‘We have seen programmatic spends grow on InMobi year on year’

Vasuta Agarwal, Managing Director - Asia Pacific, InMobi talks about the challenges of programmatic and in-app advertising in India and charting the way forward

e4m by Dipali Banka
Updated: Jun 26, 2020 5:02 PM  | 7 min read
Vasuta Agarwal

India’s first unicorn, mobile marketing and advertising specialist InMobi Group, restructured its business last year into three core online advertising businesses: InMobi unified marketing cloud (UMC), TruFactor, a secure data platform for businesses and Glance, a business-to-consumer (B2C) product that offers personalized ad-free content into the lock screens of smartphones.

 Last year, it also announced its extended partnership with Microsoft by adding its advertising business to InMobi’s portfolio. InMobi recently released the ‘State of Programmatic Video Advertising in Asia Pacific Report’ for Q1 2020, according to which programmatic video spends are still picking up in India, and the News category happens to be the biggest spender.

 Vasuta Agarwal, Managing Director - Asia Pacific, InMobi, decodes the report and talks about the challenges of programmatic and in-app advertising in India.

 InMobi recently released the ‘State of Programmatic Video Advertising in Asia Pacific Report’ for Q1 2020, according to which programmatic video spends are still picking up in India and News happens to be the biggest spender. Could you please share your insights on these findings?

India as a market across Asia Pacific is where programmatic is still picking up. Of course, year on year we have seen programmatic spends grow on the InMobi platform. We had actually done a survey last year of about 130 marketers on slower adoption of programmatic in India compared to a lot of other markets in Asia Pacific. Some of the reasons that had come up were lack of awareness and education of programmatic processes and what programmatic as a platform brings in terms of benefits. There's also perceived lack of trust with the inventory or the supply available in programmatic. And then, of course, there are legacy media buying habits also, which at times hamper the adoption of programmatic. We believe a consistent education and hand holding of both advertisers, agency trading desk and publishers is required right across the market to remove some of these concerns and create more awareness, so as to encourage the adoption of programmatic advertising.

How do you remove the mistrust factor around programmatic advertising?

There are a couple of things - even in programmatic, there is an open exchange buying between advertisers and agencies and a private marketplace that they can set up. There is a lot of transparency which programmatic buying offers, right into the end supply and end-pricing and it is actually more efficient in that way. Secondly, there are also a lot of third party independent measurement tracking and tools, that we support on the InMobi exchange, which our partners can use to reduce some of those concerns around brand safety and checking ROI.

Artificial Intelligence is a key component of programmatic advertising, notably for its ability to aid in real time auctions and dynamic content optimization. What is your view of the way it has been adopted in India so far and how do you see this going forward?

Data, from which Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) stem, is very important when it comes to advertising, especially mobile, in-app or even digital advertising. But it has not been fully utilized so far in terms of its true value. AI or any kind of data-led innovations will gradually become the norm, because without that, most brands, training desks and agencies will not be able to derive true value from their programmatic advertising efforts. The real efficiency and real differentiation will come when you're able to do the right kind of audience segmentation and do a look-alike modelling on that. Today, you can even improve the efficiency of programmatic buying by custom bidding algorithms to derive the maximum ROI.

 According to the report, among the top spending categories within the Southeast Asia market, e-commerce is No.1 followed by News, whereas in India, News is the biggest spender. Any insights on that?

This survey was done over a 12-month period from last year to this year in March. What we've seen is that News as a category comprises a savvy set of advertisers because they are both on the publisher side and on the advertiser side. They have apps that they monetize and also run as advertisers. Because there is a strong need to maintain high daily active users and monthly active users, the strategies and the execution that they are using on programmatic to drive ROI is fairly good. Also, towards the end of the time period of this report, especially in February and March this year, we saw a huge growth in News app usage, possibly because that's the time people had started moving indoors due to the pandemic. News, then, would have also seen a further growth in spends compared to the previous quarter.

 According to the report, programmatic TV advertising will make up approximately one-third of all TV ad revenue by 2021. What’s your view on programmatic TV advertising in India?

That is definitely a space where we are seeing a lot of growth in the US market. We've actually launched our connected TV offering for programmatic buying with a bunch of platforms like Roku, Fire TV, Android TV, and so on. Even in India, while today it's probably in very early stages, we expect it to grow in the next 18 to 20 months. It will almost be an extension of OTT. Because it’s video and given the efficiencies that are getting driven in the mobile in-app and OTT space, it will be a good extension to get into the connected TV side of things in the next few months.

 Talking about videos again, vertical video has increased 300% over last year, according to the report. What's your view about it in India; how is it picking up?

India is obviously a very mobile-first market, and in mobile, the natural mode of interaction is vertical. When you're engaging or browsing or consuming content, the natural mode of holding your phone is vertical. Obviously, a lot of social media apps have also created a lot of vertical video stories and so on. So in terms of user behaviour, they're already attuned to it. There is already content getting created in that format. I think the question is, how do brands and marketers take advantage of that and create more and more videos which are in that format. I mean, in India itself, we saw almost a 3.6 times year-on-year growth in the vertical video spends in the last one year. It is huge, and almost a 51% higher engagement than normal videos. So I definitely think that the format has a lot of potential, and it's something to invest in.

 What are the current challenges within the in-app advertising domain in India?

There are certain perceptional issues in in-app advertising, one of them is that it does not give you a lot of scale. But given that 80% of time spent of users is on apps, there is huge scale. Another perceptional issue is that apps are about gaming audiences and only children are engaging on these apps, but the truth is that now demographics across the board, from women to men of all age groups are actually engaged in games. So you can actually reach very rich audiences through those gaming applications. There is also sometimes the issue of brand safety and marketers think that only premium news applications will give them brand safety and premiumness. But again, the truth is that, in-app advertising gives you the opportunity to measure, track and attribute things in a far better way than mobile web, because you can actually track a user on the basis of the device ID, which is a very clean footprint of the user in an anonymized way.

 In the last three months, have you seen any specific trend build up in the mobile marketing space?

As consumer behaviour is changing, consumers are spending more time on entertainment, OTT and gaming apps; it is also becoming a little difficult to make sure that the ads keep them engaged. We have seen certain innovations in ad formats itself, for example things like shoppable ads and gamification of ads are some of the new formats that are coming up, because people are trying to figure out how to engage users better, how to drive transactions which are more online.

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