‘We are driven by our Global CEO's vision to be the world's most-wanted media agency’

As Wavemaker celebrates its fifth anniversary today, CEO-South Asia Ajay Gupte shares the agency’s journey with e4m Editor Naziya Alvi Rahman

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Published: Nov 9, 2022 8:21 AM  | 11 min read
Ajay Gupte

It was on November 9, 2017 that Wavemaker officially opened up for business in India after a long-drawn merger of MEC and Maxus. Five years later, the company has emerged as one of the most promising GroupM agencies, winning accolades and awards for its innovative campaigns, including the much-talked-about Cadbury’s 2021 Diwali campaign with Shah Rukh Khan. CEO-South Asia Ajay Gupte, who took the charge barely six weeks before the Covid pandemic hit the world, is undoubtedly a happy man as the agency today works with some of the most sought-after brands such as Mondelez, Loreal, Dream 11, Netflix, Tata Consumer Pvt Ltd and Vodafone Idea.

As Wavemaker celebrates its fifth anniversary today, exchange4media Editor Naziya Alvi Rahman caught up with Gupte to talk about the journey, business, industry trends and more.

Edited Excerpts:

Wavemaker has been doing well ever since its inception, and most remarkably, did not slow down even during the pandemic. What magic formula have you used to transform the company into a new-age agency?

It's all part of a plan that we are meticulously working towards. Firstly, we're all very driven by our Global CEO Toby Jenner's vision to be the world's most-wanted media agency, and we all very passionately want to make sure that we hold the mantle of being India's most-wanted media agency.

There are two key elements to this. First is our basic DNA, which has always been about being innovative and trying to do something different. This goes right from the Maxus days, and in India, Maxus has been a large part of Wavemaker. Back then, Maxus was one of the most awarded agencies for many years. I was a part of Maxus as the head of its operations in 2005, and we had a content team right then. Not too many media agencies then thought beyond radio, television and a little bit of digital. I think digital was at 1 per cent spending those days. But we had strong digital and content teams.

The second part of it is the wonderful leadership team that I'm fortunate to have with me. Whether it is the head of digital, head of content, head of strategy, office heads or head of trading, they're all possibly the best in their field and are passionately trying to grow and transform the business to stay ahead of the curve. For Wavemaker, the pandemic, like you said, was kind of an opportunity to stitch together all our capabilities for our clients.

The other advantage we had is this vast basket of clients that we work with. It's so wide and broad that it allowed us to deliver different kinds of expertise, learn from it and then take it to the other clients. And hence, we were able to really add value to our clients' business. That is what has really worked extremely well for us.


Retaining talent has become a very difficult task for most leaders in the industry. How has Wavemaker been able to do that? What kind of future-ready practices have you brought into the organization?

It's a very real challenge that the industry faces today in terms of retaining talent. Because your talent is not only restricted to other media agencies which are your competitors, but other areas like clients/brands, start-ups and media companies also offer massive opportunities, and therefore it is important for us to make it exciting for people to stay. People don't only work for money. They want to work to be able to do something different, to be able to add to their careers. They want to solve the problem. They want to add to their experiences and want to build successful careers. People also want to be on the winning side. They want to work where there is exciting work happening. They want to work where there is differentiated work happening, where there is recognition. With the kind of work that we've been doing, I'm really proud to say that our retention levels are the highest amongst our peers.


What is your current attrition rate?

Our attrition rate is around 24 per cent, which is fairly low in this industry. There are a few things that go behind it. From the talent perspective, it's about wanting to work at a place that gives opportunities to grow and learn and one which is doing well. We've built capabilities in areas unheard of possibly a few years ago and not too many agencies have invested in. We've got audience scientists like content creators, copywriters, social media specialists, social media analysts, and we've got hard-core data analytics people. There's such a vast platform for people to work in. Also, we really believe in allowing people to do things that they want to do. In our company, there have been instances when senior resources working in a particular field have come up and said that they would like to build this practice for us. And we said, okay, go ahead. We had the ability to invest. We're building expertise. We are expanding our lead against everybody else and I think we're building capability there.

I think factors such as the opportunity to do something different, the opportunity to learn, and a lot of experience (thanks to our clients who do differentiated work) have created the attraction for us and this shows in our attrition levels.

