Saving Private Miyu

Miyu Takeuchi (Miyu for short) is a Japanese singer and a member of AKB48 - an idol girl group. Her debut was in 2009, and it was the start of the golden era of AKB48. But she couldn’t get much attention. Although we don’t know, it might be partly because of her introverted personality, or her artistic nature might not fit the culture of AKB48. AKB48 has a ranking system she couldn’t have taken place inside the cut 100. And she is now participating in Produce48 in Korea.

Produce48 is a competitive audition TV show in Korea. 48 girls from Korea and 48 girls from Japan fall over one another. Only 12 girls are selected for a new project idol group and two and a half year of the contract is guaranteed. The Korean members are idol apprentices who belong to their own agencies, and The Japanese members belong to AKB48 and its related groups.

The Beginning

The first show was aired on June 15th, 2018. I was moved by Miyu’s voice when she performed ‘Dancing Hero,’ and I was impressed when I got to know that she arranged the original song by herself. Crucially, my pick was set for her when I knew about her journal for ‘The Attorney’ - the movie about the (tragic) former Korean president Roh - which was written two years ago. She started the competition from the 39th place and went up to rank 8 at the EP3.

Once the affinity is set to a specific pick in this kind of survival show, it is usually getting reinforced by itself as time goes by. So, I was really shocked when I found Miyu fell to rank 30, which was the edge elimination line of the episode (EP8). I didn’t believe that the producer did not like her, but her airtime share was pretty limited in the show, and it made her difficult to appeal her attractiveness. I wanted to do something to support her, and I got to realize that I’m working in an ad tech company.

Moloco, Inc.

After leaving the gaming industry last year due to my medical issue, I had taken a recuperation, and I started a new career as a software engineer at Moloco, Inc. Moloco is an ad-tech startup that turns big data into ad performance using machine learning. We recently closed the series B, and we were selected for a Mobile LUMAscape company 2018. Our HQ is in Palo Alto, CA., and we have offices in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Seoul, and Singapore.

The recent online/mobile advertisement is no more mere selling/buying ads from a site (publisher). Many parts are automated, and there are ad exchanges (just like the stock exchange) where the bidding for an ad-spot (inventory) should be done in realtime: within 100ms (1/10 second). One of our business roles is DSP (Demand-Side Platform), we provide the real-time bidding for every ad impression (means that an ad is presented to a user) and machine-learning-optimized targeting/pricing with our advertisers. We can handle more than 600,000 bid requests per second, and we process more than 40 billion bids per day, the number is getting increasing fast day by day. We generate more than 100TB of new data daily, and we use the accumulated data for training our ML (Machine Learning) models. Many ad tech companies are saying ML and AI, but we are one of the very few companies in the world which can provide the impression-level ML/AI optimization. My colleague Haden has made a presentation about our infrastructure at Google Next 2018 conference, it is good to watch if you have an interest in it.

A world-best online advertisement infrastructure was at my disposal, with my overflowing passion, and maybe enough… pocket money. So, I decided to run an online campaign for Miyu by myself. We usually do not accept ad campaigns from an individual, so it was not a usual case in my company. I got approval for this campaign as my own personal project in a condition that I would handle whole technical and operational issues; of course the whole budget on me.

The Preparation

I had to establish the seed user profile for the campaign. Although I cannot disclose the details, I intentionally made it to target audiences who were not used to this competition and the idol cultures, but who still enjoyed TV and entertainment (so-called … muggles) in Korea (the voting was available only in Korea). I thought that there would be a very high possibility that the idol fans already had solid picks for their own. With the seed profile, I could establish an initial lift model for campaigns and made it optimized by our most basic CTR(click-through-rate) ML model. While I ran the campaign, I checked some major communities for the competition, but I could find only several mentions about this campaign. Considering the amount of the whole impression, I think the original intention was successfully fulfilled.

The First Run

First, I wanted to promote Miyu’s story to others. I don’t have any creative (images, videos and so on) for the campaign, I should prepare them by myself. I asked one of my colleagues to make some banners at the expense of my word to participate in Alcatraz Classic… together next year (Are sharks over there?…). And I needed a landing (where to redirect users when they click the ad), and I made a landing with a Youtube video - not of mine, but I believed it was very touching, and it described the best of her story.

I started the ad on Aug 6. After three days run, the total impressions (the number of exposure of the ad) were 470,887, and there are 14,977 clicks. The CTR(click through rate = clicks/impressions) was started from 2.6% for the first day, and our CTR optimization logic worked well and then finally it was 3.1% (accumulated) on Aug 8. During the period, the view count of the Youtube video was grown up by 9,152. Admittedly, it is hard to tell that the increased number was all from the ad, but I think it actually worked positively for the purpose: to propagate her story.

The Second Run with a video creative

Although I thought the first run was successful, there were some limitations. Most of all, the banner ad has inherently very limited story-telling. One video is usually better than tens of images in these days, so I decided to make a video creative by myself. For a video ad, there is a 30 sec limitation in many ad-exchanges. I set the central theme with the mention of her at the second elimination stage (at EP5), and made a 24 seconds cut. With a video creative ready, I could provide the video, native, and MRAID type of ads. As the video told her story in itself, I could have a chance to land users to the voting site directly.

The ad was run from Aug 9, and the total impression was 2,108,695, and there were 86,681 clicks. Although I cannot tell that the all 86,681 users (there might be duplicated numbers, but we usually do not provide the same type of ads to the same user) make a vote for her, the final CTR went up to 4.1%, and I think it was a very successful campaign.

The Re-engagement

After launching the video campaigns, I thought that it would be preferable to make another campaign that only re-targeted users who already reacted (clicked) to the previous ads. So, I made one for it.

The result was awe-inspiring. It was only two days run, but there were 81,590 impressions and 10,978 clicks, which means that the CTR was remarkably 13.5%. Because every user had a new vote every day in this competition, I found that the reengagement campaign was another useful tool.

The Result

Finally, during the campaign, there were 2,811,927 impressions and 119,396 clicks over all campaigns. I believe that no one merely thinks that there were 119,396 votes for her. Many might just look over the video or might touch the ad by mistake. However, with my best knowledge from the past experiences, I think it was a very successful campaign; at least I was truly delighted with it.

Although it is hard to disclose the budget that I spent, I can tell that it should be only a fraction of the cost of the billboards ads in the subway stations. I understand that it (the billboard) has a meaning as a monument or a tribute. However, I believe that the strategic thinking and the measurable method are the more critical factors in this type of voting competitions.

And do you want to know the result? Miyu proceeded to the final live stage by ranking 6! (from 30th, 24 ranks up) I’m really pleased with it. I wish my best for her, and I’m really happy to be able to enjoy her one more and final stage.

(Update) The Final Note

At the final stage yesterday (Aug. 31), she couldn’t make her debut. I’m so sorry about it but it is only the competition that ended. It is my greatest pleasure to get to know her this time, and I will support her until her journey continues. I fully appreciate her with the good memories this summer. Lastly, I want to introduce her Youtube channel. (Someday, I want to listen she covers some pleasant songs, something like ‘Kimagure Romantic (気まぐれロマンティック)')

P.S.: JY sucks.