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AiThority Interview with Anthony Capano, MD North America at Rakuten Advertising

Please tell us about your current role and the team / technology you handle in the company.

My role as North America Managing Director will focus on continuing the business momentum and growth that Rakuten Advertising has seen in the North American market over the past few years.

We’ve been named the Best Affiliate Network by mThink for 10 consecutive years – a streak I’m hoping to keep going by investing in our publisher network and advancing partnership within affiliate. Of course, that’s closely tied to the technology we offer to our brand and publisher partners, which we’re constantly evolving to meet changing needs.

Some of these offerings include technology that enables multi-touch and cross-channel attribution to incentivize behavior at every stage of the funnel, along with AI-powered matchmaking technology that pairs advertisers with the publisher partners that will drive the most growth for their business.

We’re also working to create new technology powered by our unique first-party Rakuten audience data that enables ad personalization across affiliate and programmatic strategies.

Another one of my priorities is activating our advertising inventory across U.S.-based Rakuten businesses including Viber, Viki and Rakuten Rewards, and scaling our media offering across those properties. It puts us in the unique position to combine the benefits of brand and performance to help marketers achieve a range of objectives, from driving awareness and discovering new customers to engaging and influencing consumer behavior.

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How did you arrive at Rakuten?

I spent the early portion of my career in media sales working alongside many of the world’s largest brands. I joined Rakuten in 2013 and have overseen our markets in Australia and New Zealand, APAC, EMEA and LATAM, most recently moving to London and taking on the role of International Managing Director. Throughout my career, I’ve been passionate about the intersection of data, technology and people, so the role of North American Managing Director makes a lot of sense for me. I’m excited to lead this market and leverage my experience from leading the business internationally.

Which adtech offerings are you most keenly following and why?

Lately, I’ve been keeping a close eye on two trends: offerings that combine data and technology to power personalization and offerings that hold up against industry challenges. On the personalization side, it’s becoming more and more critical for affiliate marketers to be even more nimble with their audience targeting, offer strategies and media placements. At Rakuten, we’ve invested in combining advanced advertising technology with the high-value audience of Rakuten Rewards, which connects brands of all sizes to our 14 million ready to shop members through rewards, to empower marketers to create customized offers that are more likely to resonate and attract new customers. I think over the next year or so, we’ll see increased use of these types of pairings.

When the industry is in a transition period like we are with the onset of cookie limitations and privacy regulations, brands are leveraging offerings such as affiliate marketing to continue reaching their desired audiences through first-party relationships. As we approach upcoming milestones, including the end of third-party cookies, this will become increasingly important for advertisers. At the same time, we’ll look to incentivize publishers based on loyalty to bring greater diversity into our portfolio for advertisers to choose from as they navigate the post-cookie world.

How have advertising trends evolved in the pandemic months? How did these trends influence your business game plan?

Over the past year, we’ve seen certain categories emerge as the clear winners of the pandemic. According to the data from our affiliate network, toys and software were the big winners, with more than 100% lift in same store in 2020 over 2019. Home improvement, housewares/small appliances and food & drink have also seen incredible growth in our network at 86%, 84% and 67% lift in same-store, respectively.

Just as the pandemic has completely changed the way consumers purchase, it’s caused brands to adjust the ways they’re advertising. At the start of the pandemic, most brands pulled back on spend drastically, particularly if they had physical stores, because a total contraction in their businesses meant a total reduction in marketing expense. In subsequent months, the rise in awareness of social movements made brands much more conscious of their messaging, where we saw a rise in interest in formats that allowed for flexibility and quick adjustments based on what was happening in the world around them.

At Rakuten Advertising, we leaned into our data and insights to guide brands and publishers on how to navigate these changes and leverage the opportunities that were emerging in e-commerce as people shifted online.

Now, after more than a year of living through the pandemic—with vaccines being distributed and economies truly starting to open back up—consumers are eager to spend in a predicted trend called “revenge shopping.”

Brands with goods and services that weren’t in demand during the pandemic are going to face massive surges because of a universal longing to get out of the house, take a trip and return to normalcy. In the road ahead, brands need both an online and in-store strategy to best position themselves to own share of market for this up-and-coming wave of revenge shoppers.

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Rakuten Advertising is one of the leading AI ML applicants in adtech. Could you tell us what kind of challenges you meet in AI ML applications?

The main challenge of AI and ML applications is that AI is only as good as the data that feeds it, and organizing and activating that data is a substantial undertaking. We’ve made significant investments in our data, which is pulled from various pockets across the Rakuten ecosystem by our in-house team of data scientists. Right now, we’re focused on advancing our offering for publishers to use AI to match buyers and advertisers through CRM data. By combining the technology of Rakuten Advertising with the consumer reach and influence of Rakuten Rewards, along with our clients’ own CRM data, we have the ability to create a custom advertising experience that gives marketers more choices in how to engage and incentivize their audiences.

The benefit is the ability to implement dynamic commissioning structures and tailor offers based on shopper status or category, driving even greater efficacy – and demonstrating AI’s power in our industry when paired with excellent data that’s employed effectively.

How does working with latest adtech challenges affect customer experience and driving more revenue?

At Rakuten Advertising, our goal is to protect the consumer journey and consumer interactions while providing our clients and partners with a seamless affiliate experience. While there are challenges in navigating cookie limitations and privacy regulations, the result of these restrictions will be a more positive advertising experience for consumers.

In the coming months, we’ll see brands shift marketing budgets to capitalize on strategies that are less cookie-dependent, such as affiliate and influencer marketing, that reach consumers where they are less invasively. Brands will increasingly benefit from partnering with companies that are positioned to leverage first-party data as we see greater cookie limitations.

In the past year, we’ve also seen challenges in adtech associated with brand safety, whether that’s in the actual message of the advertisement or how the advertisement is positioned online. It’s all about context, and it’s no longer excusable to serve content in the wrong space even though it might have been targeted to the right person.

The beauty of affiliate is that brands get to choose the publishers they work with to mitigate some of those challenges – a merging of human and technology.

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Tell us about your ambitions for the US-based adtech market in 2021.

In 2021, we’re focused on introducing additional technology and products that leverage data to improve consumer experiences and make consumers more receptive to advertising through increased personalization and better targeting. We’re also working towards more sophisticated attribution that can recognize success across the funnel, both online and offline, as well as working to marry brand and performance marketing – so that performance-based tactics fuel brand identity and vice versa.

Thank you, Anthony! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

Anthony Capano is a Managing Director, North America at Rakuten Advertising.


Rakuten Advertising is the leading global provider for marketing and advertising services and technology. Working with agencies and brands around the world, Rakuten Advertising brings together unique media inventory, a global affiliate network, advanced machine learning, and rich consumer insights to deliver experiences that increase brand awareness and marketing performance – while pushing the advertising industry forward.

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