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Most people, except for a few competitors maybe, would agree that PropertyGuru is the leading online property portal in Singapore. But also in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia they have a leading presence. Recently, they announced a brand relaunch, accompanied by the integration of Artificial Intelligence to improve the user experience. We took the opportunity to interview PropertyGuru CMO Björn Sprengers to get a better understanding of the why and how.
It is safe to say that machine learning and artificial intelligence are at the forefront of marketing discussions today. But is anyone really doing something meaningful in this area? PropertyGuru recently came to AdAsia’s attention with a firm ‘yes!’.
The AI that PropertyGuru are introducing, has been built into the portal’s search functionality. The AI processes and learns about the visitor’s behaviour and as a result the more you use the site, the better your search results get. PropertyGuru is launching the newly designed AI module in conjunction with a complete rebranding of their site. Why introduce these two at the same time? we ask Björn.
“PropertyGuru has been market leader in Singapore for many years now. Our technology was built to provide maximum transparency. But that is no longer a strategic advantage. To keep our leading position, we took a good look at how we create value for customers, which we did based on our corporate vision: become the trusted advisor in the real estate area.
“We realised that to achieve this we needed two things: a new identity and brand position and in addition define what is the end objective. To us that is to match the aspiration of the majority of our users; to move up the property ladder. Many buyers and renters aspire to this.
“In the process, we came up with the new brand message: Find your home. We also knew early on that to achieve the position of trusted advisor, responding to the aspirations of our portal visitors, we need personalisation of content and messaging. From there it was a logical step to look at how AI can help us.”
Leapfrogging to the new website. The newly designed branding is clearly there but the rest of the site seems to be functioning the way it did before. How does a user actually experience the AI component?
“There are two ways in which you will experience this. First, the more you use the site, the more personalised the search results get. The AI function starts learning about your preferences. This can be anything from location to number of bedrooms and property type. The second one is less visible to the user but is applied to the listings. When a listing is created by e.g. an agency, the AI rates the listing the moment this is done. Among other things it analyses the images uploaded for quality. It can check if the image is valid and if the agent is on the image with a phone number. We know that visitors don’t like the agent’s face and phone number on images, which in turn reduces the response rates. The AI can flag this during the list creation process. Monitoring this permanently ultimately leads to better content quality.
“AI improves content and UX in a number of ways; it can assist the agent during uploading which provides a better user experience for them and helps improve listing quality. This will be appreciated by the user who gets better information and starts trusting our portal. The optimised search results also contribute to the trust and ultimately the conversion factor of the site.”
In Singapore, many home searchers rely on agencies and they are considered as trusted advisors. What is the position of PropertyGuru regarding this?
“The agent is certainly an advisor who is supposed to know a lot about the objects. But one way PropertyGuru helps the agents is by providing a pricing widget. This widget checks the proposed price or rent based on information that we as PropertyGuru have gathered over the years. Over time we have made this more granular, so it looks e.g. also on the level of the unit, which side it is facing and other aspects that can cause variance in price or rent and even yield when it is an investment object.
“That way we provide added value to the listing, so both the agent and the searcher know that the pricing is aligned with the market reality. We have this for Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia as well.”
Is there such a thing as PropertyGuru becoming too transparent? The agent at times may have information that he or she doesn’t want to share with the potential buyer or renter. If PropertyGuru adds this to the listing, e.g. an indication that the property is in a noisy location, will the agent not shy away from PropertyGuru and go elsewhere?
“That is an interesting discussion we do have internally. The solution is actually simple; we choose to deliver the best possible service to the searcher. Companies that do that will always win. We are in the business of lead generation for property and if the service quality is good, both sides win; the lister and the searcher. We are convinced that competitors have not done this and that is why we are market leader in all the markets where we are present.”
What is PropertyGuru’s business model?
PropertyGuru main source of revenue comes from the listing fees that agencies pay, and advertisement sales, primarily from project developers. But we also have an awards platform. This is the biggest property awards platform that covers 13 countries in Asia. We organise events that developers attend to present their projects. We have independent experts that do an audit of the property and then announce the winners.
We also do project research. For this we have experts that visit the property and write a report. In that report, we talk e.g. about location, materials used and quality of the construction but also about yield potential for investors.
