Magic happens when digital biz meets advertising

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The marketing landscape has changed completely. The old approach will not work. With that thought in mind, Saurabh Varma (right), former India and South Asia CEO, Publicis Communications, launched a platform-driven martech agency Wondrlab this November. Co-founded by Rakesh Hinduja (former COO of Leo Burnett) and Vandana Verma (former executive director Arc Worldwide), Wondrlab, within a month of its launch, has acquired What’s Your Problem (WYP), the creative agency with digital, social and retail capabilities and the one behind Tanishq’s much talked about Ekatvam ad campaign. The cornerstone of Wondrlab’s strategy is to platformise solutions says Saurabh Varma. Excerpts from an interview:

What was your rationale for starting WondrLab, especially given that it’s tough for independents to compete against agencies belonging to global ad networks?

India deserves an Indian advertising network of its own. The question was who would do it. We thought it was the perfect time to launch as we have big ambitions.

When you work with a network, you do realise they do some things much better. That is part of the learning we bring to Wondrlab.

But, at the same time, networks lack the flexibility and ability to experiment given their current structures. That’s the advantage we have. We will be building our own platforms, and our products and services will ride on tech platforms.

How will these platforms work?

We have launched three lines of business —content, experience and digital business transformation (DBT). These will ride on the platforms we build.

Every platform we launch will have to solve a problem and the technology has to be scalable. Those are the variables that are important when you own the platform. You build it over a period of time and build it with scale.

What’s the gap you are addressing?

Our world is strictly not advertising today. We realise the sweet spot is the world between DBT and advertising. Globally, advertising is a $500-600 billion business. DBT is a $3,000-billion business. So they are different sizes and scales. The opportunity we see is in the cross-section of the two, where magic is going to happen. It’s the ability to create content and how you deliver it. This will come through data. That’s our focus.

If you are going to be playing the big game, it cannot be played without building the platforms, solving real problems that clients have.

How did Covid-19 impact your launch? Or did it provide an opportunity?

Both things happened. Covid-19 delayed our launch as it created a sense of inertia. Our formal launch would have happened in July if not for the pandemic.

The kind of ambition we had, the delay was not about talent and work, but also funding.

The conversation, around business plans and strategy, works better when the environment is in a better place.

Right from the start, we were sure we would not be bootstrapping. It was going to be done through scale and ambition. From that perspective, a delay happened.

But Covid also gave us massive opportunities. It gave us the luxury of thinking through things and pivoting our business plans. To give an example, when you look at networks and their structures, their real estate consumption takes up 8-10 per cent revenue. In our case, it won’t be more than 3-4 per cent as we were born in a modern WFH (work-from-home) era.

Similarly in networks, the ratio of full-time to freelance talent is 95:5.

Our estimation is that the pandemic would have led to at least 4,000 job losses in our industry. So it has given an organisation like us an incredible opportunity to create a new talent model. We will have 60 per cent fixed talent and 40 per cent gig workforce.

We are not in a position to speak about investment or investors. All I can say is we are well placed for the next six to 12 months to carry through our ambitions.

Your WYP acquisition announcement hinted at more such news in the coming days. What’s the acquisition strategy?

It won’t be in the content space — at least not in the immediate future. Considering we are focused on platforms, you are going to see a lot of action there.



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