Andrew Stephens first set foot in Southeast Asia 16-years ago with Sydney-based Out Of Home ad agency oOh! Media (formerly, Eye) where he spent four years working in the Vietnam and Indonesia markets.
Following a four-year run at News Outdoor South East Asia, and two years as Regional Director at WPP’s Kinetic in Singapore, Stephens struck out on his own as the co-founder of digital advertising agency Ambient Digital, where he currently serves as CEO.
Branding in Asia spoke with Andrew Stephens to get his take on what industries have been strongest in the Southeast Asia region for digital ad adoption, Ambient’s move into Myanmar, and television’s place in Southeast Asia’s emerging economies.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
I have been focused on setting up our Myanmar office while ensuring that our business operations continue smoothly. It is an amazing market that is incredibly vibrant. We have been lucky to build a strong team there and have also most recently just appointed a new Country Head whom I believe will continue to drive Ambient’s growth story in Asia.
You’ve been in Southeast Asia more than 15 years. Safe to say you’re pretty happy there?
It is great to be in Asia! Every country is so distinctly unique and I have had so many amazing experiences. Most of my friends are living in Asia as well, and I am looking forward to staying in Asia for the long term.
Transparency and verification standards will definitely have to evolve as more key technologies emerge. I think it’s important for everyone in this space to stay ahead of what is “required” – especially in Asia.
What industries in SE Asia have been quickest to adopt digital ad strategies?
We have seen an increase in adoption from key industries such as banking, e-commerce, telecoms and FMCG companies. The SEA population is made up of digital natives who live in a mobile-first world, and companies who have not adapted to changing technologies will be left behind.
The west is increasingly vocal about transparency and verification for the digital ad ecosystem. What’s the chatter amongst brands in Southeast Asia and what’s the current state of ad governance in these developing markets?
Transparency and verification standards will definitely have to evolve as more key technologies emerge. I think it’s important for everyone in this space to stay ahead of what is “required” – especially in Asia. We have been huge supporters of verification since we began, and are always updating our IP to ensure we are in line with global standards and regulations.
Although we have seen broad improvements in the recent years for the ad tech industry, it is imperative that brands, publishers, agencies and even digital media players remain diligent and dedicated in the ongoing efforts to promote ad governance.
In the west, the emergence of mobile has continued to take a big bite out of television ad spend. In Southeast Asia, while all the buzz is ‘mobile, mobile, mobile,’ there is also significant growth in traditional television viewing as incomes increase. This seems an interesting dynamic. Your thoughts?
I do not think TV spend is going anywhere in the short term. TV is very pervasive in this region – especially in the markets outside of the matured markets such as Singapore or Hong Kong – where regional or provincial advertising audiences remain massive.
As a marketer, I would be focusing on highly-targeted cross-device digital advertising – including Facebook as Facebook continues to control such a large part of time spent on digital and mobile.
The markets that we operate in, for example, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, the majority of audiences are still located outside of cities and therefore still primarily reachable through TV.
However, we are also aware of an ever-growing number of users who are consuming content on the go, and this where we are able to leverage our cross-platform capabilities to help advertisers and brands deliver results for their campaigns.
If you were a marketing manager on the client side, where would you be focusing your efforts to reach more consumers in the region?
The proliferation of mobile devices in Asia has changed how people consume content. As a marketer, I would be focusing on highly-targeted cross-device digital advertising – including Facebook as Facebook continues to control such a large part of the time spent on digital and mobile.