“Finally, we organise sales events where property seekers and developers meet and buy online. In 2013, we organised the first Malaysia Property Show that grew to one of the biggest sales events in Asia. This has declined in recent times, but we see a surge again around Johor Bahru where in April this year we have another Property Show.”
Which technology has PropertyGuru used for the AI engine?
We use Tensorflow, software that was originally developed by Google but is now open source. I am not an expert but I was told that this is the gold standard in AI. It is an open source platform that has been around since 2015. We have a data science team that works with this and develops algorithms. They also massage and improve the data quality. This is important because as you probably know, bad data means bad AI.
You just mentioned that PropertyGuru gets the majority of its revenue from advertising and agency commissions. Is there a strategy to offer adjacent products and services such as insurance?
“There are two business models for marketplaces; go broad and go deep. And example of the latter one would be that the transaction happens on the portal. At PropertyGuru we don’t see the need to either go broad or deep. We see ourselves as a marketplace that relies on data and technology and keep building our USP on that. We will add for instance immersive experiences proposing 360 video visits and continue to innovate based on what we learn from our AI component. Right now we are convinced that this is sufficient and sustainable.”
What is PropertyGuru’s international expansion strategy?
We are currently active under our own name in 4 markets: Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and in Singapore which is our home market. We are market leader in Singapore but we’re not complacent. Other players want to win here because there is so much at stake due to the price levels, which in turn means that potential commissions are high. The economy is coming out of a recession as well, so there is room to grow again.
In Malaysia we caught up with the number 1 last year. In Indonesia we have 50% of the market and in Thailand more than 50%. Finally, we have invested in the biggest player in Vietnam.
What we do realise is that the needs of property seekers across these markets are more or less similar. This means that we don’t have to propose widely different services across markets so we can offer economies of scale. But we do see a difference in the way property agents work in these markets. This, means that across markets PropertyGuru needs to be there to provide different amounts and types of assistance.
This is what we mean by our aim to become the trusted advisor for real estate in Southeast Asia.
The PropertyGuru portal can be found here: https://www.propertyguru.com.sg/
I spoke with Gaurav Gupta, Senior Media Manager, Omnichannel, Circles.Life during the recent Adobe Symposium in Singapore.
Adobe clearly anchored the event on Customer Experience, its importance and the value for the contemporary business that could be had from focusing in the CX area. I was keen to understand how Circles.Life are addressing this as Singapore’s newest and first purely online Telco.
Circles.Life is a digital telecommunications operator, launched in Singapore in May 2016. Circles.Life offers post-paid mobile services to customers. Circles.Life is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that purchases bandwidth from M1.
Online versus the traditional retail model
Gaurav was asked how he and his colleagues manage and operate a business in addition to connecting and engaging with the customer when the business is essentially all online and they’re missing the retail presences associated with their competitors.
He acknowledged that it could be challenging particularly given the tradition and legacy of the customer-facing side of telcos that have been exclusively founded on bricks and mortar propositions. Gaurav started by reminding us of a basic premise; that people are generally most comfortable when in their own homes; and they have no qualms engaging with the whole brand journey on their phones or laptops. “Our business,” he said, “is in tune with that – it’s in tandem with our customers. With this premise, the argument for no retail presence becomes irrelevant – we need to be where our customers are – where they are most comfortable.”
He went on however, to acknowledge that Circles.Life do organise on-ground roadshows and other events. “This is to give people a sense of tangibility – a face – to assure them there is someone there to take feedback and listen to them. We don’t see this as a challenge. It’s more of a challenge for the traditional retail businesses and their burning a hole in their pocket keeping the retail stores alive. I can’t foretell the future, he said – we will never have stores? I can’t say that. What we have now is what we find works well for our users.”
The role of offline
We wanted to get deeper into this point and further understand the online/offline mix given that it’s clearly not a case of one size fits all and there appear to be important plays for offline despite some popular tech-culture saying otherwise. There were two good reasons for asking this. The first is that the Circles.Life brand’s first big awareness push came with a huge adverting presence on buses. The second one is your correspondent’s own personal Circles.Life brand experience, which pretty much on-time, with very prompt physical delivery of a replacement SIM card when it was really needed.
