Joe Nguyen
Oct 4, 2016

Control and transparency the key to furthering programmatic in Asia

With programmatic adoption in the Asia Pacific on the rise, the industry has to find ways to maximise efficiency and control.

Joe Nguyen
Joe Nguyen

Programmatic technologies offer media buyers and advertisers a wonderful opportunity to improve campaign performance, but for programmatic to be truly embedded, advertisers need control and transparency around their investment in programmatic.

Programmatic spend in Asia Pacific is predicted to grow 35 percent each year, reaching about US$7 billion in 2019, with some markets such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Korea predicted to double in size each year until 2019¹. So why are decision-makers in Asia Pacific moving to programmatic in such a big way? ‘Better contextual targeting’ is seen as the biggest benefit of programmatic buying—cited by just over half of this group as very important, followed by ‘faster execution’ (48 percent) and the ability to optimise in real-time (46 percent)².

However, it is important not to get carried away. While marketers are keen to embrace the technology, there are key barriers to its wider adoption. Aside from time, the main reasons Asia-Pacific decision-makers have not used programmatic is its technical complexity (cited by 50 percent), not having an agency partner to help use it, or not having the skills in-house to do so (both around 40 percent).²

The 'tradeoff' heart of the issue

The pros and cons of programmatic, highlighted above, can be boiled down to a simple tradeoff. Before programmatic, advertisers had more control over where ads were placed but wastage, and inefficiency, were high because—to put it simply—buying an ad on a site means you reach all users of the site rather than only those you want to reach. Programmatic has ushered in a new era of granular audience targeting to reduce wastage, but with that comes a loss of control and transparency. In other words, as efficiency rises, control decreases.

The good news is these are not in a “seesaw” relationship, if one goes up, the other does not have to come down. The key to maximising both efficiency and control lies in the mechanisms you have in place before you ever get into bidding for an ad placement that might be served, so how can you address this?

Control is about brand protection

Although loss of control and transparency can be a worry for various reasons, it really boils down to advertisers’ concern about the potential damage to their brand if their ads are served in harmful contexts. However, having the right plumbing in place means these risks can be mitigated, even in programmatic.

The first thing advertisers can do is be aware that brand safety is a far more nuanced issue than simply avoiding obvious environments such as pornography, violence, and illegal or terrorist websites.

It is about avoiding topics or contexts that might be uniquely harmful to your brand, such as names of specific competitors or particularly damaging current events. For example, a peanut butter brand will not want ads around articles about nut allergies rising in young children, and cruise ship operators will not want ads around articles on boating accidents.

Once you are aware of this, you need to make sure any ad delivery partners you are working with have highly customisable and powerful campaign protection tools in place. ComScore clients, for example, can choose from three cinema-style ‘maturity’ ratings and 17 brand safety flag ‘filters’ before their ads even get to the bidding stage. It is also worth pointing out these tools should be used alongside those that maximise viewable environments and minimise exposure to non-human and fraudulent traffic.

Context is king

The nut allergy and boating accident articles are examples of removing contexts that can be harmful to a brand. Hence, once you are secured with brand safety, what you really want is to focus on the contexts that are going to drive the most success. The industry has paid too much attention on the former (ad validation) at the expense of the latter (ad relevance).

The right programmatic tech has the ability to find quality content and audiences you can act on in real-time. Your partner must be able to execute this ‘contextual categorisation’ at the domain, site, page or page element level, which requires hundreds of thousands of dynamically updated topical categories.

Take, for example, a sports brand that wants to create brand awareness around new long-distance running shoes. The secret sauce is about combining the best elements of contextual categories (great for finding general topical relevance such as ‘running’) and keyword targeting (great for exact word matches like ‘marathon’).

The ‘running’ category is selected so the sports brand’s ad appears on a running interest site. However, the article is about gaining muscle, so not one to attract those training for a marathon. A custom keyword is selected to target inventory with the word ‘marathon’, but this brings up articles about a dog who accidentally ran one. Only by using BOTH the contextual and the keyword targets do you get a marathon-related article on a running interest site—exactly the type of relevant content you require.

So remember, whilst validation makes sure your ad can be seen in the right environment, relevance is the most important factor for reaching a consumer who could be interested in your campaign, and your product.

Example: Athletic brand seeks to create awareness for new running shoes among marathoners.

Selecting the “Running” category:

Using a “marathon” custom target:

Combination of both:

Joe Nguyen is senior vice president, Asia Pacific, at ComScore. 


  1. MAGNA GLOBAL, September 2015 Programmatic Forecast
  2. A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of MediaMath, February 2016, “Programmatic: The Shifting Paradigm of Digital Marketing”
Campaign Asia

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