Gurbaksh Singh – marrying art and tech at Dentsu Webchutney for more than a decade

Gurbaksh Singh, Chief Creative Technologist at Dentsu Webchutney, Delhi shares how he and his team are building simple solutions led by technology, and driving innovation to solve business problems

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“Technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” – Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)

IN MY LAST TRIP TO DELHI, I made a point that I should meet Gurbaksh Singh – Chief Creative Technologist at Dentsu Webchutney, Delhi. Assigned this designation for more than 2 years but for more than a decade at Webchutney, he has been involved in marrying technology with creativity. But the innovation lab where I was told to wait was way much cooler than our man himself.

After scanning my identity into the lab, the doors opened to a colorful warehouse. At one end, there are awards piled up and at the other extreme there were huge 3D printers. The lab may seem primarily as a junkyard to a layman but it holds an account of the innovative work the team has been doing for the last few years.

I began staring at each of the tech toys either stored in open racks or hung on walls or kept on the big tables. Before I could scan the lab once more, Gurbaksh was standing in front of me with a big smile and a firm handshake. Casually dressed with spiked hair, he was the nerd with the flair of a creative guy from a renowned agency.

“I am an art guy. From a flash developer to videos, I have played different roles in my last decade with Webchutney.”

In the month of October, he was in New York, showcasing one of Webchutney’s innovation – the anti-honking project, NO PO PO. Honking, as we know is a menace in India, needs to be controlled. NO PO PO innovation from the agency is an Arduino-based device that counts and records the number of times you honk. To incentivize people for less honking, rewards were attached. Maruti Suzuki, the largest seller of cars on Indian roads, implemented the no honking program. Here is the case study video:

“Earlier it was about 360 degree campaign now it is 365, you need to find your customer wherever he is. NO PO PO is an excellent example. You need to weave technology into the daily life of your consumer to make it meaningful.”

Adding more, he informed about another award wining campaign from last year, #HappyHoursRewind. Cafe TC, a popular restaurant and bar in Delhi NCR, is known for great customer experience. Last year, it underwent a revamp – from Turquoise Cottage to Cafe TC. When re-branding happened it had a clear task at hand – to promote its new look and feel, new menu, new offers, happy hours and more to its valued customers. The only problem? Promote it in limited budgets.

Another problem was targeting with the medium. The target audience i.e. the young minds spend maximum time on WhatsApp, but the messaging app is still not open to advertising. The biggest challenge turned into a glorious opportunity. To begin with the WhatsApp API was modified to convert the WhatsApp status into a running ticker and the profile pictures into GIFs. Then all the content – the new logo, new menu, new gigs and new offers were put up on a ticker called Liquor Ticker.

The results were amazing, the inquiries for table booking, new menu and even “how did we do this?” went up by a staggering 117% while the sales shot up by 28% during the campaign period. Here’s a video of the case study that also won a trophy in the LI Digital Marketing awards, 2016:

The genesis of the simple idea stemmed from a regular activity people do on the messaging platform – changing the status almost daily along with the profile picture. “This was our starting point for looking out. WhatsApp API is available and in the process of looking around we found a small loophole that it had no limitation on the updates that one could do on profile pictures. We used it and it was an instant hit.” The campaign was appreciated in the industry and awards ceremony. But, WhatsApp covered this loophole in its later update!

“It was a small hack, which worked just one time.”

TECH SHOULD BE SIMPLE and easy to execute. In my hour long conversation, one of the words that Gurbaksh kept stressing on was building simple solutions to solve problems. “See any of our recent works, every execution is very simple. In the case of the happy hour remind campaign, one needs to just tweet and the happy hour was extended. Technology just plays the job of an enabler. I don’t believe in layered communications, it should be simple.”

Sharing more on the happy hour rewind campaign, he informed that the core idea came from the simple behavior of collecting beer bottles before the happy hour ends. “In our college days, we would send a guy who would get 10-15 beer bottles before the happy hour finishes. Later we used to get it replaced by asking for a chilled one. We thought of adding a Twitter layer to this simple behaviour and give a twist to the happy hour concept.”

People at the Turquoise Cottage bar between 7-9 pm  were required to state why the happy hour should be extended. With every tweet the specially designed clock would go back a little. More than 250 tweets were received on that one night. (Case study video)

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Carrying forward our discussions on why technology should be simple, Gurbaksh recollected a project called PeeLoo – Webchutney’s interactive loo service. “The project is very close to my heart as it was the very first idea that the agency had released.”

“Every idea’s insight comes from your nearby surroundings.”

In case of PeeLoo, the insight goes back to the old office of Webchutney at Saket, which had three floors with a single occupancy loo. With approximately 100 people using the same loo, meant that most of the time the loo was occupied. To solve this problem, an app was built just to let you know if the loo is empty or not. One could set up notifications for running towards the toilet and even knock remotely.

The idea didn’t manage to sit on a brand table but got used by the agency internally. Now the team sits in a new office with enough number of loos, but the hardware box of PeeLoo still sits in the lab as a memory.

Creative ideas find a new level of meaning when there is a brand connect. For instance, the latest Gatorade campaign ‘Sweat to get it’, is about earning a free Gatorade when you perform workouts and sweat. The campaign aligned to the brand’s latest product offerings.

Another example that was shared was the Bacardi ‘Walk the line.’ The brand wanted its patrons to have fun and drink responsibly. Rather than being a preacher, sober or chauffeur game was launched as a mobile app. One had to just fire the app and walk in a straight line. If you walked the line then you were sober and if you can’t then cab assistance was provided.

To find more interesting case study videos check Webchutney’s YouTube channel.

2016 MAJORITY OF AGENCIES HAVE TECH LAB, some are just building to be the coolest agency and others are doing it to solve a problem. What should an agency do? Gurbaksh believes that tech is not about being cool anymore, but it is need of the day. “Today technology is allowing you to touch every part of a customer’s life, so why not use the technology in an efficient manner.”

There are challenges too – brands are not open to back ideas or find the right talent. However, he thinks that Internet is a boon and accessibility of knowledge is no more limited.

In 2017, focus lies on mobile and wearable for Gurbaksh. “We want to build solutions that will allow us to touch the new age customer better. Mobile and wearable already are playing a big role, we want to leverage that.”

“I believe in doing my work and as and when right time comes it will get highlighted.”

Today Gurbaksh and his team’s work at Dentsu Webchutney, Delhi is getting noticed. The table is already occupied with awards for all its tech innovations.  Perhaps it is time for a new table or a smart innovation? “I love to collect awards. We are doing good work and the industry recognition further boosts the morale,” the content Gurbaksh shared.