dentsu India Team

This interview was originally published at AFAQS.

Webchutney's secret to navigating the crossroads between tech and creativity

The agency came seventh at The One Show Global Creative Rankings thanks to its campaign with Vice World News - The Unfiltered History Tour.

Dentsu Webchutney is making waves at award shows, with its imaginative and memorable campaigns. At The One Show’s Global Creative Rankings, it came seventh. Vice World News, which partnered with Dentsu Webchutney on The Unfiltered History Tour, also featured on the list. It ranked fourth under Brand Creativity.

At the recently concluded The One Show 2022, it emerged as The Most Awarded Agency across APAC, with The Unfiltered History Tour bringing home seven Gold, nine Silver and two Bronze for India. It also won big at the Spikes Asia Awards, with four Grand Prix, five Gold, four Silver and six Bronze.

Like Swiggy’s Voice of Hunger campaign, The Unfiltered History Tour has been winning big at international awards. The campaign is a set of specially designed Instagram filters that can be used at the British Museum in London to view the true history of its artefacts, narrated by a resident of the country it’s been taken from.

Vice, along with Dentsu Webchutney, also created a 10-episode podcast, titled The Unfiltered History Tour that shines a light on 10 disputed items on display. To take a behind the scenes look at the campaign and its inception, we spoke to Gurbaksh Singh - chief innovation officer at Dentsu Creative, and Harsh Shah - managing partner at Dentsu Webchutney.

Edited excerpts:

How central is technology to your ideas?

Singh: Ideas are about storytelling, and technology enables you to make that storytelling experience memorable. A good idea needs to be complemented by sound technology, which makes it more effective for the end user. Any outstanding idea is a balance - a fusion between technology and thought.

What comes first - the idea or the technology?

Singh: To be honest, it works both ways. A great piece of technology can be the backbone of an idea. Then we may start thinking of the different ways to use it. A brand could use it, or we could deploy the technology in any upcoming opportunity. That’s what we call reverse engineering.

On the other hand, sometimes, you may have a great idea, but the technology is either unavailable or unknown or isn’t around yet.

With The Unfiltered History Tour, we ended up going on a technology voyage. The technology part took the longest to put together in the entire campaign because it required extensive R&D. We had to find the most effective technology that would help us support the idea.

Piyush Pandey, in one of our recent interviews, said that the idea always comes first - and technology may enhance it. Do you agree with this school of thought?

Shah: Technology will always be the backbone of any idea. That’s how I like to see it. Theoretically, if you ask me, technology comes first. But with an idea, technology finds application. We agree with what Mr Pandey said, but there is some truth to the other way around also.

Singh: In the case of The Unfiltered History Tour, the idea was there. Imagine if we didn’t have the technology to execute it - the whole campaign wouldn’t have happened at all. How else can a team sitting in India, execute an idea like this, on ground in London? Sometimes, a great idea requires great technology to come to life, and this campaign is a good example of that.

How was it like to handle the back end for The Unfiltered History Tour from a tech point of view? How did it come together?

The entire development process of the project happened over (COVID-induced) lockdown. We developed all the filters remotely in India and none of the developers actually visited the museum, while we were working on this project.

There was one more challenge - we weren’t allowed to bring commercial equipment inside the museum. We had to figure out the technology to take the measurements of the artefacts, and also measure lighting and other such physical data - since all these parameters are required to create a working filter on a real life artefact.

The thing is, Instagram filters aren’t designed to work on real life artefacts, like the ones in the museum. Filters are most commonly used on human faces and are supposed to work on two-dimensional objects.

London-based Vice employees went to the museum with civilian devices, such as the latest iPhones - which are capable of carrying out LIDAR scanning. It uses laser beams on the artefacts to measure data. This was also the first time someone had used LIDAR data to create an Instagram filter.

Did the client have any issue with the idea you’d initially proposed?

Shah: Every agency’s creative director would have a graveyard of ideas that were not spotted anywhere. The client needs to be supportive for these ideas to come to life.

The Unfiltered History Tour took 18 months to execute. Our client was patient with us through the whole process and willing to provide whatever support we needed, editorially, to make it happen.

This has become a good norm that other clients can follow - it’s okay to trust the wildest idea that a person has and see where it goes.

Can you talk about some challenges you faced while working on The Unfiltered History Tour?

Singh: I remember when we had created the filters and they were ready for the first round of testing, on-ground. That’s when the first lockdown was announced in London and the museum was shut.

When the museum reopened, it posed another challenge for us. We realised that post-COVID, there were some changes in the museum. For the sake of ventilation, the museum had opened some windows next to some artefacts. It closed a few artefacts. And, the placement of the artefacts themselves, had changed.

All the technology was based on the assumption that the artefacts followed a fixed layout and had fixed lighting. The entire initial plan fell flat on its face because we couldn’t create a filter for a changing environment. We found that Instagram doesn’t allow you to create multiple instances inside the same filter.

What is the state of creativity in the Indian ad world right now?

Shah: It’s not just limited to the work that Webchutney does. Even if you look at FCB India’s Punishing Signal, we’ve seen so much work that had put India on the map. These are examples of how creative and technology have come together to create tangible change. That’s an exciting space for us to be in.

If you had asked us to do a project like The Unfiltered History Tour as little as three years ago, we would have gone crazy. But today, technology makes it possible to not only pull off a campaign like this - but to do it while working completely remotely. India is poised to be one of the world’s largest creative forces and we’re excited to be a part of the process.

What is the biggest challenge plaguing the ad world today?

Shah: We tend to trivialise ourselves a little bit, in terms of culture, people, etc. We get a little too comfortable and may throw our hands up and say, ‘It is how it is’. The onus is on us to come together to ensure that the people in the ad world are happy, they deliver good work, are paid better, treated fairly, etc.

The Unfiltered History Tour came out a few years ago and the team that worked on it, is no longer with Webchutney. They have moved on to start their own agency; which makes them your competitors. You know what you’re up against, considering how closely you’ve worked with them. Keeping this in mind, what is the vision for the agency going forward, to be able to compete and keep up?

Shah: PG, Gautam, everyone on the team, we’re all good friends. We’ve worked with together since we were kids, new to the world of advertising. Their contribution to Webchutney is undeniably massive, and they’ve set the stage for us to leverage the platform and keep the speed going.

Having said that, the vision is simple. We now have a good platform to build on. We’ve seen how good work sets the precedent and we will continue to focus on our people.

Singh: We are grateful that we can show the world what a focused, united team can yield. When you look at a project like Unfiltered, which was massive in scale, every person working on it is responsible for its success.