Interview: Ajay Gupte, CEO, Wavemaker, South Asia

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March 5, 2021 6:59 AM

‘Brands are doubling investments in content marketing’

Almost 40% of our clients are setting aside budgets for content and advocacy initiatives, unlike only 10-15% earlier, said GupteAlmost 40% of our clients are setting aside budgets for content and advocacy initiatives, unlike only 10-15% earlier, said Gupte

Wavemaker, a WPP media investment agency, is hoping to exceed industry growth by about 2% and achieve 25% y-o-y growth in 2021. Ajay Gupte talks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about investing in digital and tech capabilities to expand its gamut of services, and whether the television viewership measurement system needs an overhaul.

You took over the reins at Wavemaker just before lockdown commenced. How challenging has the past year been in terms of acquiring long-term clients?

We obviously calibrated our plans and made it realistic when the pandemic hit. We learnt from our research in April-June that e-commerce was taking off in countries that went into lockdown before India. That shift to e-commerce for the sake of convenience, was one of the crucial learnings that we communicated to our clients. E-commerce became even more important because clients could now tap into first-party data.

We won several e-commerce mandates last year — MTR Foods, Mondelez India and Herbal Strategi — and most of our clients are asking us to set up their e-commerce channels. Almost 90% of our media wins included e-commerce as an additional mandate, which also entails media buying on Amazon, Flipkart, Grofers and BigBasket.

How did your branded content vertical fare in 2020?

Because people were consuming a lot of content on social media and OTT streaming platforms, content and advocacy, too, gained significance. Now, almost 40% of our clients are setting aside budgets for content and advocacy initiatives, unlike only 10-15% earlier. Further, they are doubling their investments in content marketing now.

The branded content side of the business was more assignment-based; however, that is slowly changing. We are managing advocacy (influencer marketing) for brands. As we create content along with the advocacy programme, branded content is becoming a sustained endeavour rather than being ad hoc.

GroupM forecasts that the industry is set to grow by 23.2% in 2021. What is the goal you have set for Wavemaker India?

Last year was definitely a tough year, but things are on the revival path. Out-of-home, print, radio and cinema suffered huge losses. However, digital advertising did not suffer that badly, settling at Rs 21,726 crore with a 2% decline, and is expected to grow by 28% in 2021. If the industry at large is growing at 23%, we expect to be ahead of the industry and grow by 25% in 2021.

We are also growing the number of services we offer. We have made bigger investments in recruiting talent specialised in content marketing, and invested in a technology team to help clients with their data management systems. Wavemaker has developed a multi-audience planning platform called Maximize, which allows end-to-end planning for fragmented target audiences, thereby saving our planners a lot of time.

You are investing significantly in digital capabilities while automating traditional media buying. Is this because margins are high for this medium?

It is true that traditional media buying is a highly commoditised business, hence the ability to ask for a premium does not exist. As a result, there is a need to automate it and reduce our costs to deliver the service. The pieces that are very well differentiated are technology, content and advocacy. It is not easy for other agencies to provide the same quality of service. Since we have invested in these verticals from an early stage, we are able to leverage the knowledge and experience we have gained over the last 10 years.

TV viewership measurement has been a matter of concern over the past year. Is the industry seriously reviewing the measurement system?

All stakeholders, including media agencies like us, have contributed to the development of the current television measurement system. It was arrived at after a lot of thought based on cost, capability and credibility. It is, therefore, sad to see what is unfolding now. Not having access to news channels’ viewership data has been challenging for us as media buyers. That said, ways to measure viewership are constantly evolving; for instance, now we have technology like eye-ball tracking.

I don’t think the investigation has accelerated the evolution. We are perpetually having discussions on the best practices for measurement. Having worked in several global markets, I can say that what we have is at par with other countries.

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