India's Top 100 Digital Stars 2023

Media Mavens: Wavemaker's Ajay Gupte on the agency's report card, generative AI and more

Ajay Gupte, CEO-South Asia, Wavemaker also shares his views on how the role of media planners and buyers are changing and the enthusiasm IPL has got for marketers

Published: May 15, 2023 01:50:24 PM IST
Updated: May 15, 2023 02:01:38 PM IST

Media Mavens: Wavemaker's Ajay Gupte on the agency's report card, generative AI and moreAjay Gupte, CEO-South Asia, Wavemaker

Note to readers: Media Mavens is a new Storyboard18 series featuring media investment firms and power players – the X-Women and X-Men who make the big calls on how and where to spend advertisers' money. This is a peek into their minds – how they work in a dynamic landscape, the next big trends they’re watching for, insights into what advertisers need today, the disruptions driving change and the factors driving their decisions. Watch this space for all that and more.

These days Ajay Gupte, CEO-South Asia of Wavemaker, a WPP-owned media agency, is busy decoding new business dynamics and helping his teams write new media textbooks. Gupte has been instrumental in the agency’s entry into the areas of e-commerce, martech, adtech, performance marketing and content, among others. In the last few years, Wavemaker has changed its image from being just a media agency to being a brand consultant for all its clients.

In an interview with Storyboard18, Gupte, shares an in-depth report of the agency’s progress so far, his thoughts on generative AI, changing roles of planners and buyers, IPL, and more. Edited excerpts.

Q. How’s 2023 going for Wavemaker India?
It feels like time is on steroids. A lot of the seeds that we sowed over the last three-four years are now in proper motion. Therefore, for us, there are a lot of things to celebrate. It may sound cliché but the investments we made in diversified areas like e-commerce, martech, adtech, performance marketing and content, among others have become a part of an integral part of our business. All of these verticals have now become proper businesses. Let me explain this a little further. The BCG growth-share matrix (that helps companies decide how to prioritise their various business activities) contains four distinct categories: "dogs," "cash cows," "stars," and “question marks.” For us, the investments that we made were question marks in the beginning. However, when I look at them now they are all moving into star zones of our business at large.

They have started reaping benefits for us at two levels. Firstly, it’s creating more opportunities to work with our existing client base. We have been able to customise solutions, which are going beyond our regular scope of work, for clients like Mondelez, L'Oreal, MTR, Perfetti Van Melle, Policy Bazaar, Sun Pharma and Zydus, among others. We are helping our clients manage data end to end. Secondly, we are also helping new clients who are coming to us for some of these services. We are actively documenting our experiences and circulating them to our clients. These are not learnings we can take from a textbook. It doesn't exist. So we are kind of writing the textbooks.

Q. What have been some of the big business highlights of the agency?
Since January 2023, we have already signed up about Rs 550 crore worth of business. There is another about Rs 250 crore worth of business that we will soon sign on. Pokerbaazi, Abhibus and Star Health Insurance are some of the newest clients that we have on-boarded. The level of sophistication required for some of the new clients is high. Clients want trackable ROI, which we are able to deliver.

There has been a challenge in terms of billing. I'll be honest about it. Marketing spends have not been as high as we would have liked them to be. Especially, after we had a great 2022. In the first half of 2022, we were returning from Covid and it just took off. In comparison with that, the pace is slower. With ongoing IPL, we are seeing a lot of spend coming in from our clients. We are hoping that in the second half of the year, we see improvements in spends.

Also read: Wavemaker India's Vishal Jacob: Our product is our people and transforming them becomes critical

The top lines of most clients are okay. That's not a challenge. Customers are buying. Demand has not dried up. I think demand is at an all-time high. The challenge is with the bottom line. Input costs are growing and that has not been transferred to the consumer. That is creating pressure on the bottom lines, which is why advertising spend has been depleted. That's the current situation in the market. If the bottom line improves, advertising will also improve.

Q. The A&M industry’s attention has been on generative AI. What are your views on it? Will it have any effect on the media buying and planning business?
I think generative AI is going to impact every aspect of our lives quite dramatically. I, honestly, believe it's as big an invention as a calculator or a personal computer. These were transformative and helped us deliver a far superior output compared to what we used to do. I think this is a similar turning point. I'm not the expert who's saying this for the first time. It’s all the good minds of the world who are talking about it in this way. I agree with them. So the big question is, will it impact? Certainly, it will impact. I think it will impact in a good way because we will be able to deliver dynamic creative optimisation in a far more effective way.

Also read: Wavemaker's global CEO Toby Jenner: Media and advertising have had a 'work hard, play hard'

Q. What are some of the new media buying patterns? And how has the role of a media buyer changed over the years?
The key thing is that media buyers today are looking at a much broader canvas. They are not just buying either print or TV or radio or digital separately. They are looking for efficiencies across. For instance, the industry is considering CTV as just another channel. We are so bad at creating jargons. Everything has to be a jargon in our industry. Connected TV is nothing but a TV which connects to the internet. That’s about it. For a planner and a buyer, it's about being able to look at media, not from one lens. They are looking from the lens of the consumer and finding the most cost-efficient way to reach out to them. The other change that has happened in the media planning and buying space is the availability of data and its sophistication. Planners and buyers are focusing on the efficiency of media delivery, brand success and impact.

Q. All eyes are on IPL at the moment, so how are Wavemaker India’s clients involved in IPL this year? Are their interests skewed towards digital engagements? What are the key trends you are noticing with your clients?
IPL is a nice bump up for viewership. For advertisers, it is a huge playground too. There are a few other vehicles which actually create the kind of attention and consistent viewership that IPL can create. Digital has pushed the growth a bit. There is a significant increase in terms of spends compared to the previous months. It has brought back energy into the system. We have some brands which are investing quite heavily. We've got Dream 11, which is our biggest entrant there. We've got Mondelez and Haier among many others.

Also read: How Wavemaker India became the "most wanted" media agency

Q. How’s free access to viewing IPL benefiting both consumers and advertisers?
It is certainly beneficial. It will help move people possibly more to digital. It is giving brands a wider platform to reach out to people. It's definitely helpful from these perspectives.

Q. What according to you are the trends in media buying and advertiser sentiment this IPL versus the last couple of years?
With the increase in the number of matches, the cost of entry has increased. The amount of investment marketers need to be consistent is higher. Therefore, it has been a deterrent for those marketers who invested during the entire IPL season. Some marketers are not looking at IPL as a property but just as another media property. IPL has become a media vehicle in many brands’ regular strategies.

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