The ‘mismatch between consumers and agency solutions’ – Victor Knaap of MediaMonks

On the eve of the launch of S4 Capital's first integrated office in Singapore, executive director and MediaMonks CEO Victor Knaap talks to Mumbrella about a 'major investment' in Asia, building a studio in Singapore and some of the things ad agencies get wrong

What is your vision for Asia?

“Our major investment is going to be in Asia.

“MediaMonks’ third overseas office was Singapore, which began seven years ago. We launched in Shanghai five years go; it was our fifth office. We have always taken the region seriously but our footprint has been rather small, which we are going to change.

“I have decided to spend half the year in Asia and the rest in Europe. This is my first trip where I am here for a while instead of flying back and forth.

“I came to that conclusion, after talking to people who have been here a year or two and keep bragging about the stuff that goes on. For instance, they talked about how Shanghai turned almost cash-free in two years.

“You can’t grasp what that means without spending significant time here.

“Not living out of a suitcase in a hotel, but by being ingrained in society. Not having a private car pick me up but using the transportation or the apps people that live here use.

“I want to understand user behaviour here especially on mobile. Of course, our local teams do it but since I am in charge of Europe and Asia from a MediaMonks perspective, I want to experience it firsthand. If you don’t use Snapchat or TikTok how can you advice on it?

“I am going to do a speech in Japan in two weeks called ‘Back to the Future’ about how data, media and content work best together

“Using data to write creative, coming up with the right stories fit for platform, and making sure that it’s supported by the right media buy. That’s our overall vision.

“And we need to do that across nearly 20 locations worldwide.”

Which are the key markets you are going to be focusing on?

“Korea is on our growth map and we are working with a couple of clients. We are going to build our China operation, and we look to triple our operation in Singapore.

“Plans for Japan are also starting to take shape. And the second largest market for MightyHive is Australia. It is no rocket science that MediaMonks will build its content capabilities there.”

What is your strategy going to be for Singapore?

“We have signed a new office that we will move in on the April 2 because on April 1 (Fool’s Day) no one would have believed us.

“The biggest investment that we are going to make here in Singapore is building our own content studio.

“So many brands in the region partner with Lazada, Shopee, Alibaba, JD, Flipkart etc. Every local market has a strong player in third party ecommerce. It is getting more important for categories like beauty, fashion and food to position the brand better.

“We have capacity for a 75 people. We are not there yet, but you will see a lot of big hires coming in. We started with Michel de Rijk to lead the APAC operation.”

Will you be leveraging existing MediaMonks clients in Singapore?

“So far, it is a mix between local heroes and a few global brands that we service in other regions, who we can help here. It works the other way around as well. It is the benefit of running a one P&L company.

“A lot of old economy agencies are built with a country P&L model, that doesn’t allow them to service clients in an efficient way

“We operate as one team. If we work with a US client and I need help in China, because we have a shoot there, our Chinese office would help with that without internal invoicing.”

You officially launched in India last month. What’s the strategy going to be?

“India is a massive market, dominated by one advertising holding company and is very TV-centred. Which surprises me since it is a country where everybody is doing everything on their mobile phones.

“There seems to be a mismatch between user behaviour and content solutions that agencies are providing.

“It is a very interesting moment in the market when it comes to programmatic. I think it is about to break through. I hear it from the major advertisers, platforms and Google as well.

“We have seen this happen in the UK, the US etc. – I don’t need a Kantar research: just look at user behaviour of people on the street.

“So, why are we preparing content for TV when everyone is looking at smartphones? Jio (an Indian telecom operator owned by business conglomerate Reliance) has democratised the market. The data packs are the lowest in the world.

“At the same time, I don’t want to pretend to tell people how to do advertising. The filmic storytelling is very good in India and so is the technology. The gap is how do you bring them together?”

“That’s where MediaMonks wants to play. How we push that into media in a programmatic way to serve the right message to the right person at the right time is another piece of the puzzle.

“We are looking at a few potential acquisitions in India, maybe on the tech or on the content side and are going to build out organically from there.

“India will have a two-faced strategy. Making the best work in the local market combined with the global hub function.”

How did Poran Malani come on board? Was that because of his old WPP connection considering he worked at Ogilvy?

“He left two and a half years ago and has been an independent consultant.

“I actually met him in Europe talking about a client need. I was secretly looking into India and thought this is a guy who really understands what we are doing, has a great network in India, and he set up a global production hub within WPP.

