This article originally appears on The Drum.
In the year since the last ATS Singapore, a lot has happened in the adtech industry: transparency issues rage, with complexity and issues like viewability and fraud taking centre stage, header bidding has also started to be adopted in Asia Pacific as publishers arm themselves against the duopoly.
As with many conferences about the digital advertising sector, the tone of the conversation had flip flopped between accusations against bad behaviours, calls to arms to work more collaboratively with creatives and the occasional Devil’s Advocate asking whether anyone really cares? Perhaps it is all just industry hot air?
While the tone and opinions bounced around, one key theme persisted: complexity. Grounded in the call from P&G’s Marc Pritchard for better scrutiny on the transparency of media, much of the conversation looked at who is best placed to manage the complexity that will inevitably still exist. Can the agencies regain trust? Will brands take this in-house? What about newcomers to this, such as the consultancies?
Senior professionals from brands, agencies, suppliers and publishers offered their thoughts on what the industry needs to do, particularly in Asia Pacific. The Drum selected some of the key points from across the day on this ongoing global debate.
Marcus Cho, regional multiscreen performance and precision marketing, Asia Pacific at Johnson & Johnson
Cho came from the point of view that FMCG brands did want to see more consolidation and convergence in the programmatic space, particularly around data and agency structures. This was largely driven by the imperative, shared by many brands, to build a single customer view.
“We want to see harder metrics, we want to look at how we measure the sales, use ecommerce data or transaction and credit card transaction data. From what we have seen, those who are providing soft metrics will face a midlife crisis in programmatic,” he said.
“We work closely with trading desks and AORs but we do see convergence and our point of view is in full stack solutions that run through agency partners and partners such as Google and Oracle etc. Once we plug in analytics, we want to see more, a single point of view on marketing and operations. The need state is to see end-to-end analytics through single view on programmatic and operations,” he added.
On the point of using consultancies, Cho stated his confidence in agencies as experts in media but said big companies may still turn to traditional consultancies for bigger picture strategies.
Sanchit Sanga, chief digital officer, APAC and MENA at Mindshare
Sanga’s reaction to the threat of consultancies was to state his confidence in media expertise, arguing that consultancy firms couldn’t provide the insight that agencies could.
He also addressed the topic of agency transparency, referring to GroupM’s recent launch of Mplatform, an adtech platform that promises to answer the client need for a single customer view by using an open universal ID.
“We are big believers at Mindshare and Groupm, that through Mplatform the disclosure and transparency issue gets sorted pretty quickly. You can see it even in the open desks we run for Unilever and HSBC which are 100% transparent; we do believe the future is revealing all costs to clients,” he said.
On the topic of consolidation, Sanga’s key concern lay with the duopoly of Google and Facebook. “in terms of the consolidation of technology, we don’t see walled gardens as anything but a threat to democratic technology. I don’t think all marketers are savvy enough to understand they are playing into hands of two companies who are not revealing the single source of truth,” he said.
Matt Harty, senior vice president, Asia Pacific at The Trade Desk
Harty took on the question of in-housing and whether brands were going direct to adtech partners like The Trade Desk.
“The more sophisticated marketers are wanting to take control. The most sophisticated clients want to take more control and want to be able to see inside of the tools,” he said.
However, he warned: “It is a mistake for people to not take the servicing that the agency has to offer. We have been down this road before; search gives us that lesson and shows us where to go. We had search specialists, then in-house popped up and now it sits in agency again. There just isn’t the amount of talent that can be dispersed.”
Harty argued that if each fortune 500 business across Asia Pacific wanted an in-house programmatic person, the talent wouldn’t be there. “You would be frankly hard pressed have 100 people across APAC that can independently run campaigns.”
“Agencies needed to be centres of excellence but it shouldn’t discourage us for allowing the client to be more empowered than ever before,” he added.
Rahul Vasudev, managing director, APAC at MediaMath
In terms of the duopoly, moderator Wendy Hogan, marketing transformation and strategy director at Oracle asked whether any players in Asia Pacific were attempting to educate the market, as Google and Facebook are. Google itself is almost at the end of the first year of a large-scale training programme for programmatic in Singapore, created in conjunction with the Singapore government.
“Through our training we have trained 10,000 people globally. We get them to focus on outcomes and not get confused by the plethora of terms and technology. The handshakes that take place to enable great marketing should be invisible,” he said.
Prashant Kumar, senior partner at Entropia
Kumar shared a stage with Sukesh Singh, vice president, APAC at Adform to discuss full stack solutions and shared an example of how Entropia was helping Tesco in Malaysia with a digital transformation roadmap.
He commented: “The single biggest challenge is complexity and some in the industry seem to have a vested interest in keeping complexity alive.”
Much like Vasudev’s point of view, he said the market should be helping to reduce complexity for the brand, which would allow them to focus on real business outcomes, not the technology and terms.
He also added that complexity was not just about losing money to margins and ad tech costs: “At the early stage, if the client is bogged down by operational issues and the agency teams are bogged down, you lose sight of larger strategic picture. Complexity is not just about operational cost, it is about what being bogged down by complexity and chaos does to creating the future; you lose sight of insights and ideas. Each time a marketer tries to do agency work, they do less of a marketer’s work.”