Gaurav’s answer sounded both pragmatic and honest. He acknowledged that right from the beginning they understood that pure-play online was not enough to build the business and deliver the vision of a customer experience that they wanted. And, perhaps ironically, it is technology that helps them understand the importance of offline initiatives and helps them to come out of the comfort zone of the pure online arena and extend their efforts to offline channels. He cited new DSP technology as an example that helps them buy offline media and understand its effectiveness. In the first few months, he said, they realised that whilst they were an online business they could not be limited to digital channels. With the amplification we wanted we needed the support of other channels. We started with what we wanted to achieve – we had a plan and continued to measure against this. This, he said, keeps us agonistic and unbiased.
Digitally transforming the telco sector
We suggested to Gaurav, that whilst not necessarily being a business that has Digitally Transformed, they actually have transformed an industry. We then wanted to know what kind of people were needed and what kind of culture needed to be in place, to ensure Circles.Life embarked on that journey.
One of the pillars, he said, was to create the best place to work. Not the best pantry, or the best chairs or laptops but a place where the employees care for each other. To facilitate this, he said, we have a multi layered feedback system. We have one KPI established which is to get 100% feedback on the pulse check – the fundamental question for each and every employee being; are you happy? This is further complimented by a formal mentorship programme and weekly town halls where a frank exchange of feelings are welcomed.
Additionally, added Gaurav, our zeal and urge to give back to the customer is very important – we all think ‘customer first’ every time.
Customer first. And employees too
It’s clear speaking with Gaurav that Customer Experience, customer-centricity and all related terms and expressions run at the heart of the Circles.Life business and don’t simply exist as a vague notion in one part of the organisation or on a website as part of a mission statement. With Circles.Life it is a mindset first and foremost that subsequently is enabled by, and optimised with technology. It’s not something that comes in the box together with the tech stuff.
Coupled with the customer experience driven mindset, it’s no surprise to hear that employee happiness is also key to the business. The needs of customers evolve and change – indeed Gaurav talked of anticipating them before their customers even know they have them – and this necessitates an agile organisation. In this kind of thinking agility would rely on a culture where the happiness of employees is a core indicator of the health of that culture.
Whilst most business leaders are on board with the opportunity technology offers, it remains perhaps less well understood and accepted that the technology needs informing and directing by a deep understanding of customers. And that’s best done by employees who are happy.
And it’s interesting to learn that the customer-centric approach gives Cirles.Life and other similar businesses an advantage that’s perhaps a little hard to see at first. It gives the customer the final say, the veto if you like, and in some very simple and elegant way, takes decision making and direction setting away from internal processes and meetings.
I am your customer – is what you’re thinking of doing right for me?
Every year, just like Christmas, the Adobe Symposium in Singapore seems to appear in my calendar faster than the year before. By now, its recipe is based on a proven concept of keynotes, themed tracks and a booth area for partners and sponsors to show their wares. The focus was more than ever on Experience Driven Businesses, a topic that, at least where Adobe is concerned, replaces completely the notion of marketing and advertising. Successful businesses don’t sell products and service, they sell experiences, according to Adobe. With that it seems to have found a positioning that distinguishes from the other leading marketing cloud vendors. Adobe Experience Cloud, anyone?
Anyway, here is an impression of the day.
Mariano Bosaz, VP, Digital Transformation, Greater China & Korea BU, The Coca-Cola Company.
The Symposium starts with a big central keynote with a lot of corporate communications fireworks, music and videos to go along with and two interesting brands to support it all. In its wake Coca-Cola presented their take on how they create customer experiences and are changing alongside the consumer over time, followed by ONE Championship, the emerging martial arts media company from Singapore. This literally pitted an established Fortune 500 brand re-inventing itself, against a successful start-up that claims to have a bigger reach and audience than Formula 1.
Chatri Sityodtong, Founder, Chairman and CEO, ONE Championship.
And as stated, the focus this year is more than ever before on experiences. Brad Rencher, EVP & GM, Digital Experience at Adobe, pitched to the crowd that consumers no longer buy products or services, they buy experiences. This sounds obvious but it was made palpable during the rest of the day. There was no brand that did not somehow testify on stage that they are ‘customer first, customer focused and/or experience driven’.
On several occasions it was made clear that is not an easy to implement strategy for all businesses. Adobe addressed the audience as ‘Experience Makers’, thereby underscoring the change that they see happening in experience driven companies; people across departments should work together to become an experience business. No longer is only marketing responsible for customer engagement. Everyone across departments and silos can now be, should be, experience makers for the brands they work for. A bold claim and, alas one might say, not yet a reality for all businesses.
