Nick Manning reports on encouraging trends from the recent World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) global marketing week event held in Malaysia, while Ebiquity’s CEOs in Asia Pacific show that the challenges facing advertisers in the region are the same the world over.

The 2016 WFA annual conference was held in KL recently, and the city provided the setting for some surprising and welcome changes in how marketing is being discussed.

One of the dominant themes to emerge was people. First up was Tony Fernandes, founder of AirAsia, who talked about what makes him and his business tick, such as employing talented people more or less spontaneously. The impression was of a mercurial entrepreneur proving that risk-taking lives – and can be wildly successful – even in an age when process predominates.

The theme was continued by Mondelez, with Maria Mujica showing how ‘Fly Fearless’ has been introduced to find new ways to communicate their brands, with the accent on failing fast and so employing controlled risk-taking.

Nick Manning - Predicted Growth for 2016

Other speakers showed how data needs to be turned to a more strategic purpose, as evidenced by John Kearon of BrainJuicer taking us through the recent WFA study into how research and data together should be deployed to deliver profitable brand growth.

This was a refreshing antidote to the recent conference mantra that AI, algorithms, and the Internet of Things are the future and people don’t count anymore. This never did make sense, and was called out by WFA President David Wheldon, who encouraged marketers to get back to basics and not chase every shiny new object.

And the basics of good marketing are to understand people, their wants, needs, attitudes, and behaviors, and not to force advertising on them that they resent and reject.

But the strongest theme of the week was that the hype over personalization and programmatic may be waning. The industry is realizing that personalization doesn’t – after all – solve the question of which 50 percent of advertising is wasted. If the headlong rush to programmatic has in fact contributed to the problems of wastage and ad blocking (as indeed it has), it’s probably been less effective in brand building than its less targeted predecessors. Now, who would have thought that?


Richard Basil-Jones: CEO of Ebiquity Australia/New Zealand (Sydney)

The challenges facing Asia-Pac marketers aren’t new, but digital makes them more complex. Specifically:

  • Which elements of the marketing budget really drive business performance?
  • How cost-effectively are different channels performing?
  • How much of the budget should be allocated to digital?

This is true across the board, from big spenders like automotive, banking, retail, and telecommunications, to smaller categories including health supplements, online betting and travel, and consumer insurance. The media world may be more complex and fragmented than it was, but the issues worrying advertisers remain constant. They’re just harder to answer.

These challenges dominate our conversations with advertisers, with an increased focus on transparency and accountability. The thirst for information and competitive intelligence around all things digital remains keen. Clients have genuine comfort working with traditional media, but digital remains a stumbling block.


Leela Nair: MD – South East Asia at Ebiquity (Singapore)

Ad spend in SEA is growing. Advertisers are willing to invest, as long as they know they’re getting value and driving results in line with business strategy. Digital is growing in particular, with 30 percent of advertising today online. Digital offers the biggest opportunities, though it’s the worst understood and there’s least visibility around it.

Ours is an incredibly rich and diverse region – culturally, linguistically, geographically. It’s also highly fragmented – 11 countries with their own characteristics and requirements. Outsiders often mistakenly call it ‘developing,’ implying naivety and a lack of sophistication. But there are incredibly savvy advertisers who combine global standards and requirements with a deep understanding of what they want and what’s relevant for their markets.

As elsewhere, most brands want to understand what’s on the media plan and why, although the more complex media landscape means that’s not as clear as it was before. A lot of the work we do is focused on enabling advertisers to ask questions about the ROI of their media agencies.

David Brocklehurst







David Brocklehurst: MD – Asia Pacific at FirmDecisions, an Ebiquity company (Melbourne)

Media agencies and channels have changed beyond recognition, with a wealth of options offered to clients, each with their own rules and conditions attached. Some services are now non-auditable and non-transparent. Others are unmeasurable.

Clients want to trust that agencies have their clients’ best interests at heart when presented with media plans. To be able to understand, challenge, and ultimately accept these plans, advertisers need to have breadth and depth of knowledge of all media types, and the opportunities they provide. Increasingly, they must rely on the fact that their contract is robust and exhaustive and – of course – properly complied with.

I believe that the competitive nature of the media industry will mean some agencies realize advertisers want transparency and, in return for fair remuneration, will find a way to offer full transparency again. This will give these agencies significant competitive advantage over those building non-auditable, opaque practices.

Peter Cornelius

Peter Cornelius: Director of Client Service – Media at Ebiquity Australia (Sydney)

Heraclitus said, “The only thing that is constant is change,” 2,500 years ago, but it applies today more than ever. Positive change is a powerful tool for business, but change ‘on the run’ can be enormously damaging. Many marketers feel out of control, as strategically sound decision-making is replaced by kneejerk reactions to satisfy short-term needs, rather than intelligent and strategic mid to long-term business planning. Media fragmentation is a reality. Traditional media goals, such as reach and frequency, and media selection tied to business objectives, need to be reassessed; the base is constantly changing. Media measurement is not keeping pace with media format innovation or how people consume media. Advertisers look for answers, but they are often not sure what the right questions are to ask.

We live in interesting times but, rather than retreat into their shells, advertisers should be brave, experiment, measure as meaningfully as possible, and discover what works.

Alex Abplanalp

Alex Abplanalp: CEO of Ebiquity China (Shanghai)

Digital has grown at more than 30 percent for each of the past five years. The $40bn spent online in China in 2016 will represent 40 percent of total spend, surpassing TV as the largest single medium. While GDP is slowing, it will still be an impressive 7 percent this year. Total ad spend will grow at the same rate, while digital will outpace economic growth at 20 percent, at the expense of TV. For the first time since statistics have been collected, TV’s share will shrink.

There are three principle challenges advertisers in China are trying to resolve:

  1. Digital ROI, focused on measurement: finding the right metrics and KPIs to quantify effectiveness and efficiency.
  2. Digital planning, optimization, and buying transparency. How objectively is digital media planned and bought, given digital is such a high margin business for media agency groups?
  3. Ad fraud. With China’s local ecosystem and so many global sites blocked, there’s greater risk of fraud.

Online spend will pass $40bn



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