Monday 31 October 2016 6:00 am

Keeping in the loop: City A.M. talks with LoopMe founder Stephen Upstone

Stephen Upstone, chief executive and founder of LoopMe, is pondering his company's reach.

"I think that out of the top 10 global brands, as rated by Interbrand, we work with eight of them,” he says.

His business has touched 1.5bn people, handles 500bn bits of data a day, and has opened offices from Los Angeles to Bangalore. Not bad for a four year old company.

Like so many tech companies, LoopMe operates in the background, exerting a subtle influence over our digital lives.

“Think of it as a software platform that puts video ads into apps and mobile websites,” says Upstone. “But what we do that’s particularly different is use artificial intelligence (AI) and a huge amount of data to improves customer experience, and advertisers’ results.”

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Mobile revolution

As we move away from desktop to spend more time gazing into our phones, LoopMe has moved in to capitalise on the mobile revolution.

“Before video ads couldn’t really be played on mobile because the bandwidth wasn’t strong enough,” says Upstone, but “now 68 per cent of the time we spend digitally is with mobile, and video is king.”

Video advertising is (and always has been) so successful, says Upstone, because it “instills empathy in people. It creates a really strong emotional connection and makes them feel better about brands.”

The uptake of video on mobile has been nothing short of a game changer for advertisers – there’s no denying it works, but the wastage, that is, showing people irrelevant adverts, was mammoth.


LoopMe staff in London (Source: LoopMe)


“The actual ads themselves work – that’s unquestionable,” says Upstone. “What we’re doing is putting them in front of the right people at the right time.”

Despite its infallibility as a medium, video ads are often skipped by impatient users. LoopMe’s objective is to ensure that they’re not.

“Roughly speaking, if a video ad can be skipped, in most cases it will be,” says Upstone. “In normal circumstances, about 14 per cent will watch to the end of the video. About 30 or 40 per cent won’t skip at all, and actually, using AI, you can increase that up to 70 or 80 per cent.

LoopMe uses AI that learns in real time what a user is likely to be interested in at that given point in time, to direct more appropriate advertising that benefits both brand and consumer.

“Everything we see is related back to a handset, so we don’t know who the user is, but we can see patterns of behaviour from the handset that can detect the type of content people want to see,” says Upstone.

He refers to “moments” often – not just whether you’re at the golf course or away travelling, but whether you tend to engage in ads, and what sort of content you’re likely to engage with.

“By learning a little bit about the moments, you’re learning about the types of content an individual is interested in,” says Upstone. “The AI then makes a decision based on billions of different pieces of data in that moment – every day we now see 25-30bn different opportunities to serve a video ad – it gives you a lot of choice, so that you really select the best ones.”

"We’re improving the user experience by making advertising more relevant"

The software behind the platform is highly adaptive to changing circumstances.

“It learns itself, updating its full assumption set every 20 minutes, which means it can change its mind about how it sees the world every 20 minutes," explains Upstone.

"It’s doing that on the basis of different data points – we’re seeing now about 500 bn different bits of data a day.”

Changing minds

Advertising works by convincing people that they want or need a product or service. But measuring whether a consumer has changed their mind because of advertising has been impossible in the past.

“If you think about a big issue like Brexit, certain people would never change their mind, they were rooted. But a whole bunch of people were floating voters – it’s the same about your attitude towards buying soap powder, or giving money to a charity, or purchasing a car.”

The ability to change minds is one reason that LoopMe has been so successful.

Its product, Purchase Loop, surveys a sample of 5 per cent of a campaign, to discern whether an individual has changed their mind due to an ad. With that data, LoopMe can “show ads not just to the people who will watch them through, but to the people who will change their mind.”

LoopMe has a plethora of data that it uses to train the AI on and track what is and isn’t working.

Following the customer journey from ad to purchase ends with what Upstone calls the “Holy Grail” – “whether they pay with a credit card, Apple Pay, or any payment that’s linked back to the phone. Then we can understand which ads work for who.”

At a time when consumers are more wary of how their data is being used, LoopMe could be the industry’s saving grace. “We’re definitely improving the user experience by making advertising more relevant,” says Upstone.

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