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The rise of digital advertising powerhouse Criteo

Criteo has become a key partner for businesses in the challenging retail industry

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It's been said that no great story ever started with someone eating a salad, but that could not be further from the truth for internet advertising company Criteo. 

In 2005, founders Jean-Baptiste Rudelle, Franck Le Ouay and Romain Niccoli had a meeting at a salad bar and cafe in Paris, France. What emerged from that discussion was a company that would eventually grow to become one of the most successful French ad tech companies, with an impressive global presence.

Today, Criteo operates 31 offices and serves clients across 95 countries. Its multi-product platform offers a full-funnel marketing solution to support every stage of the customer journey. 

In September 2013, the Singapore office opened with just three people covering a large region in Asia including India. It soon established a foothold in South-east Asia (SEA), serving as a digital advertising and marketing hub for businesses based in the region.

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"We started as an on-site recommendation engine, similar to the 'You May Also Like' concept and evolved into an off-site in-banner product recommendation advertising tool designed to help users buy smartly," says Mr Alban Villani, managing director for Criteo SEA and the Pacific region. 

He is also one of the founding members of Criteo Singapore. Six years later, the Singapore office now serves hundreds of advertisers and works with the top online retailers and travel agents. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the biggest buzzwords in the tech world currently, and companies like Criteo have recognised its utility. By leveraging AI, Criteo has been able to get the most out of machine learning to help local retailers gain an advantage over the competition.
 
The Criteo AI Engine is fuelled by the Criteo Shopper Graph which is a key differentiator as data from 2 billion active shoppers are analysed and mobilised every month. 

It empowers companies of every size to compete with the biggest businesses in the world when it comes to personalisation and the customer experience. Backed by an investment of US$32 million spread over three years, the company established an AI Lab in Paris in 2018, aiming to innovate new applications that are interpretable, transparent and user-centric.

"AI has been in our DNA ever since our company was formed," explains Ms Pauline Lemaire, Director of Account Strategy — Large Customers, Criteo SEA, Taiwan and Hong Kong. "It takes the guesswork out of what consumers want and need in the moment, so brands have a better shot at resonating with them."

One example of a retailer that has benefitted from Criteo's services is homegrown fashion label and success story Love, Bonito. The brand wanted to reach customers at the right time with the right products, and needed a service that was efficient at driving bigger revenue and understood the impact of retargeting at different levels of the marketing funnel. 

By partnering Criteo, Love, Bonito was able to generate a higher traffic volume and deliver superior performance in terms of revenue and return on ad spend (RoAS) through its online campaigns. 

The impressive results led Love, Bonito to appoint Criteo as its sole partner for online targeting advertising in Singapore after evaluating Criteo through a head-to-head test with another retargeting solution provider. This enables Love, Bonito to save on ad spend, drive efficiency and scale for its business expansion even outside Singapore.

Apart from AI-powered retargeting tools, Criteo has also launched a new product — App Install — which strengthens Criteo's end-to-end advertising solution by allowing marketers to reach and acquire new, re-engage lapsed, and re-target existing customers on one platform. 

The powerful, independent full-stack mobile solution is designed to help clients increase its mobile application downloads and conversions.

Undoubtedly, technology is the key to Criteo's success. However, the people behind its algorithms and digital offerings are what make a difference and there are almost 2,900 Criteo employees in offices around the world.

"Because of our strong company culture and diversity of people, we are naturally stimulated to work together as a diversified team facilitating social interaction, teamwork and open communication," says Mr Mark Gubbels, manager, Mid Market Sales, Criteo SEA. "This has led us to constant creativity, innovation and performance which have resulted in amazing growth, results and productivity."

Ms Low Yu Sien, the first account strategist in Criteo Singapore, concurs, adding that the "management gives a lot of flexibility to employees to shape the environment, culture and overall dynamics" of the company.

Even with Criteo's glowing success, one may be tempted to ask what separates it from other advertising platforms in the market. Its key differentiating factor is that it is pushing against the idea of a closed ecosystem in ad tech.

An open platform, by contrast, will allow businesses to take control of their own data, and gain deeper insights into how well their advertising campaigns are performing. Criteo's vision is to have an ecosystem that ensures fair and transparent access to data and measurement. These environments allow advertisers to have more control over their customers and their data to better inform every touchpoint and connection with them.
 
"The digital ecosystem has become impenetrable and our mission is to ensure everyone gets to enjoy a digital ecosystem that favours neutrality, transparency and inclusiveness amongst e-commerce and non-e-commerce players," says Mr Villani.

With the digital economy in SEA set to grow three times to S$414 billion by 2025 according to a report released recently by Temasek, Google and Bain, companies like Criteo will help businesses ride the boom and seize the opportunities to come.

According to the same report, internet economies of countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are expected to witness growth rates that average between 20 and 30 per cent a year

Criteo is looking to expand its offerings beyond the e-commerce sector; it aims to focus on its retailer-facing platform called "Retail Media", which allows retailers to more effectively monetise its inventory and audiences with brands, and offer its services to companies in the banking and gaming sectors as well in the near future.

After going public in 2013, Criteo exceeded US$1 billion in revenue in 2015 and the company has seen over US$800 billion in annual transactions on its platform in 2018. With an eye to the future, it plans to take its progress to even greater heights in SEA and the rest of the world.

What a story for a company that was birthed over a few bowls of salad.