions this year, including a Gold and two Bronze at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. This journey has seen a dash of innovation, empathy and with a generous garnish of storytelling. The winning agency shares the story behind this win, which was full of excitement and anxiety. 

Pranali Tawte
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This year, India won 18 Lions at The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, an annual festival that brings together the brightest minds and boldest campaigns from around the globe. Out of these, McCann India brought home three Lions for two campaigns; one gold and two bronze.

One initiative tackled the pressing issue of inadequate footwear for individuals with clubfoot in India, highlighting a critical yet overlooked challenge. Another campaign addressed the profound difficulties rural Indian women face in accessing banking services, spotlighting crucial gender equality issues. Both these campaigns, conceptualised by McCann India, were anchored in empathy and had innovation at the heart of it.

Vikram Dhembare, Senior Creative Director - Art, McCann Worldgroup and Sambit Mohanty, Creative Head (North and South), McCann Worldgroup share the inspiring stories behind their award-winning campaigns, highlighting the creative processes, client collaborations, and the transformative impact of their ideas.

A triumph rooted in empathy & innovation

McCann India earned a Gold and a bronze Lion in the Health & Wellness category for the ‘Fit My Feet' campaign for Buckaroo India. 

This campaign addresses a critical issue in India, where approximately 27,000 infants are born annually with clubfoot (based on a 1 per 1000 live births incidence). Surgical treatment is often inaccessible, and the lack of suitable footwear aggravates the challenge, as customising solutions for each unique foot shape proves prohibitively expensive.

Sharing the idea behind his brainchild, ‘fit my feet’ campaign, Vikram Dhembare said, “This idea came from observing people struggling with ill-fitting footwear while travelling in trains. This problem is prevalent in lower-income strata where there is little awareness about corrective surgeries that need to be done at a very young age. Seeing them struggle to fit into existing footwear, which often creates more problems, made me think about a solution. It clicked that if one shape cannot accommodate everyone, we can change the shape. That’s how I came up with the idea of providing a square-shaped material where you can draw and accommodate any and every shape.”

The journey from concept to execution was a collaborative effort between McCann India and Buckaroo. Once the idea took shape, the McCann India team approached Buckaroo, with a shared vision of providing accessible and proper footwear for all. 

Detailing the collaborative process, Dhembare said, “We shared our idea with Buckaroo, which aligned perfectly with their belief in making proper footwear accessible to everyone. Excited by the concept, we started collaborating with footwear designers and experts. Our team at McCann, along with a few people from Buckaroo, focused on research, selecting the right materials, designing the straps, and developing a functional system.”

One of the key aspects of the campaign was its emphasis on leveraging the expertise of local cobblers.

Dhembare explained, “We worked closely with cobblers to ensure they could produce the new footwear using their existing tools. Their experience was invaluable; we just needed to make sure they understood the new design. To overcome language barriers, we included simple visual instructions on the packaging. Instead of multilingual text, which could be challenging, the pictorial guides were effective since cobblers are familiar with their daily tasks.”


McCann India also won a Bronze Lion for the ESAF Small Finance Bank’s ‘Dabba Savings Account’ campaign in the Sustainable Development Goals category under Gender Equality. 

This campaign focuses on the challenges faced by women in rural India in opening bank accounts. They’re often seen saving cash in a dabba, a steel rice canister.

The creative brain behind the 'Dabba Savings Account' campaign is R Unnikrishnan. The team at McCann Bangalore played a huge role in turning this idea into a campaign. 

Sambit Mohanty, Creative Head (North and South), of McCann Worldgroup shared the inspiration and creative journey behind this campaign.

He said, “The inspiration for ‘Dabba Savings Account’ came from the observation of a deep-rooted cultural practice. Women across India, especially in rural regions, tend to store their money in rice dabbas. This ‘piggy-bank’ practice stems from a belief that rice is auspicious and helps in their overall prosperity. However this money doesn’t grow and is always at risk of pilferage by men. We used this simple insight to reach out to rural women and ensured their financial inclusion using the Dabba as an instrument.”

To help, ESAF Bank redesigned the Dabba with a hidden cash compartment and began attending women-only village gatherings.



They distributed the new Dabbas, opened savings accounts, and encouraged women to deposit their savings regularly, integrating banking into their lives while preserving their traditional saving habits.

Journey to the Lions

Winning at Cannes Lions is a prestigious achievement for any agency but the path to success begins long before the festival. At McCann, the journey from a groundbreaking idea to an award-winning campaign involves a rigorous internal process.

The Manthan process

Manthan serves as McCann’s internal showcase, where creative directors and heads gather to present their most innovative ideas. These ideas are then subjected to a multi-layered evaluation process, both regionally and globally, to determine which projects will be submitted to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Vikram Dhembare, Senior Creative Director - Art at McCann Worldgroup, credits the success of the ‘Fit My Feet’ campaign to this nurturing process.

“Ashish Chakravarty, Prasoon Joshi, and Abhinav Tripathi really nurtured this idea, and it eventually got entered in Cannes.”

Dhembare emphasised the campaign's approach to an overlooked issue, highlighting its inclusive nature was the reason behind sending this to Cannes.

He said, “The way it solves a problem that has been ignored for years made it stand out. Footwear has been around for a long time, but no one thought about catering to this specific consumer group. Most brands aim for a larger, more common audience, but this campaign brought attention to a group that was always overlooked. Its inclusiveness was a significant factor in its success.”

