Matthew Miller
Jun 1, 2020

Grab to add plum position to its advertiser offering

With a premium top-of-the-app position set to reach millions every day, Grab Ads is enhancing its full-funnel offering, according to regional head Ken Mandel, a speaker at this week's Campaign Connect virtual conference.

Ads from Lazada (left) and Singtel (Gomo) in the new 'masthead' position (top third of image).
Ads from Lazada (left) and Singtel (Gomo) in the new 'masthead' position (top third of image).

Grab is preparing to launch a new ad position at the very top of its superapp this week, offering advertisers a powerful branding opportunity in a spot millions of users across Southeast Asia see multiple times per day.

The addition further extends the power of Grab's ad offering, according to Ken Mandel, regional MD of GrabAds and brand insights at Grab. "We've never had an ad unit on the Grab app that as soon as you open the app, it's there on top," he tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. The 'masthead' position gets "the full brunt of all the impressions", he says. 

A few advertisers, including Lazada and Singtel, have already been testing the unit, which Grab will formally introduce in a webinar later this week. Various targeting options will be available in the ad slot, including  Grab’s own unique user segments, geo-targeting and re-marketing.

With the masthead unit, Grab's ad options now extend from the top of the funnel all the way through to purchase, especially for advertisers that are selling on Grab, Mandel says. 

When he joined Grab in late 2018, the company's ad offering was essentially ads on taxis. "And that's not only what people thought of GrabAds outside the company, but it's what people thought of GrabAds inside the company," he says. Since then the company's advertising offering has gone through a transformation and the company has invested in building necessary infrastructure.

The driving force behind that effort has been capitalising on things Grab could do differently than other digital platforms. "What assets do we have that give us a unique value proposition and are also something that customers would want and need?" Mandel asks. 


Grab's Ken Mandel is a speaker at Campaign Connect, a global online conference taking place around the clock and around the globe tomorrow and Wednesday. The agenda includes a who's who from the industry appearing in sessions originating from Asia, the UK and the US. Get a look at the agenda and book now to join us starting tomorrow afternoon. 


Grab's big user base is an attractive asset in and of itself, but Mandel—whose history with digital media in the region dates back to prehistoric times, in internet terms—wanted to deliver more: an offering that covered everything from awareness, through consideration, to purchase. 

"We started with the concept of, can we create ads that can drive business outcomes?" Mandel says. "Because I've always had this view that, you know, there's an alphabet soup of CPM, CPC, CPA... And that's all great, but they're not business metrics. There's no CFOs sitting there looking at the CPM reports before quarterly earnings. They really want to know, 'Did we ship product? Did we sell?'."

Obviously, Grab can connect ads on its platform to purchases completed using the app, but beyond that it has also constructed incentives for users to spend time with its clients' ads.

"We have Southeast Asia's largest loyalty reward program," Mandel says. "You can earn Grab points for every meal you eat, for every ride you take. So I thought, why not create what they've done in the gaming industry so well, where you watch a video, and you earn some points?"

This value exchange, which Mandel characterises as a "flywheel", spins because it gives something back to users and also works for advertisers. Grab's clients can use rewards to, for example, get more value out of TVCs they've already produced, or drive conversion actions such as users completing a survey or applying for a credit card.

"The first time I ran this by someone, they said, 'Oh, that's like bribery,'" Mandel says, adding that he replied that he was guilty as charged. But if an advertiser has spent US$5 million on a message that it presumably thinks is important to its consumers, he argues, why wouldn't that advertiser want to ensure that consumers see that video, and moreover, watch it all the way to the end? 

"If we can increase that engagement by 700%, or six times, or whatever it is, then it's a good thing for you, because you've invested a lot of money in creating that content," he says. 

Another of Grab's unique selling points for advertisers, according to Mandel, is the ability to drive people to retail locations. 

"One of the key challenges in a post-COVID era will be getting people to go back to retail," he says. "Sure, ecommerce is going to boom during this time, and it is. But ecommerce, at least pre-COVID, was about 5% of all commerce in Southeast Asia." Even if it triples or quadruples, the majority of retail is still happening offline, and in small- and medium-sized businesses, Mandel notes.

Grab realised it could play a role in encouraging people to go to physical locations (sometimes hailing a ride via Grab) to make a purchase, which would allow Grab to take possession of a rare attribution data point. "Then we would be onto something," Mandel says. "So we created what we call online-to-offline, closed-loop ads." Advertisers can push targeted Rewards to Grab users who can redeem them only at the point-of-sale either through GrabPay or unique verification codes. "So we've been able to connect the ad right through to the purchase, which is actually...nobody does that," Mandel asserts. "It's very difficult to do."

Mandel adds that this ability to attribute so clearly is "an exciting thing for me, because I think I've been working on this almost my whole career". It allows advertisers to think not in terms of CPM, or even cost per acquisition, but in terms of sales. "This is the cash register ringing," he says. 

Rival Gojek has also been investing in linking online ads with offline sales. It struck a partnership with The Trade Desk in January to correlate its own purchase data (through its app and its mobile wallet GoPay) with campaigns run through its platform, to map how a campaign leads to a purchase, including where prospects drop out of the funnel. The partnership was initially focused on Indonesia, but it is expected to roll out across other Southeast Asia markets this year.

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