How the industry is closing the loop on adtech complexity

The Drum held two APAC roundtables to discuss closing the loop on adtech complexity

Data-led advertising could be highly targeted and tell a story for a brand. However, with increased complexity in the market and issues around transparency and accountability, greater collaboration is needed to move the quality of work forward for brands that are hungry for digital ads to be both smart and creative.

The Drum, alongside partner Adform, recently gathered experts from across Southeast Asia for a series of roundtables in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur where they discussed some of the most pressing issues holding back the adtech industry.

A concurrent theme at both gatherings was the need for media and creative to come closer in the planning process. Some brands like Pernod Ricard are already investing in-house in talent who understand programmatic, so they can shepherd creative and media closer together.

One issue experienced by the Kuala Lumpur group was that creative was driven by insights that weren’t truly data-driven, primarily because the data wasn’t being transferred to the creative agency, or the culture and talent hadn’t developed at creative agencies to understand new needs.

Zenith Media’s Sandeep Joseph says: “Many problems can be solved with things like A/B testing, but decisions are usually driven by the idea the creative director had in the shower, not data. Digital is a bigger change for creative agencies than media because the latter was historically more data-driven. Perhaps for creative it’s a bigger shift because it’s based on the insight of a few versus the wisdom of a crowd.”

It’s a point shared by Xaxis’ Regan Baillie, who says: “We have the right pipes and data and we need to fit them all together, but there’s only so much you can do without good creative. The insights aren’t going back fast enough to clients and creative agencies.”

In defence of creatives, David Soo from Saatchi & Saatchi Arachnid says many agencies do understand, but there’s an imperative to create work that impacts the bottom line. “Media isn’t the bad person. As a digital agency we tend to be in the middle and our focus is on improving the client business. If we can’t do that we will fail; creatives need to understand this.”

Dentsu’s Audrey Kuah has a similar viewpoint and says the concept of ‘real-time’ needs reframing: “Real-time is only for advertising tactics and is not plugged into hardcore business. That’s where it needs reframing: to be about feedback and what is needed to drive the brand and business. It’s where we get caught up thinking creative agencies don’t move fast enough, because we’re just looking for partners to create 60 pieces of creative ‘now’.”

It isn’t all doom and gloom for collaboration, according to Mindshare’s James Lewin. However, he pointed out that when there is a lag between media and creative, insights are not necessarily feeding back into the creative process. “The feedback loops in terms of what we can get back out of things are so incredibly powerful that when you are close to agency partners, and have a tight ecosystem with creative, you can start building things that are fit for purpose. Our challenge is that everything online went in the direction of IAB ad units – now it’s all native ad units and there’s not enough content to go into it,” he explains.

For the media agency to better share these insights, or the data, with creatives and clients, it takes people who can analyse the data – and a way to report the lessons in a palatable fashion. Before you even get to making it look simple, there are challenges with ‘multiple point solutions’ feeding back disparate reporting. There is so much data being returned that circling it back isn’t as easy as it sounds for media agencies.

A reason for this, according to Havas’ Hari Shankar, is that many clients are operating with broken stacks. “If you look at the client ecosystem, you’ll probably have half a dozen stacks because of different teams coming and going. So you have a set of broken stacks that don’t really talk to each other and then data hops and you lose 20 to 30%. If the data analysts are spending their time stitching it back together, who the hell is going to make the decisions?” he asks.

Kuala Lumpur roundtable participants:

• Andrew Turner, chief business officer, Consider Digital (iProspect)

• David Soo, managing director, Saatchi & Saatchi Arachnid

• Sandeep Joseph, head of strategy and digital, Zenith Media Malaysia

• Scott Minteer, digital director, Mindshare Malaysia

• Serm Teck Choon, country head for Malaysia, CtrlShift

• Shyam Ravishankar, head of digital media, Omnicom Media Group in Malaysia

Singapore roundtable participants:

• Audrey Kuah, managing director, global data innovation centre, Dentsu Aegis Network

• Chris Steedman, managing director, M&C Saatchi Mobile APAC

• Hari Shankar, managing director, Ecselis Asia and head of paid digital strategy, Havas Group Asia Pacific

• Isabel Castro, programmatic trading and operations lead, Mindshare

• James Lewin, head of innovation for APAC, Mindshare

• Jonathan Rudd, head of digital strategy, Carat APAC

• Marc Langenfeld, regional director, Amnet Asia

• Regan Baillie, managing director, Xaxis in Singapore

A new breed of business hopes to simplify this issue by creating a ‘full stack’ solution in which the technology works better together and avoids the ‘tech tax’, or data loss.

But it isn’t just about technology, it’s also about the people. Xaxis’ Baillie discussed how the agency trading desk was evolving the staff it hired to account for this shift, plugging a knowledge gap for its agency clients.

“It is everyone’s problem, no matter whether it’s agency, programmatic companies, intermediaries or clients – we need to be doing more. We’re looking at whether we need to hire a strategic planner to support our agency teams, because otherwise we are just selling to them and they have to then also sell to their clients. Some agencies don’t have their planners set up to be able to do that,” she says.

Mindshare’s Lewin says this can change by empowering the right people to then influence wider organisational culture: “People coming into the business don’t see these barriers; they are the future and we need to get behind them.”

The realisation of the (perhaps misleading) promise of ‘right ad, right time, right person’ may be just out of reach, but with technology solutions consolidating and simplifying, the issue lies with people and strategy. Tactics need to be left at the kerb for business impact, and talent needs to be nurtured with a sense of urgency for the technology to be used to its full potential.

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