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Grab’s Ken Mandel on how its ad business has softened the blow of Covid-19

Grab says it is looking for those that have an entrepreneurial drive to see opportunities where others do not.

In this age of the “new normal” during the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is seeing major shifts in behavioral trends, with more consumers embracing digitally-enabled journeys and experiences. This means brands are now needing to find new ways to reach consumers in a cluttered digital environment.

One of the first steps to reaching that goal is exploring new channels, mediums, and touchpoints. For Singapore-based ride-sharing turned super app Grab, the pandemic's impact on ride-sharing saw it retrench around 360 employees – 5% of its headcount.

However, the platform's work on leveraging its existing technology and investing in building the necessary infrastructure to become a super app has, over the past nine months, helped it pivot away from focusing solely on ride-sharing.

The result of that has seen its advertising offering, which is under its GrabAds arm, cover everything from awareness, to consideration, to purchase, which Grab is calling a “full funnel” approach to marketing and advertising.

“Since GrabAds started in 2018, our vision has always been to create an offering that is different from other digital platforms and able to span the entire customer journey, while also empowering brands with behavioural data along the way,” Ken Mandel, regional managing director of GrabAds and brand insights, explains to The Drum.

“We like to consider the touchpoints as important moments of truth and call them “truthpoints”. The super app nature of our app means that consumers come to our app multiple times per day for various reasons and this allows us to place brands and merchants at the intersection of consumers’ lives.”

He continues: “In order to meet these changing needs, our format options are continually expanding and evolving, allowing brands to leverage the Grab platform to integrate themselves into South East Asia consumers' lives in the most relevant and contextual way possible.”

For example, in June, Grab launched the Grab Masthead, a placement at the top of the Grab homepage which is seen as soon as the user opens the app. This premium format offers advertisers a branding opportunity in a spot millions of users across South East Asia see multiple times per day.

With digitalisation becoming an urgent priority for all types of businesses, Grab adjusted to these macro shifts as a company in order to better support its merchant-partners.

Grab became a platform for many small and traditional businesses like warungs, hawkers, wet market vendors, and sundry shops to come online through GrabFood and GrabMart, with many of them establishing an online presence for the very first time.

“On GrabFood alone, we saw a 25% growth in new merchant sign-ups across the region. This trend continued even after April when movement restrictions began to progressively lift in some SEA markets,” says Mandel.

“To help businesses quickly establish an online presence, we launched a new self-onboarding feature in Indonesia within our revamped GrabMerchant app. This enabled food businesses in Indonesia to build an online store, set up cashless payment options, and be up and running on GrabFood quickly.”

He adds: “As more businesses came online, many of our merchants wanted a way to boost their visibility on GrabFood. So we built a new self-service Ad Manager tool for them. We know that timely consumer insight is critical and that ads are a key pillar to business growth so with Ad Manager, merchants can easily create banner ads and search ads, and track the ad performance in real-time.”

Mandel claims Grab is also seeing a lot of interest from brands for its online to offline offering, as they want to encourage consumers to return to physical retail during the recovery from Covid-19. He explains that this product uses reward mechanisms in the form of beneficial consumer offers that are only available at the physical retail outlet.

“Consumers save the “offer” to their Grab Wallets and then use them at the Point of Sale which allows the retailer to determine the attribution of the ad – effectively closing the loop,” he says.

“These integrated campaigns are part of the GrabAds offering that present growth opportunities for brands looking to increase in-store traffic, as well as to connect and measure their online advertising with offline sales, providing them with real-time ROI. We have run these campaigns with both merchants and brands in various industry sectors such as FMCG, Financial Services, Travel & Hospitality and TMT (Telco, Media and Technology).”

As Mandel look to drive and grow the GrabAds business, he hopes to build a team of professionals based on the principles of heart, honour, humility and hunger.

This means candidates need to have a deep understanding of not just the advertising and media space, but also how to apply this in order to develop and deliver solutions that are fit for purpose, and address the needs of SMB businesses, enterprise merchants and media agencies.

He says Grab is also looking for those that have an entrepreneurial drive to see opportunities where others do not, along with the required resilience and resourcefulness to deliver outcomes in a highly matrixed and interdependent organization.

“Honor also means we want to make sure that individually and collectively as an organization, we hold the bar high when it comes to the types of campaigns we support. We are focused on building a great team that not only has the skill sets to contribute to Grab’s growth, but also believe in our shared mission of driving SEA forward,” he explains.

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