You helped clients sail through the pandemic. But this year’s festive season again did not turn out to be as good as we would have wanted it to be for various reasons like global recessions or drying up of investments. What did you do for your clients differently to help them overcome this?

I think the consumer is a lot more optimistic than the brands now. Wherever I speak with clients, they say the off-take has been very good. However, there are challenges with margins, with the bottom line and also there is the global pessimism that is affecting us. Now, when budgets are tight, clients look for maximum return on every investment. So that is the key. We've been able to deliver that in many ways, starting right from the attribution journey and then being able to help our clients create the first-party data collection ecosystem. Collecting data, enhancing it and then being able to activate the data is something that we started with a couple of clients, and now I'm happy to say that we have 25 clients on that. We are making communication addressable. It is accountable and there is guaranteed return on investment, and therefore, it helps our clients maximize revenue from their investments.

The second part of it is engaging with the consumers. This becomes a lot more important because of the amount of options they have and their short attention span. Therefore, one needs to create content which is digital and OTT friendly, and we have the ability to really put that together for clients.

E-commerce is another opportunity that we have created for our clients to invest in. So, whether it is better attribution, better addressability, better engagement with the consumer or creating opportunities for commerce, we have been able to actually work across the spectrum for our clients. All of this is eventually helping them maximize return on their investments, which is a great support in this kind of a time.


You mentioned that budgets were tight, how tight were they?

Typically, you see a massive upside getting into the festival period. You see a definite upsurge happening, maybe a couple of months or 45 days before festive season and then lasting for about a month after. I think that massive upsurge has not happened in that way.


So, was the upsurge marginal?

Yes, it has been marginal. It hasn't been the way you expect it to just jump up. There has not been an upsurge compared to a normal year (not the pandemic years). Normally, you would expect the festive season to give you a lot better impact. I think that has been a little subdued. It is better than a normal month certainly, but not to the levels that you usually expect to see.

What according to you were the reasons for this slowdown, and how long do you think this will continue?

It's a combination of pressure on margins, due to (high) raw material costs, and the drying up of investments in our start-ups from global markets. I think a combination of these two, along with a pessimism in global markets, have ensured that the festive season was not as big as we thought it would be.

We have a challenge at hand, at least for the first quarter, and I hope things will get better after that because, like I said, the consumer is still optimistic, and we are in a market which is growing and there is a lot of opportunities. I think people will eventually see the benefit of investing in marketing and communication.


You also spoke about creating shorter content for younger people. Can you give us some examples? The Mother Dairy campaign with Zakir Khan is a beautiful piece, what more have you done and what more are you planning to do in the coming days?

That is one of our flagship pieces of work. There have been so many more. There is one we did for Perfetti and Dharma Productions. We created a two-part short video. It was a girl-meet-boy plot beautifully done in the typical Dharma Productions style.

There are loads of content that we've been creating for our clients. There is Spirit of Scotland with Kunal Kapoor. Apart from that, there have been a lot of tech-enabled work across the board. There are some games being created with AR for some of our clients. It's with the QR code. And there are other small pieces of content. There is one piece of work for MTR, for example, where we have worked with the captain of the Indian women's cricket team.

Tell us about your next
Cadbury-Shahrukh Khan-like work that will make us proud at Cannes yet again

A wonderful piece of work for Cadbury, aimed at helping small retailers and small hawkers to start selling online, is already out. It's an excellent piece of work and a big story for us. Apart from that, there's some more great work. There's a piece of data-connected work that we've done for Luminous. For this, we tied up with the data source which tells us when the power goes off in a particular locality, and we use that input to communicate to users in that area saying why don't you get Luminous? And I think it has worked extremely well. This is a wonderful example of data and creativity working together which we are really proud of.


Coming to numbers, how has the business been this year, considering the fact that a lot of pitches that did not happen in 2020, were finally executed in 2021 or early 2022?

We have won a lot of business this year. What makes me happier is the fact that a lot of these wins have been in new areas. So, the growth is organic, from our existing clients, as well as new clients. Whether it is performance, e-commerce, social analytics or advocacy, we are winning a lot of business in new areas. Clients are definitely seeing us bringing benefit onto the table.

In terms of percentage, possibly, we have added about 10% of our billings through new business, which is phenomenal.