The remainder of the day was organised around 4 tracks; Analytics, Content & Experience, Email & OmniChannel and Advertising Cloud. Each track offered a mix of presenters from both Adobe customer portfolio, Adobe partners and Adobe folks themselves. These tracks, organised in smaller side rooms were of varying quality and depth. The analytics room consistently attracted a large crowd, which underscores a trend in business today; the quest to integrate data into everything a business does.
To add credibility Adobe also presented the results of a Forrester survey, commissioned by Adobe. The main conclusion of that survey was, unsurprisingly: it pays to be an Experience Driven Business.
The research classified participating businesses from not at all experience driven, to completely experience driven. It then looked at how experience driven businesses perform. Conclusions were that experience driven businesses do outperform the non-experience driven category. This is one of the first times we saw research with a pure APAC focus. The results are, for anyone who’s interested, available for download at the Adobe website.
Once having firmly ensconced themselves on the ‘Experience’ positioning, you have to admit that Adobe is trying really hard to create a framework around it. Not in the least due to the projection of massive interactive slides blasted onto 3 huge ballroom-wide screens, the story looked convincing. Adobe’s focus on the triad of Data, a Unified customer profile and Content, makes sense. Whether it is the ultimate answer for all businesses and how you actually implement and optimise this across different industry verticals, remains an open question. Some businesses like Virgin Holidays and DBS seem to have successfully implemented at least some of the Adobe products. It is refreshing to see that they both Adobe and their partners/sponsors were not constantly harping on about myriads of features and what you can hypothetically do with the, but that attempts were constantly made to link back the technology to customers and the customer experience reality.
Another big announcement, repeated since it happened a few months ago, was Adobe’s recent acquisition of Magento, highlighted again by Brad Rencher. To the question during the executive briefing about whether this means that this is an opportunity for Adobe to venture into an area where Magento has been traditionally strong, SMEs, he answered that through document cloud and creative cloud, they have a strong presence in the SME space already. According to Rencher, Adobe are convinced that the Magento ecosystem will provide a good entry point to the SME world for the rest of the Adobe cloud products. Rencher also claimed that Magento has already started down the path serving enterprise customers as well. In other words, the Magento acquisition serves Adobe both ways.
Adobe’s foray into Data Management Platforms, something they started in 2011 with the acquisition of Demdex, allows customers, according to Rakhi Patel, to integrate 1st, 2nd and 3rd party data in one location. A rather detailed explanation during one of the analytics sessions, provided especially Adobe’s views on their DMP as the centre of what they call a real-time interaction engine.
This in turn led to the question of how Adobe addresses one empty box in their cloud product suites; the CRM space. So we asked how they address that. What, is e.g. happening with the Microsoft Partnership that was announced 2 years ago? Brad Rencher and Paul Robson, President for Asia Pacific, explained that first and foremost the Microsoft Partnership is alive and well. Whilst it is interesting that this should be the first part of the answer, according to Rencher and Robson the partnership is actually leading to joint initiatives. These are to be found in the areas of Microsoft Dynamics integration, Azure as a preferred cloud hosting environment and finally in the area of AI and Machine Learning, which in turn strengthens the Adobe Sensei offering.
We sincerely hope this will be part of a future announcement. Adobe Symposium 2019, perhaps?
The takeaway from a day of listening to Adobe customers talking about their experience to use Adobe solutions to deliver customer experiences is quite frankly that you can’t deny that Adobe has a strong vision and a compelling product portfolio to back that vision up.
The final keynote by Tim Urban put the focus on the unstoppable emergence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Adobe’s AI is called Sensei and during staged demos, specifically at the end where the present innovations during a show concept called Sneaks, provided a glimpse of what AI is already capable of or will soon be doing. Judging the format of your freshly produced travel agency promotions video? Sensei can compare this for 3 different social media channels and detects e.g. that your 1 minute video is not optimised for Instagram. Not only does it come back with a score, it can shorten the video to 15 seconds and upload that to Adobe Premiere, so that a human being can edit it to a final result. All of this in a matter of minutes.
Tim Urban, Creator, Wait But Why.
