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Exclusive Interview: EMI GAL talks Brains, Interactivity and the Future of Advertising

by on March 30, 2014

Here is what happened when Brand Weekly’s , Jordan Kensington caught up with Emi Gal , CEO of award winning company Brainient!!

JK:  Emi Gal, welcome to Brandweekly! How are you?

EG: Thank you very much I’m very well. Thank you.

JK: Fantastic, let’s go back to the beginning when you started the company, Brainient. What was the initial idea?

EG:  So, when I was 5 years old… I’m just kidding. The way Brainient started, is that before Brainient I ran an online TV channel called “Brain TV”. What we did was, we created a channel for smart  people. After about a year, we realized that there aren’t that many smart people in my home country Romania, you know?  There’s not a big enough audience. So we shut it down but the TV channel had a very popular feature which was the ability to interact with the content. So you could roll over on various items in the content and find out more about the person speaking, the products and so on.  And that was a very popular  feature so I decided to build a company all around making video content interactive and that’s how Brainient started.

JK: Amazing. Brainent has been going from strength to strength. What do you think is the secret to your success? You are in an industry in which a lot of people are doing the same thing but you seem to stand out from the rest?

EG: Thank you. Well, I think that Paul Graham, the founder of “Y Combinator” said something really interesting a couple of years ago, which was that in order to succeed you need to build something people want. What we’ve done at Brainient, we have taken a step forward and what we do is, we try to build stuff that people need. And I think that this is the key to the success for any company, regardless whether it’s a technology focused company or beyond. At Brainient, what we do is we help media companies like ITV , Channel 4 , Channel 5 and FOX. We basically help them take standard TV ads that they get from the advertisers and make those ads interactive in order for them to perform better. So if you take a standard TV ad and put it online, you will get a 1%  click-through rate  or something like that. If you add interactivity to that TV ad and then put it online, the click-through rate will double, but then you will get a 10% engagement rate on average. And that performance helps our clients to get more from their campaigns, get better rates for the campaigns and effectively make more money. So we’re doing something that they need because they need to make more money and I think that’s the reason why we have got a lot of traction lately.

JK: Well said. Obviously, Brand Weekly Magazine Radio and TV targets not just the brand managers but we also target the consumers as well so building an increased engagement rate that will keep consumers interacting with the brands is always winning concept. This leads quite nicely to my next question which is that of  ‘Interactive video advertising’ – 14 years ago, if you had spoken to someone about interactive video advertising, they would have no knowledge of what you’re talking about. For anyone who is practically a novice in this field, how would you define this new approach to marketing?

Eg: I think that the perfect, the ideal ad has two characteristics. It’s relevant to you as an individual, so rather than seeing, for you Jordan, seeing an ad for, I don’t know, a shampoo, maybe you prefer seeing an ad for a car, because you’re a guy. So I think that that’s one thing. But the second thing is, if the ad is relevant, you want to be able to engage with the brand in a very easy way. So if I’m showing you an ad for a car and you like the car, why not be able to book a test drive within the video while you’re watching the ad wherever you’re watching it. So I think, relevancy and interactivity are keys to make an ad perform well and that’s what we do with Brainient.

JK:  That brings new meaning to an immediate Call to action…?

EG: Exactly, so imagine, you go on ITV player and you want to watch, I don’t know, Coronation Street – not that you would watch Coronation Street – but before you watch Coronation Street, the way ITV makes money, is they serve you pre-rolls, they show you video ads that they sell to advertisers. What we do is, we make those pre-rolls resonate with consumers While you watch the pre-roll, instead of just being forced to watch it for 30 seconds, you can now interact with it. Say it’s a car ad, you can book a test drive, say it’s a retailer ad, you can click on the products that the models are wearing in the ad and buy them. If it’s a trailer for a movie, you can click on a button and it shows the nearest cinema to your location where you can go and see the movie.  So it just takes the standard TV video ad that is just one way where you can just look at it and makes it two-way:  you can look at it and then you can interact.

JK: Now, Emi, Disney, Coca-Cola, Littlewoods and Lego are just a few of your clients and there are more. Most of these companies will be deeply entrenched in past advertising models of traditional print media, TV and radio. Did you find it challenging pitching the Brainient alternative to them?

emi galEG: It took a while to educate people on why they need interactivity and why interactivity is important, but as advertisers are trying to follow their audience – the audience is moving on digital – so, very few people still read print magazines, which is why only the glossy ones are surviving. So, as an advertiser, what you want to do is you want to reach your audience and it doesn’t really matter where that audience is. In digital, you can not only reach your audience, but you can also interact with your audience and engage with them and create what they call in digital “earned media”.  So, you don’t have to just buy advertising. You can buy advertising, you can get social following and then you can just publish stuff that is relevant to your followers. And that is “earned media” for the advertisers, essentially free, because they built up that audience on their digital profile. I think that’s an amazing opportunity that didn’t exist before the internet because you couldn’t have an easy way to create a group of followers, so to speak, that are interested in your brand.