There is recession in the global markets, but India has been, so far, doing decent. Does it add to your pressure to perform extra to cover up for the global numbers?

India is a very important market in the global scheme. We are among the top five markets today for most industries. So the world is definitely looking towards us and our numbers. Fortunately, despite all the pessimism and negativity, we are still growing, and at a fairly fast pace. Therefore, there’s a lot of hope and a lot of expectation from India. So there is a lot of pressure. But I think it is good pressure. It’s for a good reason. It's for the reason that we are growing. And I think that keeps us going. It tells us that we are leading the pack and doing very well. So, it’s a wonderful time to be in India and wonderful time to be doing well in India.



Transcription Credit: Tanya Dwivedi


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Flipkart assigns digital AOR mandate to 22feet Tribal Worldwide

The mandate includes managing Flipkart’s digital campaigns and strategy

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 7, 2023 11:03 AM   |   1 min read


Flipkart has awarded its digital AOR mandate to 22feet Tribal Worldwide, following a multi-agency pitch.

The mandate includes managing Flipkart’s digital campaigns and strategy.

Commenting on the win, Preetham Venkky, President - 22feet Tribal Worldwide & Chief Digital Officer, DDB Mudra Group said, “With this digital AOR mandate, we are thrilled to be partnering with Flipkart. Our commitment to creatively enabling Flipkart’s next stage of growth with an increased focus on strengthening their commercial spectrum is hugely exciting. Our teams will provide unexpected and clutter-breaking solutions to help India’s homegrown e-commerce market leader overcome new challenges in the online marketplace.”

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Ogilvy wins creative mandate for Eveready India

The mandate will be handled by Ogilvy’s Mumbai and Kolkata offices

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 7, 2023 10:46 AM   |   1 min read


Eveready has appointed Ogilvy India as their creative partner. The mandate will be handled by Ogilvy’s Mumbai and Kolkata offices.

Anirban Banerjee, Senior Vice President & Business Unit Head - Battery & Flashlight, said: “The brand which started off describing a powerful battery with ‘Give me Red’, went on to define a generation. We are thrilled to partner with Ogilvy on Eveready’s transformation to re-energise the brand and increase its relevance among the new generation, across its batteries, flashlight and lighting businesses.”

Piyush Pandey, Ogilvy’s Chairman Global Creative & Executive Chairman India, said: “Ogilvy is delighted to partner Eveready. A brand that touches all parts of India from urban to rural. We look forward to creating exciting work that builds both brand and business.”

On the win, Sukesh Nayak, Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy India said, “From growing up with these batteries firing up my imagination by bringing all my toys to life to being able to partner the team in charting the next journey of ‘Give me Red’ is truly humbling. My team and I are super excited about this win, and we can’t wait to partner and create work that captures the imagination of everyone.”

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ASCI scans 45,000 digital ads every month: Manisha Kapoor

As controversies and violations of the ASCI code rise in tandem with digital advertising, ASCI CEO and Secretary General Manisha Kapoor calls for brainstorming within the creative industry

By Kanchan Srivastava | Feb 7, 2023 9:03 AM   |   5 min read

asci manisha kapoor

As digital advertising has witnessed an exponential rise over the past couple of years, the challenges of the advertising standard council of India (ASCI) have also gone up. 

Tracking misleading campaigns across the digital universe is far trickier than scrutinising those on mainstream TV and print media.

While a large number of brands, especially startups and SMBs, advertise on social media only, making the sheer number of digital advertisers huge, digital ads are created and replaced quickly, making ASCI's job even more challenging.

The self-regulatory organization has deployed AI-based software that identifies a whopping 45,000 digital campaigns a month for violations of various codes. This is almost double compared to the numbers two years ago.

“Out of 45,000, on average 500 ads are taken up for further probe every month,” says Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General of the industry’s self-regulatory body.
Besides proactive monitoring, ASCI also receives plenty of consumer complaints against misleading ads on digital platforms, thanks to increasing awareness and sensitivity among Indians.

“Digital ads account for almost half of the cases that ASCI deals with, followed by Print (47%) and then TV (3%). Radio and outdoor campaigns rarely land in trouble as they are much smaller platforms compared to others”, Kapoor points out, highlighting the scale and scope of ASCI’s work in the expanding digital ad market in India.

