How to ride the programmatic rocket unproblematically in South East Asia

Programmatic is expected to propel South East Asia's online advertising market to new heights, but its true potential will only be fulfilled if all parties involved unite to show that brand safety is always top of mind.

New technologies will always bring fresh challenges as well as significant benefits, and programmatic is no exception, with issues such as viewability, adblocking and fraud remaining hot topics that the industry is addressing. With some recent issues hitting the headlines, it’s also clear the industry needs to show the same level of commitment to improving brand safety in ad placements.

There has rightly been growing concerns around ad placements in recent months, yet we should remember that unfortunate juxtapositions are nothing new - in the past it was hoped an eagle-eyed newspaper chief sub editor would spot the problem. The difference today is that programmatic has massively expanded the size and scale of campaigns, meaning we need equally impressive technology to play this role and better protect brands in order to keep programmatic on an upward trajectory in the region.

According to data from Magna Global, brands will be ploughing US$452m into programmatic buys in the region by 2019, compared with $106 million in 2015.

For the first time, this will mean digital advertising will surpass the 50% mark of total marketing spends in Asia Pacific by 2019, noted a recent eMarketer report published in conjunction with IAB Singapore.

And even after this exponential growth, there’s still plenty of room for more.

Take Malaysia as a case in point, while eMarketer points out that digital media ad spending will grow 18.0% this year, to $256.9 million, its share of total media ad spending pot will still only stand at 25.2% by 2020.

These promising prospects will only come to fruition, however, if brands who have not yet embraced programmatic can be convinced it is a safe space.

While it is not an easy challenge, here are three reasons why I think we have a cause for optimism.

We’ve already come a long way

It can be easy to forget in the greater scheme of things that programmatic is still a relatively new development, and significant strides have already been made to promote and protect brand safety.

Many technologies that can safeguard advertisers already exist and are built into programmatic platforms – from the basic black lists of sites to be avoided, to pre-bid filter systems and third party verifications to improve safety.

Where the industry has had less success, however, has been in communicating the importance of these to vendors and advertisers.

Some of this stems from concerns about potentially restricting the reach of a campaign, but as safety concerns increase, buyers and platforms are now better working together to ensure clearly-defined preferences and filters are in place at a campaign’s outset.

This change in culture and greater collaboration by all parties will benefit everyone, and its effectiveness will be further heightened by...

The power of artificial intelligence and machine learning

There is a strong industry commitment to step up to the plate when it comes to brand safety, as evidenced by the time, resources and finances devoted to developing highly sophisticated state-of the-art technology.

There has been a surge in investment in, and the implementation of, artificial intelligence capabilities and machine learning.

AI has the chance to do for brand safety what programmatic has done for online advertising: Act quickly, decisively and most importantly at scale.

This technology will be able to accurately pinpoint the threats not only of today, but also those lurking in the shadows of tomorrow, while also enabling campaigns to precisely target individual users aligned with their interests.

Add this technological superiority to the greater adherence of the existing systems already at our disposal and the trust between buyers and sellers, and the safety of brands, will undoubtedly be strengthened.

Premium placements boosting safety

The rise of programmatic direct in recent years, also known as programmatic marketplaces (PMPs), also shows how the sector has the ability to evolve to meet customers’ needs.

PMPs are places where publishers offer their ad inventory to a selected group of advertisers, and in return, advertisers get the security of a more premium, brand-safe environment along with the benefit of data, targeting and reporting from a single DSP.

The shift to these platforms shows that brands are willing to continue to back the concept of programmatic, but that the type of transactions are changing.

They are evolving to become more flexible to suit an individual brand’s programmatic KPIs - be they reach, cost or fraud targets.

We all know that programmatic can sometimes be the victim of bad press, but all relatively new and rapidly changing creations hit bumps in the road.However, with a solid set of tools already in the box, the commitment to ongoing improvements in the ecosystem to combat the ‘bad players’ who look to exploit new technologies and the addition of AI on the dashboard, I firmly believe that programmatic in South East Asia can pick up speed with confidence.

Alex Khan is managing director of platforms APAC at Oath. He can be found tweeting @khanage5.

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