Arshan Saha
May 3, 2016

Programmatic in Southeast Asia: Back to the future

Programmatic is still in its nascent phase in Southeast Asia, but there is far more happening than first meets the eye, and marketers need to get up to speed now or risk being left far behind, writes Arshan Saha

Arshan Saha, vice-president, Xaxis Southeast Asia
Arshan Saha, vice-president, Xaxis Southeast Asia

Programmatic marketing in Southeast Asia has in recent years been bubbling under the surface. With many claiming advertisers are not ready, the ecosystem is still at a nascent phase, it’s a perceived performance driven medium and that there is no data available. This is simply down to a lack of education and involvement in a marketplace that is evolving at tremendous pace with clients crying out for direction to embrace data innovation and understand this chaotic space.

The fact is that programmatic marketing and the ability to target audiences with the use of data across SEA markets is set to turbo-charge upwards in all digital spend in 2016, has many clients fully understanding what and how to utilise it and has proven to these clients clear efficiency to their media budget.

To crush the myth that programmatic is small in Southeast Asia, Xaxis in 2016 will have over 400 advertisers in the market in this region that have embraced and driven programmatic and its effectiveness. This has been accomplished by investing in local markets with people, education, technology and innovation, not just to advertisers but the entire ecosystem.

Job done? No, because we are at the prime point and it is time to move to fifth gear. Before we talk about the future, it is time to change our past. What do we need to change as an industry in 2016?

  1. Kill the Click: The optimisation towards the wrong metrics in the click is fundamentally the biggest enemy of digital in SEA. There simply isn’t any value in this and it promotes ad fraud.
  2. Define Attribution: There is a lack of cost efficient attribution methodology that allows the true effectiveness of digital to be quantified through the different touch points in a user journey.
  3. Value Data: It’s time to look through the smog of data and put value on true intent data for its effectiveness.

What lies ahead—for advertisers that look at the points above and feel that they have been left behind, not knowing where to start, there are many ways that programmatic can become a positive backbone of your marketing strategy in 2016:

  1. Embrace and share your data: You have not set up your marketing strategy right, let alone programmatic, if your customer is not at the heart of your strategy and you are not able to seamlessly cut through the clutter of big data to pin point the who, what, where, why and how your customer is navigating, interacting and thinking. 
  2. Move up the funnel: There is a lot of room for innovation when it comes to your digital ad campaigns. There are suites of solutions that are available. Think linear TV, radio, outdoor, content, wearables, and even beyond that, think how all your marketing efforts can be synchronised or leveraged in this digital revolution to reach your customer via multiple engagement points and immediately. It is about getting out of comfort zones in single platforms and embracing the ability of data, or more importantly the customer being that single touch point.
  3. Education: Make sure you know the ins and outs of programmatic and your partner upholds the highest work ethic standards to deliver results for you. Do not chase for the cheapest solution because when something comes cheap, that means something else is compromised. Also, if you understand the true value and benefits of programmatic, you would kill the archaic method of buying, optimising and/or measuring results purely based on clicks.


The time has come for all media to become digital and all digital to become programmatic. The first movers in technology and innovation will benefit, and small- to mid-size publishers who have agility to move quickly will profit.

As all of the above sounds simplistically bright and rosy, there are also many pressing points of concern that need to be addressed for the charge forward to continue such as viewability and ad fraud, which threatens not only the quality of campaigns and results, but also the integrity of the industry. This is being taken seriously and as we can see it is flooding our news feed with education and innovations that will become evident in 2017.

Overall, we are in the era of machines and algorithms powering data allowing for immediate decision-making and precise targeting. This creates ample room for creative and effective campaigns. This year will define leaders in programmatic: only the ambitious, agile and innovative will survive.

Arshan Saha is vice-president of Xaxis Southeast Asia


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