Agents of Change: Programmatic Pain Points and Priorities in APAC

Ryan Pestano_2
By Ryan Pestano, APAC General Manager at IPONWEB

58% of agencies in APAC say programmatic buying lets them drive greater ROI for brand partners, compared to only 40% and 33% for their North American and EMEA cohorts. While APAC typically lags behind other regions in digital and programmatic adoption and ad spending, this finding from new IPONWEB and Exchangewire research, Agents of Change: The Rise of the Programmatic Media Agency, could indicate why programmatic is set to take off in the region.

The report surveyed 129 professionals working in programmatic media at marketing agencies across APAC, EMEA, and North America (NA). It explores the challenges and opportunities the shift to programmatic media trading is creating for agencies, the impact this has on their relationships with clients and publishers, and how they are leveraging technology to create differentiation and provide new value to partners.

Technology Ownership

Despite programmatic’s ability to drive greater ROI for brands, APAC agencies have yet to take the plunge into owning and operating their own programmatic stack; 66% use either third-party technology exclusively or a combination of third and first party technologies, considerably higher than their EMEA (42%) and NA (44%) counterparts. But building their own ad tech stack is a top priority in the next 12 months for 46% of APAC agencies. So what is driving this change?

Building Bridges to Publishers

Surprisingly, agency respondents from APAC claimed that increased use in programmatic buying technology has resulted in improved relationships with both publishers (75%) and brand clients (85%). In fact, 33% of APAC agencies cited a more direct relationship with publishers as one of the major benefits of programmatic, along with access to a greater total number of publishers (45%). Building strong partnerships with relevant publishers is seen as critical to ensuring that clients get a disproportionate advantage in the marketplace, beyond pricing. Interestingly, and probably helping cement better relations between publishers and agencies, only 12% of respondents cite lower CPMs as an expectation from brands for moving more spend to programmatic channels.

Brand Safety

Whereas programmatic has been blamed for the rapid rise of ads appearing in brand unsafe environments in NA and Europe, the story in APAC is different. 39% of agency respondents in APAC cited brand safety as one of the major benefits of programmatic technology, and 35% touted strong fraud and brand safety rates as one of their core differentiators, more than any other region.

This could be due to fraud being directly proportionate to media CPMs. With the exception of Australia and Japan, some of APAC’s largest media markets have a significant supply skew, leading to reduced CPMs and from there lower fraud rates than in other parts of the world where it is harder to balance scale, quality and value.

Transparency Disconnect

Despite the increased use of automated technology for media buying and reporting, there remains a transparency disconnect for APAC agencies; 67% of respondents say transparency around programmatic ROI is a major benefit to their clients, but 64% still cite a lack of transparency around media execution as their biggest challenge. To compound the issue, 58% of respondents say the growth in programmatic is causing brand clients to demand still greater transparency from them.

What’s on the Horizon?

The shift to digital, and more recently to programmatic, has enabled brands and their agency partners to pull off ever more impressive marketing feats and tactics. However, perceived shortcomings in data activation and audience segmentation are compelling many agencies to turn inward to assess how they can fill gaps through proprietary technology solutions and capabilities. According to the research, priorities for APAC agencies over the next year focus on driving even stronger ROI and delivering real business outcomes through furthering omnichannel capabilities, securing and ring-fencing client data, and building out data science teams and custom buying algorithms. But understanding cost implications and having the build vs buy conversation is critical, as 62% of APAC agencies cite cost of maintenance as the number one criteria for evaluating tech ownership decisions.

In an industry and region where things shift rapidly, one thing feels certain: growth in digital will continue unhindered. And what goes digital eventually goes programmatic. The agency that adopts tools, strategies, and mindsets today that maximize programmatic’s strengths and solve its challenges will be well positioned to deliver greater value to brands and create strategic moats for their own businesses for the foreseeable the future.

Download the full research here.

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