Benita Chacko

E-comm, content, data integration – 3 tools to support our clients: Wavemaker’s Ajay Gupte

The CEO, Wavemaker South Asia, speaks about the agency's focus areas and how it is preparing for future technology.

Wavemaker is on a winning streak. After winning the ‘Media Agency of the Year’ title at The Advertising Club’s Emvies in March, for the third consecutive year, it also won the same title at the Abby One Show Awards in May.

Speaking to afaqs!, Ajay Gupte, CEO, Wavemaker South Asia, emphasises that this success did not happen overnight. The agency has been investing strategically for a long time. He attributes these results to its long-term investments in people and technology. 

It hired digital experts in 2003 when clients allocated just 1% of their budgets to digital. In 2004, it invested in content when clients were unsure of its potential. In 2016, it ventured into e-commerce, and in 2018, it developed its data spine, hiring its first data scientists in 2019.

“Our current success is the result of these strategic investments, not a sudden effort to win awards in 2023,” he says.

Gupte speaks about the three key tools the agency is using to help its clients and how it is preparing for future technology.

Edited excerpts: 

Today, agencies are supporting clients across the entire marketing funnel, not just media. What has brought this shift, and what has it meant for agencies?

This isn't a change, but it reinforces an enduring truth: a great client leader is defined by attitude, not just capability. It's about having a fierce commitment to client success and doing whatever it takes to win.

When I entered this industry, I often went to great lengths to ensure client success. I would stand in newspaper offices at 3am to secure ad placement before competitors or personally deliver tapes to Doordarshan in Delhi to avoid courier mishaps. Such actions were driven by a desire for client success, ensuring accuracy in media planning.

Today, while our tools have evolved, our mission remains the same. The biggest change is our access to technology and data. We now create comprehensive data spines from numerous touchpoints—social media, websites, packaging, advertising, and more. This data helps us understand consumer behaviour deeply.

Content creation opportunities have also expanded. We seize opportunities to produce diverse content, such as Spirit of Scotland for Glenlivet India on Disney+ Hotstar, or MTR’s Rasam ad during the Women's World Cup.

E-commerce, content creation, and data integration are the three big tectonic shifts that we are using to support our clients today. At least 25-30% of our team works in these new areas. In 2023, 85% of our hires were in the new areas. Our commitment to client success remains unchanged, even as we leverage new tools and capabilities.

What is the investment that's going into building these new skills?

Our success at the awards didn't happen overnight. We've been investing strategically for a long time.

Back in 2003, we hired digital experts when clients allocated just 1% of their budgets to digital. In 2004, we invested in content when clients were unsure of its potential. In 2016, we ventured into e-commerce, and in 2018, we developed our data spine. We hired our first data scientists in 2019. Today, we have 18 data scientists, 70 content experts, and a robust performance team.

These early investments positioned us to meet client needs proactively. When a client wanted to embrace content, data, or e-commerce, we were ready. With 150 clients, we used successful case studies to attract more business, building our expertise and capabilities.

How data improves advertising effectiveness?
How data improves advertising effectiveness?

Looking five years ahead, what trends do you foresee, and how are you preparing for them now?

Right now, only about 5% of clients are fully leveraging their data, indicating massive growth potential. Data is the big thing right now, and it's only going to become more sophisticated. 

Further developments will make it easier to collect, enhance, and deploy data. Google’s cookie deprecation will happen. Beyond that, our ability to derive value out of a better consumer understanding is going to become that much more important. With the rise of CTV, TV will rapidly become digital. The divide between traditional and digital media will vanish. So consumer understanding is going to be richer. Thus, our ability to collect, enhance, and activate data will be crucial. This trend is here to stay, with ongoing enhancements shaping the future. 

Why is this needed? Using consumer data in advertising improves effectiveness by 20-25%, enhancing view-through rates, click-through rates, and brand recall. Using first-party data alone improves effectiveness by 25%. Enhancing this data adds another 20-25%. Dynamic Creative Optimisation (DCO), which customises ads in real-time based on user behaviour, can boost effectiveness by an additional 50%. For example, DCO can show different offers or colours to different users based on their past interactions.

To put this in perspective: if your effectiveness is at 10, using first-party data increases it to 12.5, data enhancement raises it to 15, and DCO pushes it to 22.5—a 1.5x increase. This isn't theoretical; it's based on our work with 18 clients, 50 brands, and 1,000 campaigns. 

These results stem from our long-term investments in people and technology. Since 2003, we've built our expertise in digital, content, e-commerce, and data. Our team of 700 people, many with over five years at Wavemaker, embodies our company's DNA.

What does Wavemaker stand for today, and how do you see it evolving in the coming years?

We aim to be the most sought-after media agency in the country by catalysing growth in ourselves and our clients. Our DNA is rooted in our origins: we evolved from Mindshare, to Maximize, to Maxus, and finally to Wavemaker. 

Starting small and insignificant, we stood out through innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship, always striving to lead before others. Today, we treat every client, big or small, as an opportunity for great work. Our foundation was built on numerous small clients, not just one large client, and this shapes our ethos. 

Going ahead, we are becoming much more tech-savvy and advanced. Having worked for 26 years, I've witnessed many transformations, from Doordarshan to cable to satellite to today's innovations. Now, I can discuss topics I couldn't have five years ago. This cultural shift permeates our company, ensuring everyone can engage with these changes. Our comfort with change and the experience of our people will continue to shape our culture, making us more tech-savvy and cutting-edge.

Have news to share? Write to us