“So, instead of him giving us a job, we gave him a job. It escalated pretty quickly.”

Are you likely to be bringing in any additional capabilities at S4 Capital?

“Sir Martin calls it the holy trinity: data, content and programmatic.”

So, is data missing?

“No, since we write stories based on data and MightyHive does programmatic.

“But all brands are moving data teams inhouse. The time has gone when you could build your own data stack from the brands you worked on. It is increasingly difficult with all the regulations.”

Where are you hiring from?

“We are not competing with agencies. For talent we are competing with Google, Facebook, Apple and startups. People are joining MediaMonks from the brand side.

“We are looking at roles in: design, animation, film frontend and backend.

“Client servicing needs to be done differently. Brands are tired of three layers of account management being sent to them. It is more a strategic/consultancy model.

“We call them programme managers who lead clients and understand what it means to drive business.

“A brand does business with us because they want to sell more stuff – it’s what advertising is about.”

Where would you like to be by the end of 2019?

“We’d like to be diverse: able to support local and international regions.

“We’d like to be best in class in creative. Last year, we made one of our best jobs in the region with the Into The Wild for the ArtScience Museum. 

“We want the work locally to be scalable: so good that it is picked up globally.

“I would like to do a few more dotcoms. I feel they have become the domain of the CTO but for high-end brands, it is the most important place to tell the brand story.

“A recent Nilsen research reads that a brand’s site is the second most trusted form of advertising next to word of mouth.

“The angle is creating a full customer decision journey for brands. Where you have content based on personalities on all screens and various platforms, leading to a site that tells a brand story, leading to e-commerce where customers can transact.”

How did you start off and what was the growth curve of MediaMonks like before the acquisition?

“It is one beautiful linear line. I can segment it into three brackets.

“We were a bunch of kids just out of university; I dropped out halfway. We wanted to make beautiful things for the net. We called ourselves MediaMonks Interactive Art.

“The first thing we created was a pixel based side scrolling website. It was a time when sites were very ugly with cracked image links and comic sans at the centre.

“Overnight, we became famous. But famous in 2001 on the internet was like being famous in a 1,500 person village.

“In the mid-2000s, companies popped up especially in Sweden and UK, that were creative digital production shops. They made beautiful things but it was for ad agencies who had clients all over the world, that didn’t know what to do with digital. That became our vision and we helped agencies produce this work.

“Saatchi was one of our first clients for T-Mobile…Our first global office was within Saatchi & Saatchi at Charlotte Street in London. Then BBDO, W+K started doing business with us and we had our first independent office in New York.

“Saatchi and Toyota were the first clients here in Singapore.

“The final bracket was clients connecting with production companies directly.”

Will all of your operations be creative hubs?

“One of the things that go wrong in advertising is that every single agency builds their own production hub internally, because they want to keep money inhouse.

“MediaMonks strategy is to build hubs based on where the talent sits and the kind of cultural relevance that is required.

“Many people claim we are fighting agencies. But we are not an agency. We still do the same thing we have done since we started in 2001: make the best possible film, content, product or platform online. The execution has become so important.

“Amazon’s Jeff Bezos recently said in an interview that great execution and not ideas have value for his business.

“If you look at Grab, the idea was born in Malaysia, Silicon Valley and India at the same time: Let’s democratise the taxi industry. But the winners are the ones who create the best digital and real-life execution.”

So is it all about execution and not about the big idea any more?

“That does not mean I don’t value the big idea.

“We need to bring it to life in such a complex infrastructure and that’s why execution becomes more important.

“The big idea is the product and you will have to make sure the product is advertised to the right person at the right moment. The traditional brands are moving into the same model.

“Building an FMCG will need you to rethink the whole marketing ecosystem.

“For instance, on a 30 second spot, it is only between the 10 or 20 second mark that something happens and then the product comes in.

“In digital, you have four to six seconds. The hero shot of the brand is being pulled all the way forward.

“So, we want to set up a dedicated film and content studio in Singapore that caters to the needs of a client. It will create tailored content for all platforms to tell their brand story better on a third-party sales channels like an ecommerce site.

“We will start an operation focusing on food, fashion and beauty with photography, film and sound content. We are already in talks on the platform and brand side to build something specific on this in Singapore.

“We will bring visual storytellers and developers together to create the best possible content on the marketplaces in South East Asia. We could create ecommerce content studios for some of them, in collaboration with the platforms.”


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