We are getting into emotional conversations around clarity and transparency, says Integral Ad Science’s Stephen Dolan

Integral Ad Science APAC MD Stephen Dolan on clarity and transparency

While the maturity in different Asia Pacific markets can be stark, Integral Ad Science’s APAC MD Stephen Dolan, says clients are universally driving conversations around clarity and transparency, and it can be emotional.

Speaking to The Drum, ahead of the upcoming The Drum Digital Trading Awards Asia Pacific, which Integral Ad Science is supporting, Dolan said that not judging brands on transparency and being flexible was important, because every brand has different needs.

The theme for this year’s awards is clarity and transparency and Dolan’s view follows that of IAB Singapore’s Miranda Dimopoulos, who said that clarity and transparency mean everything.

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?

In terms of the transformation of digital, Australia falls very closely to the US. So, for us, being a US company, where our verification is standard, Australia is probably 18-months or two years behind. So, since we launched the first product in the Australian market, it doesn’t require modification or localization. That is really easy for us to do that. Pretty much anywhere else we see the investment was led by the multinational companies. They are looking for the same verification metrics they have anywhere else in the world. So, they place the same standard across all the media they buy. They go to us to be able to provide the same measurement and the same standard everywhere they operate. For most big multinational companies, they spend a lot on media and they have Southeast Asia hubs. Therefore, Southeast Asia is another clear place for us to invest and to support these clients.

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

Generally, we look at the market sophistication. The clients also look to protect their brands; sometimes they buy brand safety, sometimes is led by viewability, or they want to buy better quality media. But ultimately it comes back to the fact that most of the decisions are client-led. Outside Australia, I would say by these multinational clients.

What can the industry do to help increase these investments?

One thing that I am seeing is more and more of is customers taking control of the value points within data-driven marketing, big customers taking control of their DMP, some of the big customers are also bringing programmatic media buying in-house. That only happens when the business case is firmly established, where there are significant savings, plus there are significant assets to be protected outside of their own IT infrastructure. Some of the decisions are made by the programmatic business case stacking up, but also supported by other functions who decide that data needs to remain in their own infrastructure.

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

The biggest gap is maybe not so much in knowledge, but in execution. The vast majority of the use case of our product is protection; protect me from being on the bad websites, brand safety protection, protect me from fraud. What we experience in the US and some other countries is that there is a great deal of focus on business transparency. It is value-driven. I use the transparency metric to ensure that I am buying the best media for every single dollar that I spend. And something I think is very new to the media and marketing industry but it is part of their everyday life. We all focus on value of what we buy, for example, we compare the price that we buy everyday goods, within 50 cents. You know when we go shopping, we can see something is overpriced very quickly, and we can identify bad products really quickly. Particularly in Southeast Asia, people seem to be ok buying ad for 70 cents that will never be seen; that seems to not be something of great concern at this point. I think that is changing. But if you look at the US, the commercial terms for media buying is much more aggressive stand, a philosophy that is built on the value that they are getting from their media dollars; clearly the value is diminished if they buy a lot of ads that no one sees. What we will see a lot in 2018 is clients are looking at their viewability for their media buy that they have.

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

Clarity and transparency is what we do. We are a measurement and analytics company, so pretty much everything we do revolves around transparency. The awards programme is also centred around promoting the programmatic sector, it is definitely one we want to support.

What positive moves are you seeing in Asia Pacific around clarity and transparency? What’s the reception to how IAS solves this from the industry in the region?

Often we’re getting into an emotional conversation in which people tell us their media buying is bad, or for some reason that impacts their ability to sell it. Our role is not to judge – we don’t judge if things are good or bad; one thing might be great for one client, but ok for another one. Another thing around transparency is that it needs to be flexible and able to be applied based on what client’s needs are. Clearly, that will be very different; a gaming client wants to get a download of their app VS an FMCG brand wanting brand recall. The brand management and the way they look after their brands are very very different. The standard they have is incredibly different. So, what is ok for the gaming company, will not be ok for the FMCG brand. There needs to be that flexibility.

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

Positive moves that we’ve seen is that publishers are starting to look at how they can utilise technology to improve the outcome for themselves and for their customers. I think to this point, up to now, media transparency is being driven by the clients and being pushed onto publishers. We recognise it is difficult and takes time for publishers to change some part of the way they are delivering ad inventory. Now, with the adoption of our publisher product, there is better understanding of the way of the inventory works on viewability, brand safety, and fraud. I do believe that is starting to turn the corner to see some changes from the publishers. I think that will move to trading on media quality metrics pretty quickly. At the very latest, say toward end of midway of 2018, I think that will start to become more and more prominent within the industry. Again, it depends on where we are. In Australia, it has already started. We’ve already seen some of the biggest advertisers in the region stand up to say, “if you don’t accept transparency, we are not spending with you” so this definitely going to have some impact on the commercial relationship between the buyers and sellers. I think that might be difficult for a little bit but that will become accepted as part of negotiation when media is bought and sold.

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

Ah easy, in my opinion, I want to be wherever Donald Trump is. I just to want to observe Donald Trump.

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