How does the AI software work?

Meta library lists all ads on the meta platform. The AI-based software red flags only those ads which use certain keywords that are generally used by advertisers to mislead consumers.

Kapoor explains, “For instance, in the food category, the software can track ads that carry the 'immunity booster' phrase. Similarly, in the education category, '100 % jobs' is the catchword. Unless the brands submit solid evidence to prove their claims, such ads are considered misleading.”

Instagram tops in misleading ads

Over 80 percent of misleading ads were floated on leading social media platforms led by Instagram (43%), followed by YouTube (28%), Twitter (6%) and Facebook (3%), ASCI’s data reflects. Websites (18%) also contribute to propagating misleading ads, Kapoor explains.

Kapoor adds that disguised advertising on social media is another challenge for the self-regulatory body, “Many digital ads mimic content. Influencers and blog writers are making ASCI’s jobs even tougher.”

The software also has a certain limitation when it comes to audio ads. “Audio and outdoor are much smaller platforms. Even though our software can’t scan audio ads, we take consumer complaints in this regard,” Kapoor insists.

The majority of advertisers caught by ASCI are D2C brands. Education (26%), Healthcare (15%) and personal care (12%) categories are the top violators. Content violation and Influencers' non-disclosure violations have gone up two-fold over the last four years in the beauty and personal care segment alone, ASCI has found.


Does the ASCI have enough resources to do a fair job considering its workload and the challenges of the digital advertising ecosystem?

“Even if you have a full army with you, it is difficult to track digital ads. We use filters to prioritize our work. For instance, from April to June, we divert our resources to track education ads and December-January we keep a close tab on skincare and moisturizer ads. This allows us to make a shortlist and then we go through ad by ad. Some violations may be nuanced that require human intervention. Those are taken up by our expert panel,” Kapoor explains.

In two years, the number of ad violations has shot up by 80 percent. We are able to handle the work with the same physical infrastructure and resources. We are smart and quick about what we are tracking, she tells with pride.

Advice to advertisers

Every year, a lot of advertisements land in political controversies, are trolled by social media armies and are sometimes retracted by brands. What advice would she like to give the brands to avoid such troubles?

Kapoor says frankly, “Go all out and be creative as long as you are complying with the ASCI code. We would like to see successful advertising. It's a very vibrant field and has been part of our life and culture. Great advertising must be great for consumers and all stakeholders. We have seen some great advertising that is compliant. We would love for them to be interesting, and entertaining and use more formats. Brands should not take up social issues without understanding nuances.”

Such brands are neither thoughtful nor seek advice from domain experts. Hence, they are caught on the wrong foot. If a brand wishes to steer clear of controversy, it has to be more mature and meaningful. Our report “What India takes offense to' released in 2022 has given enough insight into what triggers people. Obvious pitfalls can surely be avoided, Kapoor advises.

“However, a few controversies can't be predicted as people always have their points of view. That is the cost of doing business. If your work can get trolled in a healthy way, it's fine. It should not become a law and order problem,” Kapoor says.

“We are living in a hypersensitive world. People are becoming more and more sensitive, not only in India but across the world and rightly so. It's a difficult time for the industry to navigate these issues but there is no choice. Brainstorming is the need of the hour”, she opines.

Adequate diversity needed

Adequate diversity in creative advertising is very crucial. It will help advertisers and agencies have a more rounded approach while making campaigns. Besides, brands should back the ad they have put out. Companies can come to us and seek advice about potential violations before making an ad.

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GREY Group India & Netmeds celebrate the courage of cancer fighter Anchal Sharma

‘The Girl In Red Lipstick’ campaign has been conceptualised by GREY group India

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 7, 2023 8:12 AM   |   2 min read


This World Cancer Day (4th February), Netmeds is celebrating the courage of Anchal Sharma, a cancer fighter.

The film conceptualized by GREY group India is based on the true story of Anchal Sharma called, “The Girl in Red Lipstick”. The film aims to spread the message for cancer fighters and caregivers #SilenceCancerNotTheFight

Anchal Sharma, a cancer fighter, used red lipstick as her weapon to find courage and fight the struggles of cancer treatment. Not only did she keep her head held high, but also used the lipstick to spread her positivity among other fighters. The bright hue on her beaming smile is what stood out for everyone around her as a constant reminder to not give in and keep fighting.

