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You can be creative and edgy, without being insensitive: Dentsu Creative India CEO

Completing a year in office, Amit Wadhwa reflects on past year as he lays out the roadmap ahead.

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Mumbai : Exactly a year back on 22 June 2021, erstwhile Dentsu Impact president Amit Wadhwa took on the mantle of chief executive officer (CEO) to lead the Dentsu India creative service line leadership team. The newly restructured creative service line in India, brought together brands from the house of Dentsu such as Dentsu Webchutney, Taproot Dentsu, WATConsult, Perfect Relations, Isobar, Dentsu One, Dentsu India and Dentsu Impact, along with their digital & PR capabilities- all under one umbrella of Dentsu Creative India.

The past year also witnessed major upheavals, both, at the network which saw several high-profile exits, as well as in the advertising and media landscape with the pandemic rewriting the rules for the communication industry.

The Dentsu Creative India CEO shares with Indiantelevision.com how the past year fared for the network as well as for him, amid the tumultuous new normal, and what his priorities were since taking over the creative agency mantle.

Wadhwa also completed over a decade at the network last year, having joined Dentsu Creative Impact (now Dentsu Impact) in November 2011. With another five-year stint at JWT (J. Walter Thompson) in his kitty before that, he has literally seen the industry evolve over the past decade and a half.

Despite challenges due to macro-economic uncertainties and global inflationary trends, Wadhwa remains buoyant and confident that the advertising and marketing industry will grow at a good pace “crossing double digits”.

IndianTelevision.com’s Anupama Sajeet caught up with the advertising veteran and self-confessed ‘passionate brand builder’ for a free-wheeling conversation, where he also spoke about what has changed in adland and how the creative group is ensuring it keeps pace with the emerging new tech in the space.

Edited excerpts:

On his focus areas since taking on the helm of the Dentsu Creative Group

Three things. Integration was the biggest objective. Secondly, making sure that we digitise everything and so we infused digital and technology in everything we do - whether it is creative, or PR- we have digitised it all- the entire system. And the third of course, was to make sure that the cornerstone of the entire offering is “creative”, and hence up the creative product. These were the three things I kept in mind as I took on the CEO mantle. Have I done that 100 per cent? Of course not. But I think we have moved leaps and bounds on all these fronts.

On how the past year fared for the agency amid high profile exits and the uncertainty wrought on by the pandemic

In terms of how we have fared, I think we are working in a far more unified manner for our clients. So, we have integrated to make sure the best experts come together and deliver as one single team for a client. There are many brands where earlier erstwhile different units of Dentsu Creative are now working together as one. For eg- we recently worked at Ikea where the Dentsu MB and Dentsu Webchutney worked as a single team. Then there was another instance where Isobar and Taproot Dentsu worked together as one unit. There are many such examples. That’s from the integration point of view.

As far as creativity is concerned, one big yardstick is the awards and I think we have done fantastically well, led by the team at Dentsu Webchutney. Having said that, we have also invested in some great talent like Ajay (Gahlaut), Arjuna, Anu Gulati, along with the creative talent which is already there in-house such as Alaap, Anupama and loads of talent below them. So, I think we have upped the game on creativity. And it’s not just awards. Some of the campaigns that we rolled out I’m absolutely proud of. For instance, the campaigns we have done for Uber, Paytm, to name a few, have been great.

And honestly, without being digital-first there’s no possibility of a business surviving. We have ensured that right from our PR to what we used to call our traditional agencies, every one of them is digitally savvy and understands the medium.

So, on all these fronts, we are moving in the right direction and at the right pace.

On whether the recently released ASCI guidelines on gender stereotypes (in the wake of the recent controversy over the Layer’r Shot deo ads) will lead to curbing creativity.

We are in the business of creativity, we need to express ourselves. But at the same time, we are all living in a society and we need to be sensitive. Does that mean that we curtail creativity? No. But is that the only way to be creative?  Absolutely not. I don’t wish to comment on that ad, as enough has been said about it being in bad taste and stuff. But the point is you do not need to go that way to be creative. I don’t think to be creative, you need to be insensitive. You can be edgy without it.

If you look at some of the works we have done recently, such as the ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’ or the Paytm creative we did on financial empowerment. These works are very edgy and creative at the same time. It also had a strong connection with people, without being insensitive. Having said that, do we put a gag on everything because of certain instances? I don’t see that happening either.

On the evolving advertising & marketing (A&M) landscape in the past decade

It's absolutely true that the entire A&M landscape has changed in the last decade, from what it used to be to where we are today. I remember when I joined Dentsu (back in 2011), I was taking care of a small agency called Dentsu Creative Impact. We brought in a lot of exciting talent, and we did it at a small scale - whether it was in creative, planning or account management. And we picked up businesses like Ikea etc and made it into this exciting brand. But that was then. Digital was there, but it was a small part of mainstream media.

Today, if I’ve to do a similar exercise for the Dentsu Creative Group (DCG), I cannot step up the game on creativity by having a good creative team alone. Of course, creativity is the key essential part of it. But what we are also trying to infuse is to ensure that we are way ahead when it comes to creative technology. And that’s the other aspect that we have invested in heavily. Led by Gurbaksh, who heads the innovation and tech team, it’s a critical part of our creative team. We also have editors and social media experts as a part of it. So, the complexity and composition of the team is very different from what it was, say, less than a decade ago.

On any key trends or emerging category/s in the A&M industry that might dominate in the coming year

If we talk about emerging or dominant new categories, Fintech, of course, is huge, so is gaming. Online gaming is breaking through the roof. But at the same time as all these new categories are popping up, the traditional categories like FMCG remain equally exciting. So, one can see a mix of it with everyone, including the traditional players, trying to do something different in their space, stepping away from the tried and tested.

On how the agency is ensuring it keeps pace with the emerging new tech in the space

There are two parts to it. One is that we need to be digitally first and technologically far ahead. But, is that good enough? Is that the only thing we need to do? Unless there’s a brilliant idea it all comes to nought. The expression of the idea could be on the digital platform or through an innovative technology but the idea is still absolutely important. We need to marry technology very strongly with creativity.

That combination of creative and new-age tech is what gives me the confidence that we are poised for something very exciting. And that for me, honestly is the place where I always wanted to be.

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