Thought Leadership

How Asia is Leaning into Programmatic

June 10, 2020
By Yogesh Sehgal, Regional Manager, Asia, Rubicon Project

As more digital advertisers are wanting better measurement and flexibility from their campaigns, global ad budgets are shifting towards programmatic channels. While buyers in Asia recognize the immense opportunity that programmatic presents to digital advertisers, the region has been slower than others to move budgets to programmatic.

To uncover the barriers to adoption and assess opportunities for growth, Rubicon Project and Campaign Asia paired up to survey media buyers across nine markets in Asia. We asked 185 programmatic leaders to share their expectations, challenges, and active plans regarding adopting programmatic. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted a recontact survey, which confirmed our report findings and provided further insights. Our more recent findings suggest that during the uncertainty of the pandemic, buyers are looking even more to data to inform their decisions, and show a greater preference for programmatic advertising due to the inherent targeting and measurement capabilities of the channel.

What’s Driving Programmatic Ad Buying in Asia?

According to our survey, there is a strong adoption rate of programmatic advertising across Asia in general, with 76% of respondents stating that the markets in which they operate have a ‘high’ or ‘medium’ level of adoption in their market. Among respondents, 43% (the highest proportion of those surveyed) are allocating 20-50% of their ad budgets to programmatic. 

Among buyers with higher rates of programmatic adoption, we found that a common driver is the client mandate. Media buyers widely indicated that their direct client’s understanding of programmatic advertising and wish to incorporate it into their media buying strategy led them to allocate a greater portion of digital ad budgets to programmatic. With more clients taking an active role in programmatic decision-making, media buyers will continue to experience increased freedom to transition budgets from IO-based buying to programmatic in the region.

While adoption rates are positive, there is significant room for growth. Opportunity for programmatic budget growth is most significant in the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Hong Kong, with more than 70% of respondents indicating that they expect programmatic budgets to ‘increase’ over the next 12 months.

What’s Holding Programmatic Ad Budgets Back?

While the client mandate is driving the move to programmatic buying, some resistance towards shifting dollars away from direct IO-based buying remains. More than a third (36%) of respondents indicated that they are ‘somewhat’ hesitant to move budgets from direct IO to programmatic and 7% indicated an extreme hesitancy to shift budgets to programmatic. Survey results indicate that shifting budgets to programmatic is perceived as disrupting established relationships between publisher sales representatives and media buyers. When planning budgets, media buyers may need to weigh the value of disrupting established relationships against choosing a transaction method that could deliver greater return on investment (ROI) for advertising budgets.

Greater Investment in Education and Skill Development will Drive Further Adoption

While there is a healthy understanding of programmatic buying across Asia, buyers indicated that they believe the single biggest challenge hindering further growth is a lack of understanding and appropriate skills to effectively plan and execute programmatic campaigns, particularly outside of the walled gardens. With the industry in a constant state of change, there is a critical need for continuing education for the buy-side, regardless of seniority or market maturity. In general, respondents in the APAC region felt that an improved level of knowledge and understanding of all facets of programmatic buying will ultimately help unlock more programmatic dollars.

How is COVID-19 impacting Programmatic Ad Buying in Asia?

The results of the second wave of our research support an encouraging outlook on programmatic advertising budgets across the region. In this time of uncertainty, buyers will likely be further attracted to programmatic for the flexibility it offers in terms of campaign management. Although overall digital media budgets have experienced a downturn, particularly in verticals such as travel and sports, programmatic advertising budgets are predicted to remain relatively stable. Our findings revealed that 88% of respondents across the region expect budgets to remain the same or increase. While it is too early to predict how the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately impact programmatic advertising budgets, increased investment and support for media buyers operating in Asia during this challenging time will help dampen the impact of the pandemic and may ultimately help enable buyers to obtain a better return on their investment in programmatic.

To learn more about buyer behaviors in Asia as well as the future of programmatic in the region, check out our full report here.

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