One size does not fit all for video, yet the industry ploughs on doing the same thing over and over, says Unruly’s Phil Townend

Unruly's Phil Townend talks transparency and clarity

As the adoption of video matures, Unruly’s Phil Townend hopes the industry starts to recognise that strategies need to be more bespoke, particularly as culture and emotion start to play more of a role in targeting.

Speaking ahead of The Drum Digital Trading Awards, of which Unruly is a partner, APAC chief commercial officer Phil Townend called on the industry to stop repeating activities as there isn’t a one size fits all approach.

The theme of the awards in the Asia Pacific inaugural year is clarity and transparency and for Unruly that means clarity and purpose for KPIs, as well as good third-party tools to ensure that KPI was delivered against.

Additionally, on the theme of the awards, IAB Singapore’s Miranda Dimopoulos said clarity and transparency mean everything, while Integral Ad Science’s APAC MD, Stephen Dolan, said conversations around clarity and transparency were, at times, emotional for clients.

Additionally, IPONWEB general manager for Asia Pacific, Ryan Pestano, said for the digital and programmatic ecosystem to have a virtuous cycle of growth in Asia Pacific, more local tech, data and media need to be fostered.

Digital spend varies across markets in Asia Pacific but what level is the investment in the market(s) you look after and how has that changed?

We’re seeing great growth across all key markets in SEA, AUNZ, JP, HK and TW. Obviously, these markets are at different stages of digital evolution, but for lots of brands, video is a natural extension of TV so easy to understand and invest in. And although most clients have TV assets, we’re seeing more and more advertisers investing in bespoke digital video created for specific platforms and formats.

We recently opened up offices in key markets (India) with massive growth potential. The team has exponentially grown across the region in terms of publishers, ops, sales and marketing.

How has that changed Unruly’s investment into the region?

We’ve turbo-charged both our programmatic hiring efforts and our tech in APAC. We’ve brought on board programmatic specialists and powered-up our existing team with some serious training, as well as implemented new technology integrations and developing our product suite.

As well as putting the people in programmatic, Unruly has also invested heavily in R&D for APAC - this means training content testing tools like Unruly EQ, which predicts the emotional and business impact of a video, on local audiences and cultures to give better norms for our advertisers.

We’ve also been investing in mobile-first video ad formats like vertical video, to take advantage of the booming mobile market.

How mature is the understanding and adoption of automated trading and data-driven advertising?

It varies across markets, for instance, Australia is a more mature market than the rest of region and so is slightly ahead. While over in SEA, for example, buyers in Singapore are embracing programmatic much faster than in Malaysia or Vietnam.

We launched programmatic last quarter in Japan but it is rapidly catching up with the rest of Asia as budgets are larger and Japanese marketers are not afraid of going programmatic.

In Indonesia or India, a market with huge potential, we still need to overcome the legacy of what programmatic used to represent in the past - i.e. remnant inventory and low CPMs.

Ultimately the region is very much price sensitive and buyers are wary of paying higher prices to access premium sites or quality data. It takes time and education to entice them to “test and trial” and build on some learnings.

Clients’ expectations and risk-aversion also play a big part in adopting automated trading and data-driven strategies. Different ad formats, channels, data or tech deliver different outcomes and benchmarks and KPIs need to be adjusted and understood accordingly.

Are publishers confident programmatic can deliver good enough yield?

Publishers across the region seem to be embracing programmatic as they appreciate that employing large teams to sell display may be less effective than plugging into the pipes.

For video specifically, finding quality in-stream supply can be challenging, and so we’re seeing more publishers engaging with outstream native formats like Unruly In-Article - which they’re happy to trade programmatically.

On top of this, publisher sales teams are increasingly being tasked with selling high value, integrated content solutions which couple content with audience and data.

What about the adoption of PMPs?

A lot of programmatic buys are still done via open exchange due to technical issues or troubleshooting associated with PMP implementation. Overcoming this comes down to education, industry training and ongoing conversations with clients, particularly when topics such as transparency, viewability and fraudulent traffic are becoming more and more prevalent and brands are asking for quality and trusted sites.

We see the role of advanced SSP’s being the curation of sites based on KPI’s (e.g. high viewability, completion rate, audience) to ensure agencies don’t have to employ layers of filters to drive performance for their client.