This and 2 other inventions gave us a glimpse into the accelerating area of marketing and experience innovations. The demos were for me all the more impressive because just before Tim Urban, a renowned TED speaker and thought leader, had presented his alarming vision of how AI will soon, i.e. in under 10 years become better than humans at so many thing that we need to start wondering where that will leave humanity. Not that he had the answer. He had some very compelling graphs that made it obvious beyond doubt, that AI will soon drastically change our lives.
Mapping that back to the power of AI already being able to edit a video back in quite a credible way from 1 minute to 15 seconds, makes you wonder by when you will have that button that reads: “create successful viral video for my brand?”
Adobe Symposium is back in Singapore in 2019 around the August time frame. And remember, it will come earlier again next year so set up a reminder for it.
Steve Hammond, Senior Director, Digital Experience, Adobe.
V. R. Srivatsan, Managing Director, Southeast Asia (SEA), Adobe.
The pace at which digital content production has developed is little short of astonishing.
Consider, as one example, how quickly we’ve progressed from simple static GIFs to kinetic emails that allow consumers to directly purchase products with just a few clicks. In a few short years, our digital landscape has migrated from desktop to mobile, from broadcast to personalised communication, and from static to fully immersive experiences. Suffice it to say, for brands and marketers who embrace new possibilities, digital content creation will transform their marketing approach.
The list of what we term digital content gets ever longer: apps, email, CGI, VFX, display, videos, VR, AR, DCO, social and more. To manage all these rapidly expanding digital communication media, brands and marketers need some help.
In an ideal world, they would have access to something similar to another new-fangled tool of our age: the in-car satellite navigation system. Simply enter a destination and get dynamic directions that take you directly to your objective easily, quickly and efficiently, with smooth steering around any potential hazards and holdups.
Until that tool exists, here’s a conceptual map to help you get the lay of the land and plan the most efficient route to your digital content goals.
More paths to purchase for the consumer
The fragmentation of the media landscape over the past 20 years has brought with it an almost bewildering array of routes to market. The days of ATL (Above The Line) and BTL (Below The Line) are long gone. Now everyone’s talking about bought and earned media. Vloggers can make or break products. Data is king, and using it effectively has become a business in itself.
Today’s technologies give virtually everyone a voice, and it’s absolutely crucial to be responsive. Every consumer is now a potential brand influencer. Digital media across multiple channels enable consumers to share feedback, complaints and suggestions directly with brands and with their peers.
These consumer voices have a major impact, as 68 per cent of buyers say they frequently give credence to peer reviews and user-generated feedback. With consumers steering these conversations, it is essential for brands to constantly monitor what’s being said and the effectiveness of their responses in every public domain. Brands that turn their back, even briefly, risk losing control of the dialogue — and losing potential consumers who are listening in.
Another key challenge to consider is ensuring that marketers deploy proper data protection, and also have a good grasp of data protection regulations — not only in their own country, but also in other markets where they deploy content. Getting it wrong can harm both their finances and reputation.
More opportunities to excel for marketers
Channel proliferation, near-instantaneous consumer reaction, and the dynamic balance between ubiquity and individualism represent enormous challenges for marketers today. But they represent even greater opportunities. Never lose sight of that fact.
In both B2B and B2C environments, the proliferation of routes through which we listen, engage and respond to our audiences creates the potential to:
(1.) Target, measure and retarget cost-effectively and quickly.
Quickly deploy marketing messages, test their effectiveness, and make decisions to replace lower-performing messages with higher-performing ones. Brands can also properly focus their marketing budgets as they target large and varied customer segments as well as precisely segmented prospect clusters. Plus, marketers now have the tools to constantly monitor campaigns and continually create and test new content versions and ideas.
(2.) More transparency in decision making.
Traditional areas of the marketing mix, where cost, complexity and black-box thinking have reinforced the status quo for decades, are now imploding. New players, with new methods, are rapidly filling the void. In the area of moving image creation and adaptation, for example, the web now brims with companies that will create a brand video for as little as $500. The business is much more transparent now, from pricing to results. The new developments foster competitiveness and agility that enable faster creation of higher-quality, more effective content.