JK: That’s fantastic and of course, it gives brands a way to measure the success of the ads. I mean, they pay millions of pounds to advertise on TV, Magazine and Radio channels and in the past, there was very little way of finding out the success behind the campaigns.  But, times have changed.. the success of these interactive campaigns raise brand profile and provide brands with a gateway of consumers as fans of their products and services.

EG: I very much agree. There have always been ways to try to measure, but up until the internet, those ways haven’t been very scientific, so to speak. Right now, if you buy an impression online, to serve an ad to a user, you can target so that you ensure that the person watching that ad that you push out, is interested in your product. This is something that the internet has made possible and I think that in the future, most advertisers will spend most of their budget in this digital environment.

JK: There is the expansion into Europe. You mentioned you are from Romania. You are expanding to other countries including Turkey, as well. Does the language barrier usually pose a challenge and how do you remedy this?

EG: We haven’t come across challenges on that. We do have sales people that are focused on certain markets and they speak the local language. But when it comes to delivery of our interactive ads in multiple markets, the beauty of the internet and the cloud is that, you can just create a platform that runs in the cloud, which means that you can work on campaigns from anywhere, from India to Brazil. And I think, I haven’t come across instances where it has been difficult to work with clients, just because they were in a different country or speaking a different language.

JK: Fair enough. You have been quoted as saying ”We want to continue our expansion beyond desktop video interactivity to mobile, second-screen and Connected TV – ensuring the continued relevance and value of Brainient’s cross-platform technology – we’re aiming to build on our success and become the de facto company when it comes to interactive video advertising.” Will Brainient ever get into the industry of white labelling your software? So for example, if a company in Qatar came to you and said “We would like to buy or lease your software”  or “Can we have your software as a white label so we can do ours branded within our territory?” Would you be open for something of that nature? Or has it got to be the Brainient branded platform technology in those countries?

EG: I mean, what we want at the end of the day as Brainient, is to be the de facto interactive video platform. What we care about is creating, delivering and measuring interactive ads across any platform, any device, anywhere. It doesn’t really matter to us whether the client that is using our platform is using our end product. The interactive video or the interactive mobile ad is what we deliver and as long as all the interactive ads in the world are delivered by Brainient, it doesn’t really matter if they are using our software. We just want to be everywhere.

JK: What do you think the future of advertising will look like in 5 years? Let’s be honest, if you looked at the industry 5 years ago, there’s a lot of things that you were sure would never catch on but the shift has been phenomenal. To be a visionary, to be a creative in the industry, is sometimes looking at “What will this space look like in 5 years?”. What do you think the future of advertising will look like in 5 years?

EG: That’s a great question and I wish I knew. But I can only look at the industry now and assume what’s going to happen in the next 5 years, I see 3 things. I think, advertising is going to become much more  programmatic. If you look at advertising historically, it was all about media agencies calling up media owners and saying “Hey, I want to run a campaign next month in your magazine, how much would it cost?” and so on. That whole transaction, I think, is going to be done exclusively in a problematic way by computers based on algorithm. That was number one. Number two, as I mentioned a bit earlier, I think, because of that  programmatic buying it’s going to become easier and easier for advertisers so the relevancy of the ad is going to become much better, so you’re always going to see an ad that you are interested in as an individual. Thirdly, I think, in five years, all of the ads in the world will be interactive, because once you run an interactive ad as an advertiser, there’s no reason why you would go back, because interactivity is so much better in terms of user experience, in terms of performance, in terms of the way it looks, the way it feels, that it just doesn’t make sense not to run interactive ads once you’ve run one. I think, these are 3 things that I would bet will happen over the next 3 to 5 years. But then again, I’m sure there will be something else that I haven’t figured out with my tiny mind and I will be blown away by. I hope it comes from Brainient, you know.

JK: Obviously or Brand Weekly!! Speaking with Sir John Hegarty recently who happens to be the founding creative partner at BBH, the advertising agency. We asked him, how he comes up with his creative ideas, and he said he just doesn’t think, that’s when he comes up with his ideas, which is a different way of doing it. How do you come up with your creative ideas?

EG: That’s a great question, Jordan. Well, I think that one of the things that I’ve been really fortunate with, is that we have a big team at Brainient. And the best ideas I get is in the context where I work with my team and we just throw ideas to a wall and see what sticks. In order to get creative ideas you need to understand your industry really, really well, to understand what’s technologically possible and then to have great people around you that are smarter than you on certain topics who can spur interesting ideas that we can brainstorm on and come up with the next big thing.