The next generation of programmatic video will be around personae or audience-based targeting, which matches the video with the mood or personality of the consumer. We’ve already begun experimenting with this with our Emotional PMPs, which match the emotional profile of an ad with the publisher’s content, and which can drive much higher saliency and ad performance.

Overall, getting the industry to a level playing field of understanding and knowledge of which levers to pull, and which to leave alone, will be key to driving scale in PMP’s.

What can the industry do to help increase these investments?

We all need more localised insights for APAC. The IAB Singapore is doing a fantastic job to supercharge programmatic spend in the region through training, whitepapers and guides tailored to the markets across SEA.

But a lot of studies, research and even benchmarks use global data, and there is a strong appetite from clients to have localised insights, so they have a better understanding of the different outputs they may achieve by embracing programmatic - issues that are also present in the general digital advertising space.

This push for data needs to also extend to tech companies and platforms, whose investment in insight can have an impact at scale and reach when overlaying audience targeting.

Where do you think the main gaps in knowledge are? And how can these be addressed?

When running programmatic campaigns, technical knowledge around setting up and optimising programmatic campaigns is essential. We see lots of instances where buyers are applying every filter known to man and wondering why they are not seeing inventory flow.

Unfortunately, a lot of these knowledge gaps are exacerbated by a one size fits all approach, where there is a disconnect between video asset type and delivery channel.

Putting a 60”+ creative through on a CPM programmatic buy drives poor user experience for the consumer (when they are faced with a longform unskippable ad). Put yourself in the shoes of the user and remember how annoying it is when we get forced to view longform unskippable pre-roll ads.

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should, especially as this leads to poor completion rates for our advertisers - yet lots of people make the case that programmatic is fit for all video types and KPI’s. Let’s be clear, it’s brilliant for 15” and 30” TV-style ads, which luckily are the dominant video creative type.

Ultimately, we need full-circle education from all the players within the ecosystem, from the SSPs and DSPs right through to media and creative agencies. This means more investment in programmatic teams, training and events.

The theme for the awards programme this year is clarity and transparency - what do these words mean to Unruly?

Clarity of purpose and the KPI of a particular video ad: is it emotional brand build, or shortform sales activation? Clarity of the use cases of each video buying model and platform, social newsfeed ads vs YouTube vs premium publisher web. CPM vs CPCV. Transparency, for us, means ensuring third-party verification of the metrics which matter.

What positive moves are you seeing in Asia Pacific around clarity and transparency? What is Unruly doing?

Education on video KPI’s and buying models. We’ve built a specific one slide framework to help clients understand the video ecosystem and the roles of different platforms and creative types, and we’re out in market doing workshops with brands and agencies. The industry is also moving towards greater transparency generally, working with industry bodies such as the IAB to drive viewability studies and work with tech partners such as Comscore, Integral Ad Science and Moat etc to drive best practice and awareness.

In a year's time, when looking back at this theme, how do you hope the industry will have evolved or progressed?

I’d really like to just see fit-for-platform video creative strategy and build, and fit-for-creative media planning. These are pretty simple concepts, which seem to elude 80% of video campaigns. On a more sophisticated note, I think the industry will have moved to culture and personality based audience profiling and targeting across the region. Time and time again campaigns have shown advertisers and agencies that one size does not fit all, yet we plough on doing the same thing over and over.

In a tenuous link to transparency, if you were invisible for a day, what would you do?

I’d go and run on the pitch on matchday at Hillsborough, the home of my favourite soccer team, Sheffield Wednesday. It would be brilliant to watch the players faces as the ball mysteriously deviates into the net from a shot going wide, as the mighty Owls run out 10 nil winners. (I’d also obviously prevent the ball from going into our net). Then I’d have a pint with the players after.

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Charlotte McEleny

Charlotte McEleny is The Drum's Asia Editor, charged with finding all the interesting industry news and insights from the Asia Pacific region. During her year in Asia, she's covered topics as wide ranging as industry overwork to artificial intelligence, and interviewed top CMOs such as Alibaba's Chris Tung, and world famous creatives such as Rankin.

Based in Singapore, she travels the region regularly, attending and presenting at many top events, such as Spikes, Ad Week Asia and Innovfest.

Prior to her role as Asia Editor, she spent 10 years working across the London marketing trade magazines, even picking up an award for Best Digital Team at the PPA Digital Awards during her spell as digital editor at Marketing.

All by Charlotte