A wide-open marketing landscape for brands that take advantage
A recent review of industry literature and statistics found that 70 per cent of marketers lack a consistent or integrated content strategy, while only 29 per cent of leading marketers systematically reuse and repurpose content. These are shocking findings in a world where consumers expect more and more content; where content must be adapted and delivered in many different ways to suit a proliferation of channels; and where content can only compete effectively by continually pushing new boundaries of creativity and engagement.
Fortunately, the market and technology conditions that create the need also provide the means. We can now create high-quality content quickly and efficiently, in unprecedented volumes. Creativity can come from anywhere. The most effective marketers have always gone to great lengths to discover the fresh content sources that continually enliven their brands.
With unconstrained access to creative talents and tools, digital content production creates the conditions where in-house agencies can be just that: full-service agencies with fully realised capabilities. No longer are they windowless rooms for creating documents and leaflets. Instead, fully-fledged creative teams such as those deployed at blue-chip clients around the world can collaboratively create, execute, adapt and deliver content for any channel — quickly, consistently and cost-effectively.
It’s not just about maximising the speed of content creation or the amount of content that can be delivered across channels. With the ability to adapt executions so rapidly, and the potential to create many versions of content to target multiple audience segments with personalised messages, content creators are also achieving new levels of consistency.
Why? Because the need to create so many assets tends to really focus the minds of marketers in ways that slower, analogue content-creation processes of the past never could; but also because more templating is now required in order to make changes quickly, at the required scale, while meeting the specific requirements of each channel; and finally, because the very need for high-quality, high-quantity content in itself encourages marketers to take our oft-recommended advice to “sweat” assets as much as possible.
The opportunity here is huge, as only 9 per cent of marketers say they have developed a completely systematic approach to producing, managing and distributing content. The other 91 per cent lament that they’re still doing a lot of manual work, or even doing everything on an ad-hoc basis.
In-house setups encourage quality and consistency. When in-house studio creatives are constantly working with multiple assets, and managing changes quickly, they are bound to become experts at keeping on top of a brand’s requirements. Having gained a firm command of the brand’s look, feel and voice, marketers can then enlist specialists when and where necessary.
Currently, 49 per cent of consumer marketers outsource content creation activities, while 38 per cent prefer to keep all marketing activities in-house. But the choice doesn’t need to be either/or. Strategic agencies of record can, and should, continue to set the communications platform — and possibly also design the creative vehicle, depending on the client’s capabilities and preferences. Marketers can then adapt that big idea across multiple media channels and content versions in collaboration with executional experts.
Looking ahead: A future of pervasive digital engagement
Digital technology will continue to pervade consumers’ lives ever more deeply — from the daily journeys they make, to the temperatures they choose to heat their house throughout the day, to the type of coffee they buy, to the moods they express on social media, and on and on. The data fingerprints that are left behind with each digitally mediated interaction will allow and encourage marketers to target those consumers ever more precisely.
Personalised, timely communications will become the expected and desired norm. By tracking the specific consumer behaviours that follow upon each communication, marketers will have the data they need to retarget effectively with every subsequent message — ushering each consumer along his or her personal journey toward purchase, satisfaction and loyalty.
So, expect more targeting, more measurement, more demand for transparency, and more brands and marketers assigning relevant tasks to the most appropriate partners. Whether creative work is performed in-house, outsourced, or developed collaboratively in conjunction with multiple agencies and individuals, digital content production tools can help ensure that everyone is playing a coordinated role on an efficient team.
All of that is great news for everyone in the marketing industry!
Throughout his +25 year career, John Dalziel, Client Director at Schawk, a content production partner, has had extensive global experience developing and implementing marketing and digital strategies to create omnichannel customer engagement. From leading the London office client facing teams to client-side global marketing management, John has developed strategic end-to-end content solutions for Sky, American Express, P&G and British Airways.
The author is a 3rd party contributor to AdAsia and this article represents his views.
As is the case every year, for a total of four days the Royal Cliff Resort in Pattaya was taken over by AdFest, this region’s foremost festival to celebrate creativity in advertising. AdFest is a bit of an institution. Over the years – this was the 21st edition, they’ve truly come of age – the festival has become one of the premier events in the APAC region’s agency world. Incidentally, APAC is a bit of a loose concept here, as the festival is attended by many agencies from Australia and New Zealand, and the South Asian subcontinent. Among the big prize winners this year were entries from Afghanistan and even Egypt, which last time we looked was not part of Asia.
