Although this consensus favours Inskin Media’s offering, it doesn’t make it any less true. Ad formats favoured or available in Hong Kong are more intrusive than relevant, which "drives people crazy", according to Tan Rahman, OMD Hong Kong’s head of digital who was speaking at the event. “While the investment in digital has gone up and publishers are investing more in content, the way sites have provided this content hasn’t changed very much versus the international market," he continued. "In Hong Kong, we’re seeing an environment littered with ads that obscure the content you want to find.”
Giant overlays, pop-ups and 30-second pre-roll ads you can’t skip in front of the content you want to watch is an interruptive approach that annoys everyone, he added.
“The dollars are going online, but the strategy and the formats haven’t changed," said Nicola Yates, regional digital director for ZenithOptimedia. "Banner ads are print ads and mobile ads are banner ads.”
One dominant player in the market that could be doing better in providing more creative ad formats, speakers agreed, is Yahoo. Perhaps, speculated speakers and audience members, it is Yahoo’s strength in the market that has made it complacent, something that needs to change as programmatic buying, which allows better audience targeting, comes into play.
One of the reasons for Hong Kong’s outdated approach to digital advertising, Yates said, is the market’s reliance on outdated metrics. Hong Kong is still stuck with measuring direct response to online ads. In other words, click-through-rates (CTR). “What these metrics don’t tell you is about the other 99 per cent of users who haven’t clicked through but have engaged with your brand.”
As pointed out previously by OMG Accuen’s Matt Harty, people who click on online ads are often not the people who buy from the brand or convert.
Furthermore, when the data’s examined more closely, a high CTR often results in a higher cost per reach and also fails to track time spent on ads post-click. “People could have clicked by accident—mobiles after all have small screens—and immediately closed your ad without viewing or converting,” said Yates.
Hong Kong’s ad industry also has a love for ‘share of voice’ as a metric on which to buy advertising, she added. This type of measurement, a carry-over from traditional media, means popular home pages like Yahoo’s do well, but it results in a lot of wasted media spend.
Fortunately, said Rahman, brands are getting more demanding about the metrics they get for display advertising thanks to the experience they’ve gleaned from social media.
So in conclusion, what do advertisers want?
“I’d like to see more done with native advertising which makes it blend seamlessly with the content but is far more interesting than an advertorial,” Rahman said. "I’d also like to see ads that are interactive and give me a choice—there is a Dior ad running on British TV that lets me select between Charlize Theron and Natalie Portman, for example.”
“I’d get rid of static image-ads on home pages altogether,” said Yates. “It’s a portal. People stop by to go somewhere else, and the dwell time isn’t huge, so ads on these pages have got to be interactive.”
Advertisers would also like better targeting and the ability to control the frequency with which a user sees an online ad. “Share of voice doesn’t allow for frequency and you can blitz through your impressions within the first 24 hours,” Yates said. “Data shows that ideally you want a targeted user to see your ad between four and seven times a day. More than that will not increase awareness and will just be wasted impressions.”
Finally, there is a call for more standardised ad formats to work with that will not force advertisers to customise content for each portal. This however, for publishers and ad networks, will have to be a compromise, said Steve Doyle, InSkin Media’s commercial director. “While some formats can be standardised, our proprietary ad formats can’t be because well…they’re proprietary.” ISM does, however, work with the UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) across a set of standardised formats.
In conclusion, Hong Kong remains a rather "staid market", said Tan, but this is changing, and faster than media owners realise.
Yahoo was approached for comment but declined the opportunity.