China digital mini-series #5 – China is still a vendors’ market highlighted by a lack of data transparency

Many digital conferences held in China discuss the theme of ‘Big Data’, or data sets that require software applications in order to be analysed. The truth remains, however, that Chinese media vendors are unwilling to share their data with their clients. Basic media data such as ad impressions and click-through-rates are not available, with the excuse that the media vendors need to protect their revenue streams.

Third-party ad serving is not standard practice in China for placing advertising on websites, but a second solution called ‘third-party ad tracking’ is gaining some traction in the marketplace to monitor performance. This method gives marketers some measure of brand awareness, product uptake in trials and feedback as to how the brand is positioned with its competitors. Although third-party ad tracking offers some data transparency, it can be manipulated easily to generate fake impressions or clicks, and so render accurate analysis impossible. Some global brands have implemented a policy of ‘no tracking, no fee’ when negotiating with media vendors. However, many of the top vendors still refuse to use any sort of third-party tracking. Many clients and agencies currently operating in China therefore have to work with ‘fake data’ generated by third-party ad tracking in order to set campaign KPIs.

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(Please click image to view the 3rd party ad serving process chart)

On a personal note, I managed to introduce and launch third-party ad serving campaigns with two of my key clients during my time working in China. My company managed to overcome many negotiation obstacles and substantial resistance from vendors. We built a good business case for third-party ad serving by highlighting how we would dynamically optimise the creative performance of our brands throughout the marketing campaign. We saw drastic improvements in CTR and conversion rates by implementing third-party ad serving. My experience shows that, although the process of explanation to media vendors is painful, the gains are worthwhile. You need to ensure that your clients are well informed with regard to the issues that may arise. For example, clients may see a fall in CTR, as you will be tracking real data, not the doctored information made available by a media vendor. Third-party ad serving will help your clients to move forward more confidently, building on the analysis of accurate data.

It is clear that it will take some time for all media vendors in the marketplace to be convinced of the benefits of third-party ad serving. In the meantime, brands and their agencies need to take extra care when analysing data. Marketers should challenge data if it looks suspicious. They should also run third-party ad serving trials in campaigns for small vendors to establish a good business case when negotiating with top vendors.

This article is released as part of China digital marketing mini-series. To to learn more about  the Chinese digital landscape  please view our service social media page. To contact us  please use the contact information at the bottom of the page.

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