AdAsia Holdings has landed an additional $2.5 million from publicly traded Japanese information curation company Gunosy and angel investor Hisanori Watanabe, bumping its Series A funds up to $14.5 million.
The Series A plus funding comes a little more than five months after the year-and-a-half-old startup secured $12 million from JAFCO Asia in April. That investment allowed the company to develop its AI tools for its influencer marketing platform, CastingAsia, launched in August last year. The capital injection from Gunosy is part of a business partnership which will see AdAsia receive ad units and inventory in exchange for helping its investor expand in Asia.
Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific, Vivek Misra, VP of corporate strategy, said the AI matching machine is now in open beta, whereupon its three building blocks form a data pipeline through its image analysis, natural language processing, machine learning and scraping capabilities.
"One of the key engines that we are looking at is pattern recognition, which helps us to develop a 360-degree profile of the influencers…to understand what are the topics that they are actually talking about and the capabilities that they best represent," said Misra, who joined AdAsia from AppsNexus in May this year.
He believes that granular details such as these will help resolve concerns over ROI in influencer marketing, as the very issue stems from challenges in finding the right influencers to represent a brand. "By its nature, influencer marketing has similar problems (as any other type of marketing)…trust, transparency and frictions," said Misra. A 360-degree profile enables brands to stay focused on "trustworthy" influencers, Misra said, and the system will eventually help to establish an industry benchmark for pricing, for example.
He added that there is a huge scope for AI applications, especially for microfluencers who are larger in number than celebrity influencers, who require a more bespoke approach.
"The product will help us to ‘energise a little faster’ on microinfluecers in a big way, but celebrity influencers remain a key business for us," said Misra.
While the AI system lays the foundation for its influencer platform, Misra revealed that AdAsia has plans to leverage it to other industries such as in human resources for recruitment. "Essentially we are a tech and AI company, for now we are committed to ad tech and marketing, (but) from a strategic perspective, we want to establish our AI roadmap in other industries," said Misra.
"With the ongoing focus on the type of insights that can be drawn from data, our hypothesis is that AI is really about a congregation of technology and what we call business discovery," said Misra. "Having built on these capabilities, we want to provide solutions to other industries, in human resources, and a few more industries that we can potentially look at."
Crowded influencer market
Meanwhile, CastingAsia currently has more than 8,000 influencers on its database. Its client roster includes Japanese airline ANA, Ricola and Glico.
Elsewhere, MediaCom APAC announced yesterday that it has formed a partnership with HYPR to launch an influencer optimisation tool that has over 10 million influencer profiles and audience demographic data on its data. The system is currently being piloted on the P&G haircare business in Philippines and will be rolled out in other markets over the next few months.
Asked about competition from a holding company-backed initiative, Misra was confident that AdAsia is in a good place with its heavy investment in AI. "The kinds of problems that we are looking to solve are difficult problems. From the AI and data-science perspective, it is very difficult for others who have not invested in that sort of infrastructure, believe me, it takes a lot of time to build the AI roadmap…hire the right people, lay the foundation, that’s a massive differentiator for us," said Misra.
Nevertheless, Misra acknowledged that any businesses should not bank on its technology alone. "What we have built up really well is a strong localised presence in each of our markets in Asia. I think this is phenomenal, I do not think at this point in time, there are others doing that. We are absolutely focused on being localised, this is a really strong differentiator," he said. Headquartered in Singapore, AdAsia operates in Tokyo, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Jakarta, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.
Misra also spoke about the company’s ambition for the platform to expand in China, purpotedly the biggest market in influencer marketing. "Influencer marketing is increasingly about the social behaviour of people," he said. "Beyond China, Instagram is becoming the biggest platform of influencer marketing globally."
And in the absence of Instagram, the platforms available in China became rather fragmented, leading to a massive data trove on social behaviours, he further explained. "Our stratagy is to integrate some of these social channels, where we can bring some of our influencers for CastingAsia onboard," said Misra.