Recalling this first Cannes experience, Dhembare shared the exhilaration and pressure surrounding the campaign’s nomination and eventual win.

He said, “It was my first Cannes. Considering it won Gold and Bronze, the experience was indescribable. When the idea was submitted, people started talking about it being a potential winner. I was sceptical, but they decided to send me to Cannes. Generally, winners are sent the next year, but in my case, it was instant. They believed it was going to win, and the pressure was on. Throughout my journey, I kept receiving updates on our shortlist status, and when I landed in Cannes, we got an email saying we were in the winners' list. The entire journey towards the award was amazing. The excitement and anxiety were intense. When my name was announced, I was sweating and all eyes were on me. It was overwhelming because I had never experienced something so global and significant in the advertising world.”

Choosing the ‘Dabba Savings Account’ Campaign for Cannes

Mohanty shared that the campaign tapped into a social belief that acted as a springboard for ESAF Bank to help open savings accounts for rural women. He said that the campaign’s resonance with cultural practices made it a compelling candidate.

He said, “The campaign was a natural fit for a number of categories at Cannes including the newly introduced ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, where it won a Bronze Lion. Also, in Glass Lions where it was a finalist.”

Mohanty further emphasised the significance of Cannes Lions in the global creative landscape.

He said, “With innumerable entries vying to win, Cannes Lions is arguably the most prestigious and toughest award show in the world. Winning a Lion not only brings you accolades in your home country but elevates your profile globally. It can help fast-track your career as a young creative and opens up roles that may not have been accessible before (e.g. regionally). It also strengthens a clients’ belief in you as a creative person and that matters. Personally speaking, after winning at Cannes, I’ve had the privilege of being invited to be part of juries at international award shows.”

Reflecting on his experience at this year's festival, Mohanty described it as both humbling and inspiring.

He added, “As always, attending Cannes is a humbling experience for it’s the Mecca of creativity. You walk away feeling awe at the world-changing ideas on display. And also a bit awful for feeling, ‘Hey I wish I’d done that!’

A special memory from this year is getting to be on stage with the team for the Gold Lion won by our Mumbai office.”




Building bonds, creating change together 

Behind every successful campaign lies a foundation of trust and collaboration between the client and the creative agency. 

In the competitive world of advertising, there have been moments of discord—campaigns that reached execution only to see clients grow distant, or instances where a campaign triumphed at prestigious festivals like Cannes but left the creative agency's contributions in the shadows

Therefore, this client and agency relationship also has to be taken care of.

Dhembare believes that client relationships play a role in the development and execution of successful campaigns like those that won at Cannes.

He said, “Their understanding and support are crucial, especially for campaigns that might not show immediate ROI but create new consumer categories. This campaign was a bold step for the client because they were addressing a market that didn’t exist before. Their decision not to patent this solution so others can use it worldwide shows their commitment to the initiative. Without the client's support and belief, such ideas can't come to fruition.”

Agreeing to what Dhembare said, Mohanty added, “A good client relationship is actually a partnership built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect with the agency. As joint brand custodians, you develop a synergy that plays a critical role in helping create and execute campaigns of any sort. For instance, ESAF Bank loved the ‘Dabba Savings Account’ idea when we presented it to them – and they went the distance in ensuring the project was a success at all stages – from production of the Dabbas to their distribution in remote villages across different districts.”

Evolving trends in Cannes-winning campaigns

Mohanty has observed a notable shift in the types of campaigns gaining recognition at Cannes Lions. According to him, there's a growing preference among consumers, especially the younger demographic, for brands that embrace a lighter, more playful approach rather than taking themselves too seriously. 

He said, “Coca-Cola’s innovative global campaign ‘Thanks for Coke-Creating’ is one such instance. It celebrates local interpretations of its iconic logo by bodegas, shopkeepers and artists, creating a tapestry of cultural diversity and creativity.”

He added, “The Edible Mascot activation for Pop-Tarts (Kelloggs) created by McCann/Weber-Shandwick is another instance. While most brands turn their food into a mascot, they turned a mascot into food and fed it to the winning team. This won a Grand Prix at Cannes this year.”

Cannes Lions offers a unique opportunity to explore and learn from global creative endeavours. 

Mohanty shared his insights gained from this international perspective, emphasising the universal human connection that underpins effective storytelling. 

What connects us is the fact that we are all human. At one level, our feelings, likes, dislikes, pain, laughter, excitement are entwined. So make 'em laugh, make 'em cry…don’t leave 'em dull and dry.

- Sambit Mohanty

As an agency has seen a few significant wins at Cannes over the years, Mohanty offered advice for fellow agencies aiming for recognition at future festivals.

He said, "It’s not the size of your budget, it’s the size of your idea. Find a cultural truth that can help sell your brand in a unique fashion. Also, don’t stop believing."

Discussing India's presence on the global stage at Cannes, Mohanty expressed optimism about its growing influence. He highlighted India's rapid economic growth and expansive market potential, coupled with the deep cultural richness that fuels creativity across domains like language, film, food, and music and how we tap into the same for brand building. 

McCann India’s journey to Cannes 2024 was characterised by dedication and a focus on the communities they served. Their success demonstrates that behind every award-winning campaign, there is a mix of empathy, creativity, and a commitment to meaningful solutions.

Speaking about future projects at McCann, Mohanty shared his optimism and concluded, “We are a powerful creative force and I believe our representation at Cannes will only become stronger with every passing year.”

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