Speaking about this film, Sandipan Bhattacharyya, Managing Director & Chief Creative Officer, GREY group India said, “In Anchal’s story we saw something that could truly inspire everyone who takes on cancer. It’s a story that needs to be shared so we all can get a bit of her courage and that incredible zest for life.”

Shantanu Saha, Chief Marketing Officer, Pharma Business, Reliance Retail, said, “The thought behind this film stemmed from the fact that Netmeds, as an empathetic intermediary between the care receiver and the caregiver, has so many humane stories to tell. These stories are stories we are exposed to on a daily basis. Stories that come back to us from our delivery staff, our customer service staff and from our own networks of friends, colleagues and family. Why not share a few of these stories of healing, courage, wellness & hope with our audience, through the medium of short stories with real-life protagonists. This World Cancer Day, we share the story of Anchal Sharma. A story of sheer grit, positivity and the willpower to want to live life and spread hope, on her own terms. It sits well with our Brand Purpose, which is to provide genuine medicines, at a reasonable price and on time, to the caregivers and care receivers who buy from us. By doing this, we attempt to help deliver, in our own small way, wellness and hope to everyone across the whole nation. We are after all ‘India ki Pharmacy’.”

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Otrivin & Wunderman Thompson create ‘non-toxic’ pencils for school kids

Pioneering project initiated by Haleon brand and Wunderman Thompson Singapore installs air purifiers in schools to collect toxic air particles and turn them into ‘Otrivin Pollution Capture Pencils’

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 6, 2023 1:22 PM   |   3 min read


Nasal health brand Otrivin has launched a pioneering clean air initiative called ‘Otrivin Pollution Capture Pencils’. The innovative project collects pollution by-products and uses them to make (certified non-toxic) pencils for underprivileged children in Bengaluru, India.

Developed in collaboration with Wunderman Thompson Singapore as part of WPP Team GSK/Haleon for the Otrivin Actions to Breathe Cleaner programme, the project has focused on Bengaluru.

For this initial phase of the project, twenty-two air purifiers, with the ability to wipe out up to 74% air-borne pollutants, were installed both inside and outside the school buildings to improve air quality for over 1,500 young students.

Over two months, the specially designed purifiers, which use revolutionary soot cleaning technology developed by Indian innovation company Panjurli Labs, and cleaned over 2 billion cubic feet of toxic air.

The resulting pollution residue was gathered and mixed with graphite to create the core of 10,000 custom-designed pencils. Certified non-toxic, Otrivin’s Pollution Capture Pencils were distributed to students, and will also act as fundraising tools for the installation of more air purifiers in local schools – thereby creating a self-sustaining ecosystem for change.

Farhad Nadeem, Global Marketing & Digital Director, Otrivin, said: “We at Haleon and our creative partners are led by our purpose – to help people breathe cleaner. The Otrivin Actions To Breathe Cleaner initiative is built on the premise that no action is too small when it comes to reducing our exposure to air pollution. The Otrivin ‘Pollution Capture Pencils’ pilot in India is one such action that attempts to convert air pollution into positivity. We hope that this initiative, while not solving India’s pollution challenge, inspires people to take simple actions to make the world a better place to live in and breathe.”

The collaboration is supported by a launch campaign developed by Wunderman Thompson Singapore, working in conjunction with a wider team at WPP including Wunderman Thompson India and Grey London.

Wunderman Thompson Singapore’s Creative Director, Aarti Nichlani, who has been involved with the project from the start, says: “Air pollution is not going away in a hurry. Meanwhile, it’s the poorest children who bear the greatest burden. An innovation like Pollution Capture Pencils helps make a change at a time when children need it most… today.”

Wunderman Thompson Singapore’s Chief Creative Officer, Mateusz Mroszczak, says of the project: “The biggest reward for any creative agency is to deliver an idea that works both for the client and the greater good. An opportunity like this doesn’t come by often. We’re really proud to have partnered with Otrivin to take a small, but meaningful step to help bring cleaner air to India’s children.”

