The rise of the traditional agency disruptor

Integrated digital powerhouse fueled by data!
It’s been almost thirty days since the rebranding to ADA “”*. Located at the highest level of Axiata Tower – the office is spacious and it’s not possible miss the scenic Kuala Lumpur view. A quick post-lunch chat with Srinivas Gattamneni, CEO of ADA and Dheeraj Raina, Managing Director of ADA Malaysia (pic) shares with us that 2018 will be a strong and fast-paced year for ADA.

The integrated digital marketing business will unlock the full potential in digital through data science, technology and creative for brands and advertisers. These two leaders have a firm belief that data will drive all parts of the advertising value chain where we can

  1. Break the silos between media and creative where marketing decision will be driven by data
  2. Deliver data-driven creatives at 1/10th the cost
  3. Drive outcomes by shifting the media risk to us and use data in value buying
  4. Automate from media planning, creative creation to targeting to drive performance

How has the journey been so far with the massive rebranding to ADA?
SRINIVAS: We had a number of go-to-market brands previously, Adparlor, Adreach, Digital Reach – we have consolidated and rebranded them under one brand, ADA, to better position our data-driven offerings. Over the last 4 years we have built a formidable presence in digital advertising with over 180 digital advertising specialists, serving 400+ top advertisers across 8 countries. It is not a simple rollout for us, as we have to institutionalise the ADA brand in each market (8 countries in total – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand).
From a market perspective, we have gotten some amazing feedback. Customers love how we’re bringing different propositions together to disrupt the traditional agency model. We have 3 main business lines with associated sub-brands:

  • Digital agency: Data-driven media planning, consulting, creatives, research and insights
  • Digital media: Technology platforms to extract maximum ROI on media spend
  • Customer acquisition: Take on the full media risk and deliver new customers at scale

In terms of the people, it is encouraging to see how many industry folks have embraced the new brand and what we stand for, especially on the analytics side. We have also suddenly seen an influx of people wanting to join us, across all markets.
Our own shareholders love it.
DHEERAJ: We rolled out the ADA identity in every market at the same time. But of course, different markets are at different levels of evolution when it comes to the sub-brands under ADA.
For example markets like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, is where our creative services/ Studio A are selling like hot cakes. But for certain emerging markets like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, we are trying to build some interesting things around the whole media planning guidelines (adaFutures), digital media spend forecasting (adaReach), etc.
In different markets, we are seeing a different kind of needs and based on that, we are customising what is important for that market and prioritising that. Nonetheless, the rollout and availability of ADA’s offerings are across all our markets.
Can you tell us more about ADA’s believe in data driving all parts of the advertising value chain?
SRINIVAS: We have invested time and resources into determining how we can extract value of data for advertising. Hence, we build out first in the region telco-powered proprietary data management platform (DMP), Xact. Today we have about 280 million unique devices monthly in one single place with over 200 attributes for each individual which enhances ad personalisation and targeting. On a monthly basis, we process over 50 billion records of data. These data sets comply with privacy laws and are legally safe as customer profiled information is anonymized.
DHEERAJ: If you look at the issues our industry is grappling with right now, we have issues with viewability, bot traffic, brand safety. With XAct, we have a large audience base – which is a mix from 1st, 2nd and 3rd party data. Given the mix of all these elements, we have a strong verification on these audience segments.
With the build of XAct DMP, we have also been able to eradicate issues with brand safety and viewability. We’ve have strict security protocols which have been put into place to avoid any data breaches. It is not an on-the-shelf DMP so the chances of it getting breached is absolutely minimal.
In the next 3-5 years, we expect 90% of all marketing decisions to be data-driven. Hence, Xact is a catalyst to our delivery in ADA.
We understand that talent has been one of the biggest challenges faced in the industry, how are you addressing that?

DHEERAJ: After the rebrand, we have seen an organic growth where people are attracted to work with us due to the relevant credentials of Axiata Digital – in terms of the digital businesses and portfolio companies which Axiata Digital has since inception in 2012. Placing all of our different go-to-market brands under one brand, ADA, has helped us in terms of creating that organic growth.
Nevertheless, it is still challenging to find the right talent especially with the kind of disruption we want to bring into the market. Hence, all of our internal values support our goal of disrupting the traditional agency industry – being agile, and having data at the heart of everything we do. When hiring we look especially closely at whether the candidates’ personal values are aligned to our company values. As we continue to grow, we look into investing into our people through bite-size learnings, via digital channels, etc. This allows us to stay agile and relevant.
SRINIVAS: One third of our employees today have come from an advertising industry, another one third of our people has worked with software engineering organisations and also academic research from a data science perspective. The last one third are joining us from digital companies who have done huge growth hacking in their own organisations.
Hence we have a good blend of data geeks, growth hackers as well as advertising men and women. Today, we are a team of over 180 digital specialists across our markets which includes a team of 40 engineers and data scientists.
Where do you see the future of advertising heading?

From left: Dheeraj Naina, Jo Fisher, Srinivas Gattamneni

DHEERAJ: The way we look at the future of advertising and the reason why we are building these things at ADA is because we believe three things are going to be very critical going forward in advertising.
Firstly, most of the advertising are going to be bought programmatically. Digital is almost programmatic in every sense. A number of television/ on-demand video players are already talking about selling television/ video inventory programmatically. Out-of-home (OOH) is plugging into programmatic. Radio is already programmatic, you can buy on Spotify or Astro radio stations programmatically. Print is the only one that is not programmatic yet, but as they are move towards digital assets it will made available programmatically. When everything goes programmatic, it doesn’t matter how much volume you can buy, it’s going to be how smart you are when you’re buying.
Secondly, for a long time, digital marketing was not held accountable for the offline world. The future of marketing is going to be from online to offline attribution. This is why we are designing our ADA offerings to help advertisers connect dots from what activities happen online and how these activities drive offline sales.
Thirdly, most advertising and communications will be hyper-personalised. It will be about understanding the consumer as that one persona and showing them content that is relevant or of interest to them. Irrelevant ads are an inefficiency in the advertising world and we want to remove that. The way we remove it is through our data-driven marketing process, where we help advertisers understand consumers through our DMP, then craft the creative big idea and finally buy media which consumers view most frequently.
What is ADA planning for 2018?
SRINIVAS: One of the things which we are focusing on this year is our programmatic trading desk. We are launching our programmatic trading desk which will be powered by XAct. We believe this will be the first of its kind telco-powered trading desk in the market and in the entire region which will have dynamic creative optimisation and retargeting capabilities. All of these years, we have observed the gaps in the programmatic buying in the market and we want to plug that gap through this trading desk.
Secondly, we have launched our online to offline attribution product. We believe that’s a very powerful product especially for industries like retail and telcos. We have piloted it in several markets and have seen amazing results. Now, we will be scaling it up very soon and launching it into the market.
Thirdly, we also have adaAcquire, a business where we guarantee outcome to advertisers while taking on the media risks. For example, commercial banks are interested in credit card registrations, etc., clients pay us only when we deliver on the registration. As a company, we believe in testing it first and then taking it out to the market.
*Backstory: Axiata Digital recently announced the launch of ADA, an integrated digital marketing business unlocking brand potential in digital. They rebranded different go-to-market brands (Adparlor, AdReach, Digital Reach) to ADA to provide data science, technology, and creative offerings for brands and businesses across Asia.

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