Digital ad measurement is a challenge in any market.
That’s especially true in China, where the essential ingredients—trust, willingness to cooperate, and a balance of power between the parties—are often in short supply.
Marketers who spoke to Campaign Asia-Pacific agreed that the precision and reliability of online ad measurement on virtually all platforms had improved in recent years, but there were still plenty of pain points.
Justin Peyton, chief strategy officer APAC for DigitasLBi, says the problem is that unlike western markets, brands in China are not able to own their own data, whether they are on their own, or social, platforms.
In China much of the activity is happening on third-party sites, such as WeChat, Weibo, TaoBao or T-mall, he says. Those sites “own the data and in many cases they see the data as a commodity that due to its value to brands can be used as a sales tool to drive revenue”.
The result is that brands have a “limited view of their own performance data”.
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Mathias Chaillou, managing director of Optimedia China, acknowledges this has been an issue in number of markets, not just China.
But, he adds: “When we buy media we tend to want to have full control of the results. We don’t like players and media owners who give us their own data, we like third-party trackers. Tracking enables you to assess if you’re getting what you paid for.”
One area of improvement has been in video ad tracking. Kenneth Tan, head of business planning at Mindshare China, says video has become the biggest online format in recent years, and is being tracked by third-party suppliers like Doubleclick.
The reason, Tan suggests, is that the number of suppliers is small—never more than half a dozen. “Whereas if you look at the display ecosphere, good luck in trying to corral a couple of players.”
“It all falls to pieces in display,” he says, because the number of sites makes it impractical.
An even bigger problem is the lack of a “single source you can go to for a consolidated view” across multiple platforms, Tan says.
Larger brands, like P&G, will consolidate their performance across all the platforms that they advertise on, but by its nature that offers a limited view.
Peyton says one part of the problem is brands often have multiple agencies, with multiple data platforms, “each with their own vision and strategy”.
“Getting access to a brand’s data across social, SEO, paid media and website channels is a struggle, and then being able to unify that data into a single view of customer behaviour is also a challenge,” he says.
Even when “we have access to this data, being able to validate, cleanse and structure the data to be able to link them to an individual and their behaviour can be a challenge”, he notes.
Chaillou says the problem is if he buys impressions on six car sites, “it’s not clear if I’m targeting six different users or the same user on six sites”.
The technology is there to support an integrated view of the customer, he says, but the question is how many sites will accept it. “If I look at Europe, everybody accepts it.”
Mindshare’s Tan thinks ultimately these problems exist because of the “environment in which these companies have sprung up, and that they have a vested interest not to be transparent”.
He says 4A agencies and brands could combine together to force some change but the fact is China has become an important market. “No one is really brave enough to make that move.”
Calvin Chan, COO at Admaster, agrees that the number of firms in the market place, as well as a lack of standardisation, are issues.
He says media or site owners are not open because they’re not comfortable with their numbers and are wary of full tracking codes.
Admaster has come up with a workaround where it will ask the site to track, say, 100 people, and “tell us what they did on your site”.
“It doesn’t jeopardise their concerns about full-site tracking, and it helps us to help clients.”
One problem Admaster is trying to solve is measuring effective reach, and is working on a way of measuring ‘viewable impressions’. On a major portal site that scrolls down to several screens, for example, the approach is to give a higher weight to ads on the first versus the last screen. It also gives a weighting to where the ad is—on the left-hand side of the page (for the mainland) or the right-hand side (for Taiwan).
Another approach, from Isobar China, is to use web-crawling technology to give a readout on consumer attitudes to brands.
Eve Lo, principal of brand strategy, says it’s a technology commonly used on PR issues, but this is the first time it has been applied for branding and marketing problems.
The system, which is still being trialled, can obtain data in near real-time and crunch it through a statistical analysis model. It’s being targeted at skincare, infant formula, auto, mobile phone and beverage categories, she says.
Lo notes this methodology can be applied to current or pre-existing data sets, but can’t be deployed for ‘what-if’ research.
For as many pain points as marketers face, the industry is encouragingly building up solutions. But the variety of techniques is in itself still another challenge to overcome.