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Advertisers want to be seen in a brand-safe environment, says Wavemaker’s Ajay Gupte

In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, the South Asia CEO for Wavemaker talks about things he keeps in mind while planning media for his clients. He explains how the pandemic has increased the dependence on digital for brands

Ajay Gupte

Deciding whether a piece of content is toxic or not is not his call and as a media planner, he goes by what brands want for him, feels Ajay Gupte, South Asia CEO for Wavemaker.

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“As a professional, I am trying to take the brands of my clients to the consumer, in a brand-safe environment, as long as the advertiser does not have a challenge with that content,” he said, while talking about the ongoing debate on the increase in toxic content on news channels. 

Gupte said brand safety is key for all advertisers while planning their media. 

Talking about the impact of the pandemic on businesses, he said it increased the overall dependence on digital and made media planners more media-agnostic.  


The year 2020 has been severely rocky for all. In such a situation, how do you see the pandemic changing the way marketers advertise?

While the basics of a customer’s journey remain the same, how this is delivered has changed. The pandemic has digitised all of us a little bit. Therefore, the client's dependence on the digital ecosystem is a little bit more. We had clients who were not talking about ecommerce or selling online, but now I have so many clients who are talking about direct-to-consumer, who are talking about being on ecommerce platforms, talking about social commerce, talking about using influencers to sell. So these are the things that will change. While the cycle remains the same, the delivery of the cycle is going to be a lot more digitised.

Has the pandemic impacted the process of media planning and buying? Would it require new skill sets and new training modules?

It has definitely impacted; it has accelerated the importance of digital, it has accelerated the importance of a media-agnostic media planner. You can't any more say I'm a TV-only planner or I'm a digital-only planner. That is not going to work. Because I think digital already had a 22% share of investment pre-Covid. It would have definitely grown to a much stronger position after that. I think that entire journey has been accelerated. Media planning has been changed irreversibly and the job of the media planner has changed irreversibly, where he now needs to definitely be completely media-agnostic in his approach; the tools and processes that allow us to enable the media planners to actually go in this direction without a problem. That's what we have been doing for the last couple of years.

The account sizes of media pitches have shrunk significantly. This essentially means you spend a lot to earn more. How are the large agencies preparing for a sustainable future in the new environment?

The biggest challenge is that it's becoming a commodity. And a commodity has no value; it is the brand that has value. So one potato is the same as another potato, but the potato gets money only when it becomes a Pringles or it becomes a Lay’s. I think the challenge is massive, if you remain a potato.

What we're trying to do is become a Pringles. We are creating unique and distinguishable characteristics, where clients are seeing value, and they're willing to pay for that value. So what I believe is as long as you're able to show some value, you can demand the money for it. It is not easy because the base product has lost its value or is reducing its value. But I think the good thing that we've done is that we made investments to make sure that we are able to add extra value and earn the money that we deserve for it. So that's how we are staying afloat.

BestMediaInfo raised the conversation around the concern of brands over toxic content on news channels. Many brands took a stand against toxic content; several didn’t speak up in fear of unnecessarily getting into a controversial although meaningful topic. What is your stand here as the CEO of Wavemaker South Asia? 

Clients are looking for eyeballs and eyeballs are watching a particular piece of content. Obviously that needs to be in a brand-safe environment. If it is not brand safe, we need to take a stance against it as an industry. 

However, if the industry as a whole is not going against it, then it's an individual client call on whether they want to be present in that kind of content, or would like to stay away from it, and only ignore the eyeballs that are there. There are some clients which do that. We will work with them to ensure that we get them alternative solutions.

Personally whatever I think about it, but as a professional, I would go by what the client wants. If the client purely wants to go by numbers and take what the audience is watching, then that's what we will do. And if the client believes that it is not appropriate for the brand, then we will find alternative solutions that work for that particular client.

Do you give suggestions to clients to take a stand despite the eyeballs? 

I think it's very subjective here, because you know, there will be lots of people who really enjoy that kind of content, and we don't see anything wrong in it. So, you know it is very subjective and to bring my own subjectivity into the game I think is not right. We have a proper ecosystem.

Actually, we have the IBF, we have the AAAI, we have the ASCI bodies, I think the onus is really on them to sit together and take a call on this individually. At an individual level, I think this has to be a collective industry thing where we get together and take a call on it; it can't be one person expressing his perspective on it. I think there are lots of stalwarts who should come together and discuss this and come up with a collective point of view for all of us.

It is said a little spill-over is good for brands. But which are the mediums throwing excess spill-over or wastage as on today. 

Don't blame the medium, blame the planner. It really depends on what you're advertising. If I'm advertising something that is very relevant, to tailors, then any medium is a waste, right? I mean, a lot of mediums that you consider for any other brand would be a waste. So I can't blame television, because, you know, my target audience is a tailor. If the target audience is a tailor, then I need to use relevant material that I can reach up to that particular tailor. Therefore, I really don't believe any medium, per se, is wasteful. I think all media are appropriate and look at any medium. Actually, they reach out to somebody effectively and beneficial.

I don't think any media has wasteful reach. It is about how you use it and if you have the right data, the right tools, and the right experience, you will be able to make the most of media and don't use a media which is not appropriate for the particular consumer or a particular brand.


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