After all these years AdFest is still going strong. It is refreshing to see that it is still possible to organise a major event year after year, and maintain the enthusiasm and pathos with which these things should be held. Many other major conference titles in the region take a tired, formulaic approach that results in shrinking audiences year after year. They should take an example from AdFest.
That said, AdFest itself unfortunately doesn’t manage to escape from the global malaise in conference attendance. Overall attendance numbered 1300, down 100 or about 7.5% from last year. Similar for the cherry on the cake, the Lotus Awards, whose 2,800 submissions in 18 categories were down 5%.
AdFest in that sense is a bit of a bellwether for the industry. As AdFest’s Chairman, Vinit Suraphongchai stated in his closing words (and as could be verified by going around the giant show halls with all the exhibits) the quality of entries was great. Some truly inspiring work was delivered, with great production values, big ideas, and – at least as claimed in some cases – some great results. The industry, as Vinit truthfully remarked, has come a very long way from that first AdFest 21 years ago, and the Asia-Pacific region can truly hold its own in the global scheme of things.
So that’s the good news. But the bad news is that the advertising industry is being disrupted, data and technology play an ever bigger role, and the business of running creative agencies find themselves on a downhill trajectory. AdFest reflects this very well, with a splendidly organised conference, mouth dropping prize winners, but a shrinking audience to congratulate itself with all these fine achievements.
About that data and technology thing: just about everyone in marketing and advertising realises that to stay relevant and at least maintain its size, the industry has to change and catch up with the times. Understanding data, adopting technology as a tool to interact with consumers, and weaving creativity into that is still a Moonshot as far as most agencies are concerned, and AdFest sadly reflected that too. Witness the one session that was dedicated to this subject. It was aptly named ‘Tech, Your New BFF’; was very entertaining but touched very lightly on the technology used in the examples; and evoked only one question from the 1,000 pax strong audience. (“What is a BFF?”)
In some ways, changes are already felt. A lot of entries for the Lotus Awards were accompanied with claims about the results that were achieved. But in most cases the numbers were vague, and one gets the impression that merely lip service is being paid here and that there’s not really a whole lot of due diligence, or even focus, on checking the underlying figures, let alone their relationship with the creative that’s being submitted. After all, it’s primarily creativity itself that’s being celebrated here.
Nevertheless, according to the organisers, AdFest is ‘still going strong,’ and we would agree with that assessment. AdFest maintains a strong position in the advertising community. But that means its fate is strongly tied to that community, and the slight dip in audience and submissions can probably completely be attributed to the state of the industry as a whole.
The organisation seems to realise that, and it will be interesting to see how they will carry the title forward in the coming years (and what the effects on festival attendance and awards submissions will be). It won’t be easy. You can add categories for creative use of data but will you receive good quality submissions? You can add Marketing Automation into the mix but which part of the regular audience even understands what that is? And how do you find speakers for a conference programme that includes more technology if the industry itself grapples with understanding how to adapt in the first place?
We live in interesting times. Marketing is changing, becoming more technology-driven and ever more customer focused. This has a profound effect on creative: not only the type of creative but also how it is produced, which disciplines it interacts with, and how it is evaluated. Creativity remains important but increasingly will have to be judged in the context of how it is being applied. Not much of that was seen in the 2018 edition of AdFest, and we sincerely hope it will find its way into the 2019 and further editions if the festival wants to maintain its popularity and continue to attract great crowds to Pattaya year after year.
The industry will have to change, and AdFest will have to change with it. But with a passionate and vigilant organisation behind it, we have great hopes it will.
Left to right: Jimmy Lam, President of AdFest; Saharath Sawadatikom, Jury President for Direct Lotus & Promo Lotus; Joyce King Thomas, Grand Jury President; Derry Simpson, Jury President for Effective Lotus & Media Lotus; Levi Slavin, Jury President for Film Lotus & Radio Lotus; Timo Mitsuaki Otsuki, Jury President for Film Craft Lotus & New Director Lotus; Kitty Lun, Jury President for Interactive Lotus & Mobile Lotus; Melvin Mangada, Jury President for Design Lotus & Print Craft Lotus; Santosh Padhi, Jury President for Outdoor Lotus & Press Lotus; and Vinit Suraphongchai.