Mobile has a unique power to connect advertisers with consumers in Asia Pacific. Anna Dobbie discovers how brands are adapting to the new ‘first screen’.
Although APAC is a massively diverse region, consisting of 32 different countries, cultures and people, the disparate groups unite in their love for mobile, which for many is the ‘first screen’ in every sense.
“They didn’t go through a phase where they had PCs and then went to mobile, they went straight to mobile,” says SpotX APAC managing director Marcus Tan on the popularity of the medium in the region, where many never had a desktop or fixed screen, and therefore didn’t migrate.
Tremendous growth is forecast in mobile broadband, with APAC 4G users predicted to equal those using 3G within five years. Looking forward to 5G, experts have expressed that it is vital that the network will be able to embrace the ever-rising volumes of data set to run through the system.
Tan feels there is a big appetite for technology and content on the devices, with mobility as a driver. “I think that video as a whole, regardless of whether it’s mobile or desktop, is becoming a big thing for everyone, especially advertisers,” he adds. Tan also believes consumers are more accepting of mobile ads than in the past as long as it is contextualised and correctly delivered.
Twitter head of brand strategy and advocacy in APAC and MENA, Steve Kalifowitz, feels that mobile in the region is a “lifeline”, with people glancing up from their device to look at the TV – in opposition to the Western tradition of using phones while watching TV.
“Mobile is pretty much ubiquitous,” says Kalifowitz. “People still refer to mobile as the second screen, and I say to them, ‘Who looks at their phone first thing [each morning]?’
“For many people in this part of the world, the phone is the first computer they have ever seen, and may be the only computer they see in their whole lives, so it has a much stronger meaning, and we see video consumption as rapacious, especially in developing markets.”
‘Advanced’ and ‘emerging’
Big Mobile Group chief executive Graham Christie argues that the disparity between the “advanced” and “emerging” APAC regions is less stark than might have been expected in regards to the quality of approach and innovation.
“There’s a realisation that marketing on mobile should be two-way,” says Christie. In most cases, this is led by brands that have invested in mobile long-term and found this out for themselves. Generally he feels this has led to better engagement, more strategic thinking and clearer attitudes on how brands see mobile’s role in the purchase cycle.
Christie expects growth across the board in making mobile more productive through better quality communications, data enrichment and a more efficient value chain between brand and end-user. Confidence is also rising around leveraging data, he says.
“Location is a key solution for brands, one where mobile can offer tangible benefits, but the objectives need to be about scalable advertising”
“Firstly, commercially by those with large-scale data assets collaborating with a credible layer of data tech vendors offering safeguards and intelligence,” he says. “Secondly, there is clear improving acceptance by end-users, especially in younger segments, towards the use of data and the promise, at least, of a better experience.”
Regulatory frameworks across markets fundamentally impact on this, and location can be problematic, as often the promise of hyper-local targeting is unreasonable. Christie feels that looking beyond the hype is vital.
“Location is a key solution for brands, one where mobile can offer tangible benefits, but the objectives need to be about scalable advertising, they need to be matched to the limitations of the tech and, most importantly, to intent – that’s when personalisation works.”
Breaking the region down, Australia is leading the pack with a very advanced mobile marketplace, a top-10 global ad market, and consumers who are very early adopters of new tech such as the Internet of Things, virtual reality and augmented reality, not to mention the predicted highest adoption rate of real-time mobile transactions globally by 2020. Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan also follow these trends.
According to Christie, markets that have an opportunity to develop quickly would include Vietnam and Thailand. “In these sort of markets, it’s not the will to develop mobile that’s lagging, it’s the structural issues that affect the space such as the size of the prevailing digital economy, wireless network performance reach, demographics and, also very importantly, a relatively shallow depth of industry talent,” he adds.
Social middle classes
Looking at the potential economic worries in China for brands and media companies, Christie feels that such is the economic growth, urbanisation and resulting appetite for branded goods in the area that he hasn’t witnessed a hit on confidence or activity – a viewpoint shared by
Blismedia global director of marketing and communications Andrew Darling, who spent several years working as a journalist in APAC. “Obviously, despite the economic downturn in China, there’s still millions and millions of people coming up in to the social middle classes, which are becoming more and more brand friendly, particularly for the advertising brands, the Procter & Gamble, Unilever-type brands,” says Darling.
“They’re really implementing and using mobile as a channel to reach those people for video display advertising,” he adds. “I think there’s a huge growth opportunity for a new market, and that excites me.”
Darling agrees it is hard to spot trends in the region as it is so diverse with regards to tech adoption, income disparity, socioeconomics and language. “APAC has the massive growth opportunity in terms of new consumers coming online, using mobile as a first device of choice.”
Naturally, Darling – whose company focuses on location and data – has a good understanding of the future for consumer insight and data in Asia, which he feels has always been slightly lacking.
He feels this will improve as more companies look at consumer trends through “the lens of location”, as well as considering the digital preferences of people engaging with more and more apps, which has led to more agencies setting up and integrating programmatic into their environment.
However, the actual number of dollars flowing through the exchange remains quite low compared with Europe.
Darling has noticed a trend across APAC of brands becoming obsessed with app downloads, which he feel is less important than mobile app engagement. “There’s a saying that data matures like wine and applications mature like fish,” he says.
“Apps on your phone will go off quite quickly unless you use them. Data, if it’s looked after, will always be useful.
“Brands are going to have to be very innovative in creating engaging ad formats for cross-device performance, and the ones that understand how users receive those ads will be the ones that optimise user experience and get higher and higher campaign ROI. It’s going to continue to outpace desktop, and I think APAC will stay on course in outpacing those regions in mobile usage, and the ad spend will follow.”
According to Darling, it’s not just about translating desktop across to mobile, but creating a good experience on mobile and implementing the insights from data to make it more personalised. User context is therefore going to become more sophisticated throughout Asia.
“In Asia, whether it’s young, middle aged or old, they’re just embracing smartphone technology and using it, and there’s no kind of fear factor”
Another trend that Darling has noticed is the relative absence of a disconnect between the generations and how they approach tech. “My generation is hugely comfortable with technology and more aware of data privacy, but what you see in Asia is, whether it’s young, middle aged or old, they’re just embracing smartphone technology and using it, and there’s no kind of fear factor,” he says.
Darling feels that, in terms of new tech adoption, APAC will be on par with the rest of the world. “In India, where mean income is pretty low, there are some discrepancies, but I think that pricing will be driven down, so you get greater computing power for less money at every stage of development,” he says.
“In the more developed APAC countries, we will see adoption being pretty rapid. As India becomes more and more online and more middle income, consumers emerge.”
It’s hard to predict which user interface will be the product of choice in the years to come, but one thing which is fairly certain is that the current growth in mobile in the region is unlikely to slow any time soon.
Mobile may have taken over from TVs and desktops in many areas, but in APAC, its reign as the first screen looks set to run and run.