JK: That’s amazing. Describe your team for us?

EG: We are split between London and Bucharest, mainly. We also have  a sales team  in France, Germany and Russia but we are centered in these two locations. We have a big technology team in Romania and about 30 people that do all the heavy lifting and hard work .Then we have all our commercial teams, everything geared towards clients in London, that’s about 10 people.

JK: Another key win for your team was a campaign for Dr Martens, who my good friend Simon Jobson, is the head of marketing at Dr Martens. I remember Simon from a long time ago when he was working for kickers, Pentland Group. You did the #Standforsomething campaign which has seen a pre roll engagement rate two times higher than the industry standard for this format, while click through rates are sitting three times higher than industry benchmarks. How did that all come about?

EG: One of the things we do a lot at Brainient, we create benchmarks, because we work with a lot of customers, with a lot of advertisers from automotive to retails to FMCG. With Dr Martens, which I believe was together with Goodstuff Communications , which is the agency they work with. We went to them and pitched  our carousel format which is that format that puts things and products at the bottom of the video . They loved the performance and they loved the brands that we had worked with on that before, like asos.com and we ended up with that campaign. I think that’s the case with a lot of our customers, because we have these amazing results and we have created benchmarks and case studies with these results- they all want to try it out. And once they try it, they are hooked and they continue using it.

JK: It’s the addictive Brainet platform!!  Now Emi, we do something on Brandweekly called “Top 5”. It’s the chance for our readers to get to know the personality behind the person we’re interviewing. I will start with three subjects. The first is your top 5 best TV shows of all time. You can go all the way back or current.

EG: Wow, top 5 best TV shows… in any particular order?

JK: Any particular order, yes! 

EG: Okay, so I’d say my all time favorite is “Breaking Bad”. Number two would be “House of Cards”, number three would probably be- let me think- there’s a new one that I am quite intrigued by, I think it’s a very good representation of today’s society: “Girls”, created by a girl in New York. Number four-I wish I had more time to watch TV shows- oh you know what?  when I was in my teens and my early twenties, I loved to watch “Friends”.

JK: That is classic!

EG: Classic, yes. I really loved it. And then, it’s not really a series but you could say it’s a series: Tom & Jerry.

JK: Classic as well, an old school classic!

E: Yes, old old old school classic and I loved it.

JK: Exactly! So the next top 5 is quite easy. Obviously, being a very busy entrepreneur, you also need to find time to relax. Travel and relaxation often goes hand in hand. So your top 5 best countries or cities to go to relax?

EG: Okay, I’m quite of an urban animal. The way I relax is by going to galleries or I meet people or go to parties and meet friends. I guess that the cities that are my favourite cities also happen to be the cities that I find most relaxing. It’s a bit of paradox, because they are not really cities one would associate with relaxing. There would be: London, New York, Hong Kong, San Francisco and probably Los Angeles.

JK: Hmmmm… I see.. you are what I call an #NLR  which is a #NextLevelRelaxation kind of person….. (i.e your brain is more relaxed when it is in  a continuous state of action. Hence, your chosen cities).   Now the final one is quite simple. Do you read a lot of books?

EG: Yes, off course… I do.

JK: So this one is quite easy, it’s your top 5 best books of all time.

EG: Wow, this is actually not easy at all. Let me think-so, there’s a very, very good book that is one of my favourite literature books and I put it on top of my list as a literature book. And that is “A Maggot” by John Fowles. It’s a very mysterious book. The second one would be “The Master and Margarita”. And then, there’s a very good book about business that I can recommend to anyone, called “The Four Steps to the Epiphany”, it’s an amazing book about  technology companies. And then, I would say there’s a book- I’m missing the name. It’s a book about an Auschwitz survivor called Dr. Frankl and he wrote this book called “In Search of Meaning” or “Meaning of life” [Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl; editor’s note], something like that. It’s a wonderful book about what life is actually, from the perspective of a guy who went through Auschwitz and that’s quite interesting. My fifth book, I would probably say, there’s one in the sort of category that I read mostly, which is business books. There’s a book called “Flow” which is written by a Czech psychologist whose name has about 74 hundred letters, I can’t pronounce it. But it’s called “Flow” and it’s an amazing book for anyone who wants to create the habits that are necessary in order to be a high-performer.

JK: So, Emi, if people want to find out more about Brainient- where do they go to?

EG: We’re obviously everywhere in digital but the best location would probably we our website which is www.brainient.com. I also keep a blog at www.emigal.com for anyone who wants to read mostly about technology or advertising.

JK: Fantastic. Emi Gal, it has been a pleasure talking to you for  Brand Weekly and good luck with the future and congratulations on every single award you’ve won so far and looking forward to celebrating more to come in the future.

EG: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure and I hope to hear more of Brand Weekly.


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