Jasmine Xu, P&G's president for e-business and branding for Greater China, speaking at a Mobile Marketing Association conference in Shanghai last month, brought up the well-worn adage that while everyone knows half of their adspend is wasted, they don’t know which half. “This is no exaggeration," she said, noting that in China, anti-fraud research reported at least 30.2 percent of traffic being abnormal or invalid.
Fake traffic is a global problem, she emphasised, but in mainland China, marketers are still struggling to get basic needs met. "Are our ads viewed? Are our ads really viewed by real consumers? Are our ads being advertised in secure and appropriate places?"
Echoing P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard’s global view, she added, "We spend big money on celebrities and the best production teams, not to please some bots, but to please the consumers".
While competitor Unilever has dictated a higher viewability standard of 100 percent of pixels being visible for a second or more for banner ads (double the benchmark set by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the US), Xu wants P&G's own banners to at least adhere to basic IAB standards in China. For video ads then, 50 percent of pixels should be visible for more than two seconds, and the same requirements stand for both PCs and mobiles, she said.
Third-party monitoring and auditing is a much bigger sticking point in China, as the media owners "usually reject such audits because of a variety of reasons like being worried about data privacy and not trusting immature audit technology", she said. However, an open attitude will lead to fewer disputes, she implored, and will gain more trust from brands. "It's actually a win-win situation," she said.
Xu countered the argument, made by some in the industry, that transparency is equivalent to putting shackles on innovation.
"On the contrary, digital innovation and advertising transparency should not be a conflict, but should complement each other," she said. Allowing independent tracking firms to assess the performance of digital advertising is "less about emotion and more about determination to not let an athlete also do the referee's job".
Digital advertising accounts for the highest proportion of P&G's total advertising in China, more than in other markets for the FMCG giant, because of mobile internet making much faster progress in the burgeoning market. Yet, compared to traditional media in China, the digital advertising environment is more opaque and more difficult to control, she said at the MMA conference.
Since last year, P&G has been more resolute than before in requiring third-party involvement to monitor its media spending, as a prerequisite for cooperation with any media agency or media owner. "We are one of the biggest advertisers in China; that’s why we are duty-bound to fight against ad fraud," Xu said. "Actually, irrational and unreasonable KPIs from clients are leading to publishers and agencies faking and cheating. If the whole industry is to make progress, we all bear the responsibility to work together and achieve some synergy in China."
For those media owners who cannot provide (or tolerate) third-party monitoring, P&G will slowly reduce their level of spending with them, Xu said pointedly.
Using a weather analogy, she concluded "only by dispersing the smog and haze, can the sun then shine on the earth's flowers and every human see blue skies".