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Ad blocking won’t kill great advertising: Exponential’s Amritpal Singh Bedi

Exponential Interactive recently bolstered its global leadership team with key executives appointments. Amritpal Singh Bedi who was the Vice President of Global Operations now also serves as Head of Sales for India as part of the changes which put the company’s focus on the APAC region. Speaking to Digital Market Asia about the latest changes in the company, Mr Bedi explains why educating the market about tech innovation is the biggest challenge and how the future of digital advertising is still bright even with the rise of ad blocking.

Excerpts:

The year 2016 has had some sober predictions in terms of economic growth in some of the markets. What are some of the trends that you see emerging in the year to address what can be a slow year?

One encouraging trend is the digital push we are seeing from governments, across countries. In India for example, the government has placed much emphasis on its Digital India initiative, which aims to improve the competitiveness of its digital marketplace and transform the country into a digitally-empowered country. As part of this initiative, a slew of new platforms and digital literacy training programs that will help prepare the country, were announced. Businesses across industries have been encouraged by this move, making bold commitments to investments in the digital space.

Across other parts of Asia, my colleagues in Singapore are also witnessing ad tech taking increasing precedence at the governmental level. The investment arm of Economic Development Board (EDB) has invested in several ad tech firms earlier this year, including the likes of Ooyala, Quantcast, Smaato and Tremor Video – to name a few. They all point to an exciting year ahead in the marketplace, despite a generally somber economic outlook in many countries.

Conversations around ad blockers and their impact on the ad industry have also been hotly debated much of last year, continuing on into this year. Once limited to computers, ad blocking have now extended to mobile devices and most recently, telecom operators – where all advertising on a wireless network essentially gets blocked.

This trend, however, is driving innovation amongst brands and marketers to create ads that are storytelling vehicles. Marketers in India are aware that ad blocking can be overcome with stronger content, which will not only engage customers more effectively, but also yield better results for marketers. Coupled with the progress made on the hyper-targeting frontier, the future of digital advertising is bright.

How do you see digital evolve even further in the year? What will be the new areas of focus and importance?

The digital conversation in India is moving fast and we are seeing some tremendous growth. The teams are focussed on making the systems and processes more efficient and effective, with the aim to enhance consumer and brand experience alike. The following are some areas of focus and importance to us here:

Usage of interactive video ad formats
There is data that suggests a higher value for interactive video ads – as demonstrated by our recent EyeSee research in the US. This points to a greater percentage of ads viewed, higher completion rate, and improved brand perception.

Our experience with Flipkart in India has been similar. They were the first to invest in our VDX technology and services in the region, and the results they experienced, were phenomenal.
We are positive that advertisers will continue to invest resources in enhancing and transforming this once-passive medium into an actionable experience, knowing that there lies great opportunity in capturing how consumers are engaging with ads – which buttons they are clicking on, and which they are hovering over. We foresee the development of more interactive elements across the unit, and a higher adoption rate of such ad formats by advertisers and media companies we work with.

Rise of programmatic direct
Perhaps one of the most talked-about areas in ad tech for the rest of the year will be programmatic direct. In the last few years, great strides have been made to bring the automation of programmatic advertising to direct orders. So with automation, the question was how to guarantee high-quality inventory. This is where programmatic direct, which allows advertisers to buy guaranteed impressions directly sold in advance from a single, or network of publishers, entered the picture.

At Exponential, we are already seeing greater concerns around a more premium environment, and securing the best inventory early on. Programmatic direct addresses those apprehensions by layering on additional targeting, and is likely to become a focus as marketers crave for intelligent, more precise targeting.

How important do you think is the role of content and data for marketers now?

In the era of data-driven advertising, both are still as important and go hand-in-hand. Marketers must have the ability to read into diverse sets of data to get an understanding of how to effectively engage each individual. Those without capabilities to collect, analyse, and contextualise data in real-time, will not be able to target consumers with relevant content, and will fail to fill the full-funnel journey of consumers. While first-party data provides immense value, the danger of looking too much at data is we tend to miss out on what it doesn’t tell us.

How has the India market performed for Exponential Interactive? With the new regional appointments, what is the focus in the India and Asia market?

In 2015, we saw the launch of our proprietary, scalable video ad format VDX. This was a key milestone, allowing us to provide our advertisers with a single video brand experience across multiple channels, and ensuring full brand immersion and consistency. As a result so far in 2016, India has had a great start and we are on track for 40 per cent growth this year. This growth is primarily driven from our interactive video ad formats.

Across the rest of Asia Pacific, the organisation announced a couple of regional appointments to gain a stronger foothold in the region – Gerard Lechau as Commercial Director in SEA and North Asia, and Aimme Pancharee Sitthisenee as Sales Director in Thailand.The recent appointments are a key step towards achieving Exponential’s growth ambitions in Asia, and India.

In other parts of Southeast Asia like Thailand, total digital advertising spending is predicted to reach 9.9 billion Baht this year, according to the Digital Advertising Association of Thailand (DAAT). The migration to digital advertising in the country is catalysed by the low performance of traditional media, the high growth of internet users and advanced communications technology – amongst others.

While these emerging markets promise high growth potential, there is limited understanding of the ad tech eco-system, suggesting that there is a ‘do first and understand later’ attitude. Our focus is on educating markets like these – and to achieve this, renewed efforts are in place to bolster engagement with advertisers, publishers and partners that Exponential works with to explain what we do using commonplace, industry standard terms.

Is Asia delivering as per expectations for you? What are the challenges that you face in the market?

Asia is growing at an unprecedented pace, driven by key markets that include India. The broader challenge we see is that market players are not working together to unify the fragmented marketplace, to improve the effectiveness and impact of ad campaigns. Ad-tech providers and media-buying groups are working independently in small groups, as opposed to coming together to create solutions. As a result, larger companies are dominating the market and smaller companies are tied down with cost pressures.

What is the company’s future focus in Asia-Pacific for 2016?

Our focus as an organisation has always been on performance – to produce results for our clients, as they leverage our digital media solutions. In a highly-fragmented region like Asia-Pacific, we need to take a step back and focus on one of ad tech’s biggest challenges – education. We are working with our clients to ensure they understand the value of high-quality performance (like granular metrics and programmatic direct) as a greater awareness amongst them, will enable and encourage us to push the envelope with more innovative solutions.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.
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