Q&A: Troy Yang and Aileen Ku on the Paradigm Shift in Digital-Out-of-Home Advertising

To get a better grasp on evolving trends in the digital-out-of-home market, we recently caught up with Troy Yang and Aileen Ku from ad tech company Hivestack.

The company announced the expansion of its business operations into China early last year with the appointment of Yang as Managing Director, North Asia, and Ku who joined as GM of China in May.

Over the course of our conversation, the pair talk about Hivestack’s expansion into North Asia, localizing their product behind China’s ‘great firewall’, creative ad work that they admire, the paradigm shift taking place across the DOOH industry, and more.


What’s been keeping you busy lately?

Troy: 2021 was a crucial year for Hivestack in North Asia, especially in terms of laying a solid foundation to enable us to drive long-term success. We’ve focused on building a strong, talented team across the region and signing multiple partnership deals.

This has resulted in a number of industry-first programmatic digital out-of-home (DOOH) case studies throughout the region. 2022 will see us building further on these successes and aligning the priorities of our internal stakeholders with the strategies of our advertising partners as we get ready to charge ahead.

Aileen: Many within the adtech industry in China saw 2021 as the inaugural year for programmatic DOOH, and we’re proud to have been a part of the growth the technology has made within the region.

We’ve been successful in supporting our in-market supply and data partners to execute truly programmatic campaigns, tapping into local demand. Programmatic DOOH is a relatively new concept in China, and this year we will continue to pioneer the industry and educate the market on the unique advantages that programmatic DOOH can provide brands and advertisers.


Last year Hivestack expanded into China. How is that going and what are some unique characteristics about the region that should inform marketers’ engagement strategies there?

Troy: Having built a strong team led by Aileen, we were able to focus on localizing our product platform behind the ‘great firewall’ of China, which was a crucial first step – we are proud to have  achieved this in less than a year. Our ‘outside-in’ strategy of bringing incremental value and investment from out-of-market buyers to local media owners has been a success, something we’re very proud of, and our case study with Intel is a great example of this.

The Chinese out-of-home (OOH) advertising landscape is characterized by a strict focus on privacy. With this in mind, we are working to ensure that we are providing marketers and media owners a platform that they can trust to make data-driven decisions that are privacy-compliant while serving agile, scalable, and targeted programmatic DOOH campaigns.

Aileen: We saw DOOH advertising spend bounce back strongly throughout 2021, particularly fuelled by programmatic DOOH, and ongoing discussions with our demand and supply partners throughout China have given us confidence that this growth will continue in 2022.

Factors driving this include the continued digitalization of screens from both existing and new players, a consistent rise in consumer spending, and the availability of location data. The increased availability of data will also lead to improved transparency, providing marketers with greater confidence.

“North Asia is notoriously tough for global adtech companies to break into, and even tech giants like Google and Meta can attest to this.”

As Troy says, data compliance is our utmost governing principle. We’re obtaining the necessary certifications (including the Safe Grade Protection Level 3 certification) to both remain compliant ourselves and to give our partners confidence that we take data and privacy seriously. To that end, our Head of Product is a certified information security professional on Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), and we’re working to upskill the team across North Asia to ensure we have the maximum amount of data and security expertise in-house.

How are plans going with expanding further into North Asian markets?

Troy: North Asia is notoriously tough for global adtech companies to break into, and even tech giants like Google and Meta can attest to this. Every market has its own set of unique challenges when it comes to laws and industry regulations, down to language and global client presences.

Support from the international Hivestack team and our HQ in Canada have been vital, giving us the ability to remain agile and adapt, resulting in our successful penetration of markets like Taiwan and Korea for the first time. This has also been made possible by the support of our in-market partners, allowing us to successfully launch our first campaigns in these strategic markets.

“The current revolution, driven by programmatic DOOH,  reminds me of the internet media revolution that shifted from cost per day (CPD) buying to the audience-driven programmatic buying we see today.”

Aileen: The Chinese market presents outbound opportunities on a global scale, and Chinese companies have been expanding their operations outside of the region. We’ve received briefs from partners in China to advertise in Northeast Asian markets recently, especially Japan, and we’re confident that this trend will continue.

Hivestack says that its goal is to revolutionize the conventions of traditional out-of-home media buying. Can you talk more about that and how it directly affects both consumers and brands?

Troy: Absolutely, the industry is experiencing a paradigm shift in which DOOH advertising is now being transacted programmatically, moving from buying ‘spots’ in the loop to buying based on ‘impression’. As a result, brands are able to make data-driven decisions powered by unprecedented targeting capabilities, which means that consumers are exposed to ads that are much more relevant to them.

Aileen: The OOH industry is one of the major advertising channels to undergo a recent significant transformation. The current revolution, driven by programmatic DOOH,  reminds me of the internet media revolution that shifted from cost per day (CPD) buying to the audience-driven programmatic buying we see today.

Programmatic DOOH is poised to become a major channel in consumer-facing omnichannel strategies, and engaging with programmatic will empower advertisers to allocate budget and optimize DOOH budgets across multiple channels according to different objectives, from audience reach to foot traffic.

As someone tasked with managing a sizable team, what are some lessons you’ve learned from managing and motivating during the lockdowns that will carry over into your management strategies once things are “normal” again?

Troy: Building trust with our partners is of primary importance, but trust is equally important when it comes to managing our teams. It has become especially important during our current times, and building relationships and having more empathy is embedded in Hivestack’s company culture. Although we are in the adtech business, we are also in the people business, and we’re thankful for the great efforts and support of our teams.

Aileen: The importance of vision and execution. While we continue our vision to ‘paint the sky pink’ in China, it’s important we continue to roll up our sleeves and push forward with execution. The process of execution has thrown up challenges, but we have worked to overcome them, one by one. We treat every hurdle as an opportunity for positivity and take on board all feedback – internal or external – to encourage our growth.

What are some out-of-home campaigns you’ve seen over the years that have impressed you most? (share links to work please – ideally not all Hivestack :-))

Troy:  I was very impressed by a recent programmatic DOOH campaign with cross-screen integration from one of the biggest CPG companies and a leading global beauty brand in Hong Kong, as well as this giant cat 3D billboard campaign seen in Tokyo. These ‘naked eye 3D’ campaigns are pushing the boundaries of what DOOH is capable of in North Asia. Brands really leading the way in these campaigns include Audi, Adidas, and OnePlus.

Aileen: I’ve been similarly impressed by the campaigns using 3D billboard technology to really capture the attention and imagination of audiences, some of the visuals are very impressive and the creative really stays with you. I’ve also been impressed by both the Metro station wrap by King To Nin Jiom and Drone performance by Bilibili.

MORE: Hivestack Partners with China’s Tikin Media for Access to Nearly 100,000 Elevator Ad Screens

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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