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For Valentine’s Day, CaratLane shares stories of love in #KhulKeKaroExpress campaign

The campaign is created by BBH India

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 6, 2023 1:01 PM   |   2 min read


CaratLane, an omni-channel jewellery brand, has launched its Valentine’s Day campaign, “Khul Ke Karo Express”. Building on the brand’s core purpose to help consumers express themselves, the campaign brings forward multiple stories inspired by real CaratLane customers sharing their emotions. While spouse gifting is still the majority of the gifting orders during Valentine’s Day, the brand has also seen other relationships like mother-daughter, self-gifting, and sibling-gifting emerging in a big way. The campaign video showcases the roller coaster dynamic between a father and daughter, the unsaid love story of a husband and wife, and the affection shared by a son and mother. The video subtly captures the narrative of how sometimes we are caught in the monotony of life and miss expressing our love to our loved ones. The #KhulKeKaroExpress campaign has been conceptualised and executed by “BBH India (a Publicis Groupe agency)”.

To bring this campaign to life, CaratLane has also introduced an exclusive message card in their gift box. This card has a QR code to add a personalised message, integrated with AR activation in-stores. This allows consumers to express their message without hesitation and adds to a customised jewellery experience to make Valentine’s gifts truly unforgettable.

Talking about the campaign, Jennifer Pandya, VP Marketing of CaratLane, said, “We are very excited to launch this campaign in time for Valentine’s Day. We know that the brand plays a big role in enabling people to express their emotions to their loved ones through the gift of jewellery, but as humans, we don't always find it easy to express what we really feel. So we wanted to champion the expression of emotions. Our consumers tell us that the biggest payoff while gifting is the joy and happiness they see on the receiver's face when they unbox the gift. Through this campaign, we have tried to capture these emotions, joy, happiness, and excitement - to encourage everyone to express their emotions.”

Aarti Srinivasan, ECD, BBH India added, “In a technologically advanced world, it's refreshing to take a moment and show the old-school way.  Remaining true to BBH’s ‘Zag’ philosophy and CaratLane’s mission to help people express emotions, we wanted to elevate the feeling of gifting by focusing on the moment of gifting; of looking into someone's eyes and expressing what you feel unabashed and at the same time see the emotions of the receiver. Hence, the thought of #KhulKeKaroExpress was born.”

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In RummyCircle’s new film, Hrithik Roshan talks about making the right choices in life

This is the fourth edition of ‘raho ek kadam aage’ campaign

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 6, 2023 12:44 PM   |   2 min read


RummyCircle has launched the fourth edition of its Raho Ek Kadam Aage campaign with brand ambassador Hrithik Roshan, which features exciting action-packed stories of how the star uses his skills to deal with real-life scenarios and his game of online rummy.

Continuing with its underlying theme, the fourth edition of this popular campaign focuses on how foresight, skill, and intelligence are crucial for skilled and responsible gameplay.

The year-long campaign has featured multiple creative films around the central theme of skill gaming using the catch line of Raho Ek Kadam Aage, highlighting the use of planning, critical thinking, situational responses, and decision-making, etc, as winning strategies. Four campaigns have been released in a span of a year-long engagement with Hrithik Roshan as RummyCircle’s brand ambassador, regularly infusing new energy into the campaign and sustaining consumer interest.

Commenting on the campaign, Avik Das Kanungo, Associate Vice President- Brand and Marketing Strategy, Games24x7 said “We are thrilled to present the fourth edition in our series of Raho Ek Kadam Aage campaign with Mr. Hrithik Roshan, where he brings his highly skilled and action-packed moves to highlight how he makes the right ‘choice’ to win in life and in rummy. We’ve had an extremely exciting year where we’ve attempted to build the category and reinforce the core brand message of skilled and responsible gameplay while showcasing the thrill of the game. The campaigns have been successful in highlighting RummyCircle as a preferred platform for online rummy where players can hone their gameplay and compete with other skilled players.”

The film in fourth edition of the #RahoEkKadamAage campaign shows Hrithik set in a surreal space where he equates the importance of choosing the right script, with making the right moves in the game of Rummy. He’s also seen carefully making a ‘choice’ to discard and pick the right cards in the game. The film has been designed by DDB Mudra. The fourth leg of this multi-media campaign will be digitally led and will engage consumers through popular video platforms like YouTube and Sharechat as well as various OTT and social media platforms.


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