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Pixels launches programmatic offering with ‘the human touch’

Kevin Huang

Pixels boss Kevin Huang

Pixels, the Hong Kong-based digital advertising firm acquired by American cloud marketing firm Gravity4 six months ago, has today launched a suite of programmatic services.

Called Programmatic Advertising Solutions, the Gravity4-powered services include premium inventory and audience segmentation across desktop, mobile, tablet and connected TV for Pixels’ clients in Hong Kong, China, Malaysia and Singapore.

The offering launches with the promise to simplify and bring the human touch to programmatic for brands, says Pixels boss Kevin Huang.

“There’s too much confusion in ad tech,” he told Mumbrella. “Every day I get another three letter acronym thrown at me. What we’re trying to do is bring control back to the advertiser. Too often clients don’t know what they’re buying.”

Brands can choose from either a private marketplace of 500 curated websites managed by Pixels staff, or those wanting to reach a broader audience can opt for Pixels Open Exchange.

Pixels Ad Marketplace reaches 97% of smartphone users, 81% of desktop users, and more than 881,000 video users in Hong Kong, according to the company.

The launch marks a strategic shift for Pixels, which started out in 2002 as an online advertising network, and has since added services such as mobile and video before bundling its offering into one a year and a half ago. Then, a year before Pixels was acquired by Gravity4, Huang said that he had no intention of launching a programmatic offering.

“Programmatic, by and large, is less suitable for brands and tends to cater for the lower end of the advertiser spectrum,” he said in October 2014. “Ads often do not find themselves in brand safe places, which is the opposite of what brand advertisers want.”

But Huang told Mumbrella that it was essential for Pixels to move with the times and build a programmatic function.

“We don’t want to be a newspaper in 20 years’ time,” he said. “Newspaper are dropping off the radar, as they’re becoming irrelevant to the consumer. The weaker of the media are starting to suffer and they’re shutting down. We don’t want to be that, which is why we’ve always evolved the business over time.”

On entering the programmatic scene relatively late, taking on the likes of established players such as MediaMath, Google and Turn, Huang said he was unconcerned. “I’m never worried about being late to the game. I am worried about how we do it better, and answer the needs of the client.”

Huang was asked about the issues associated with programmatic, which he has raised before such as brand safety – ads ending up in the wrong places.

“Nothing is 100% fail safe,” he said. “But we can get to 99%. There will always be one impression that shows up somewhere it shouldn’t.”

“White lists and black lists are in place to make it as brand safe as possible. If clients are really concerned about the open web, they can use a private marketplace,” he said.

Huang has high hopes for the growth of the online advertising market in Hong Kong and the region.

“In Hong Kong alone, 72% of advertisers are planning to increase their online ad spend in 2016, and the industry expects digital to account for 41% of all advertising budgets this year,” he said, adding that the digital uptick is a regional trend.

“Given the rapid shifting of budgets into digital advertising platforms, I predict that by 2020, digital ad spend will surpass offline ad expenditures in Asia,” he said.

“Given the high penetration of smartphones in Asia, it is clear that mobile is the growth catalyst for digital advertising. I believe that advertisers have largely under invested in digital, but that attitude is changing and advertisers are increasing their investments in mobile advertising,” he added.

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