Masters of Media: Tom Simpson, AdColony

26 February By IAS Team

In this exclusive “Masters of Media” series, Integral Ad Science (IAS) speaks to the Movers and Shakers of the Southeast Asia advertising industry, on all matters digital.

Tom Simpson, VP, Brand & Exchange, APAC at AdColony is a global marketer with over 15+ years of experience in tech and marketing, at start-ups, agencies and global multinationals, shaping their digital business, growth strategy, operations, product development and commercial leadership.


Integral Ad Science (IAS): Tom, we will like to hear about your digital advertising journey. Would you be able to tell us more?

Tom Simpson, AdColony (Tom): I started life as a marketer 15 years ago (wow!), and gradually evolved through the agency world, and then on into tech, which is where I sit now. I’m very interested in people and the world around me, so each move has been made with the simple goal of learning something new.

Over time my interests have evolved from just wanting to be the best marketer possible, to learning about business and relationships at agencies, to getting a deeper understanding of data and technology on the supply side.

I’ve also had a lot of fun with the different aspects of working at major multinationals, all the way through to the challenges presented by a start up, where if you don’t get money, you may not be able to pay your staff, or buy breakfast.

Right now my biggest passion is leadership and people. We have a fantastic team at AdColony here in Asia Pacific, and I am very privileged to work with them. That’s what gets me out of bed every day.


IAS: What are the key industry developments you’re excited about?

Tom: As someone with a long time interest in ad tech, it’s great to see programmatic become more of a horizontal alignment than a vertical, sitting as an automation layer across everything from TV and OOH to audio. The ability to bring data and AI technology to bear on these channels bodes well for the future of marketing.

From a mobile perspective, 5G promises to be a game changer. If you think we live in a society of instant gratification now, just wait until this hits!

5G usage will be limited initially, but with a projected 500m connections by 2022 and one billion by 2023, the growth potential it represents is massive. From super-ultra-fast broadband to smart and autonomous cars, to enormous IOT networks, 5G could be the catalyst that brings about a much smarter and more connected world.

Finally, one of the most exciting industry developments we see right now is mobile gaming really opening up as a category for brand marketers. It’s possible to reach more consumers across gaming than social media in many markets, and there are huge opportunities for creativity and engagement. Gaming is brand safe, has high viewability, and the fact ads are delivered via user-initiated rewarded video means it’s consumer friendly. It’s a great combination for brands to explore.


IAS: What is your opinion regarding the industry’s move from brand safety to brand suitability

Tom: When it comes to brand safety and suitability, as an industry we tend to think one thing, do another… while the reality is something else entirely.

Thinking about brand safe environments, we often reach for the example of a premium newspaper brand. In reality, brand safety risk in news content is fairly high, due to political content, natural disasters, amongst other topics (this can be managed using tools from partners such as IAS of course, and supporting independent journalism with marketing dollars is one of the few direct ways our industry can work to make the world a better place.)

Looking at industry spend, most budget is deployed into user generated content channels such as Facebook or YouTube. Honestly, it’s difficult to imagine a more challenging environment from a brand safety perspective than user generated content.

Counter-intuitively, mobile games or single-purpose apps such as weather or fitness offer some of the most brand safe environments. The content is professional, not dynamic like social media, well-defined and non-contentious, but I doubt many people (me included a few years ago) would pick these as examples of brand safety.

Differentiating between brand safety, brand suitability and premium (which is often used as a euphemism for brand safety, but really has little to do with it) is a great opening into a more nuanced conversation about what is appropriate for different brands in different online environments. Every brand has a unique identity and risk-tolerance, and tools provided by IAS play a crucial part in shaping delivery in line with those essential differences, while also enabling more granular insight and ultimately better results. That’s a positive thing.


IAS: What are the key initiatives pertaining to digital media quality your company is prioritizing right now? 

Tom: Mobile gaming offers an inherently brand safe environment, so our key focus right now is around ensuring high levels of viewability and low levels of IVT.

IAS are a great partner in this respect, and we work together with them on many businesses across the region to help drive best practice and marketing results. Using IAS tools we’ve seen an average human and viewable rate of 98% on our campaigns (the market average is 46%) – we’re obsessed with maintaining that level of performance, and maybe even shaving off the last 2%!


IAS: What are the top key trends you foresee in 2020?

Tom: The pivot to Asia is a huge trend for 2020 (and 2021, 2022, 2023 etc.).

Six of the world’s ten most used mobile apps are now owned by Chinese companies (the remainder are all owned by Facebook). Chinese companies also dominate when it comes to mobile games, which account for 40% of global app downloads.

With the sheer size of Asia’s population and the rapid growth of internet users across the region, these numbers and trends are easy to explain, but their implications cannot be overstated. As we kick off this new decade, expect to see some significant shifts in the centre of gravity for the internet and our industry.

More practically, vertical video is a big opportunity for brands in 2020. Up to half of consumers regularly encounter video on mobile, but handsets are held in vertical orientation 87% of the time. Most brand video assets are ported from TV, and therefore horizontal. There’s an obvious mismatch here, and a great chance for fast-moving brands to level-up.

Online consumer choice is another major emerging topic for the year ahead, that sits well as part of a brand suitability agenda. With the rise of subscription media like Netflix, and increased adoption of ad blockers, consumers are less tolerant of ads than ever before. Brands need to be sensitive to this emerging behaviour. User-initiated rewarded advertising gets 68% approval ratings from consumers, compared to only 23% who like social video ads. A great opportunity for brands to reach the modern always-on mobile consumer in a way that works for them.


IAS: What do you do in your free time?

Tom: Make music using Ableton. Read. Listen to podcasts. Play golf and tennis. Watch Netflix – far too much!


IAS: What is your advice to the fresh talents in the industry?

Tom: When we grow up we tend to believe that the world has always been the way it is, and our role is just to live in this world. But life gets much more interesting once you realise that everything around you was invented by people who mostly were no smarter than you or I. It’s a pretty exciting thought that anything is possible if you take action – you can change lives, you can influence it, you can create things that other people can use.


Read more about our Masters of Media series. If you’d like to be featured or to speak with us, contact us today!