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Hong Kong digital firms lobby IAB China to sanction independent body

IABA number of digital firms in Hong Kong and overseas are lobbying for the introduction of a local chapter of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry body born out of the US in the 1990s that represents the interests of online publishers and seeks to grow the digital ad market.

Digital ad group Pixels, measurement firm ComScore, Google and Facebook are among a number of local and international firms that have been pushing IAB China to give the go-ahead for an independent IAB in Hong Kong for close to a year. Lobbyists say that the standards and practices set up for China will not work in Hong Kong, and so an independent body is needed.

IAB China was set up in February last year after the Interactive Internet Advertising Committee was awarded a licence to operate the IAB in the country of 650 million internet users. Its remit also covers the Hong Kong market.

Among those pushing for an IAB Hong Kong is Kevin Huang, the founder of Pixels, one of the territory’s largest digital marketing players. A local IAB is needed to help the buyer and seller sides of the market come to an agreement on metrics and standards, which will help Hong Kong’s digital advertising market grow, he told Mumbrella.

“In order for digital advertising to continue to grow, I believe that there needs to be consensus, best practice sharing and agreement on standards (be it ad size, measurements metrics, etc) between the buy and sell sides of the business,” he said.

“Currently there is no unifying organisation for publishers to agree on standards. Each operates their own, albeit based on global standards, and there is a disconnect between each of the sellers leading to inconsistencies and frustrations by advertisers who are increasingly looking to digital advertising.”

Only once both sides of the market can agree on metrics, standards and a consistent way of operating, will advertisers will have the confidence to invest more in digital, Huang said.

A lack of confidence in digital continues to hold investment in the medium back, he suggested.

“An IAB would play a key role to establish success metrics agreed on by all major sellers and advertisers,” said Huang.

“Digital advertising is on the cusp of explosive growth in Hong Kong and as any major media/platform, there needs to be a strong body to help provide guidelines as to how it should operate.”

Huang added that there would be “some overlap” with the functions of Hong Kong’s existing industry bodies that represent the interests of the digital advertising market – the Digital + Direct Marketing Association Asia, or D+D, which was formed from the merger of the Asia Digital Marketing Association and the Hong Kong Direct Marketing Association in December 2013, and the Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing.

But he said that while IAB’s the mandate is mostly for publishers, Hong Kong’s existing two industry bodies represent the buy side.

“There is overlap in terms of the mandate around promoting digital advertising – which is a good thing. The more people talk about it, the greater the awareness and interest around digital advertising,” he said.

Chen Yong, head of IAB China, who as licence holder has ultimate say over whether an IAB Hong Kong can go ahead, has not responded to Mumbrella’s questions about the push for a Hong Kong chapter.

Some have suggested that the hold up is a “bandwidth issue” for what is a relatively young industry body with a remit for the world’s largest advertising market.

Joe Nguyen, APAC head of ComScore and a member of the leadership council for IAB Singapore, commented: “IAB China currently has the license to the IAB franchise in Hong Kong, but the Hong Kong digital market and players are very different from China so their focus is different and what is developing in China will not fit the Hong Kong market.”

Randall Rothenberg, the New York-based president and CEO of the IAB, told Mumbrella that discussions to form an IAB Hong Kong were “ongoing” and involve “multiple parties”.

But he said he is “confident there will be an active IAB in Hong Kong before too long”.

“It’s a vibrant market, certainly, and would benefit from the mix of training and education, best practices development, research, technical standards understanding, and the other initiatives IAB can provide,” Rothenberg said.

Hong Kong’s digerati will want to replicate the success of regional rival Singapore, where the IAB has been a rising force in recent years. It took on a regional remit last month as an IAB ambassador for Southeast Asia.

The IAB is up and running in two markets in Asia, and four in APAC including Australia and New Zealand. Alexandra Salomon, the IAB’s senior director, international, said that the group saw the potential in launching a Hong Kong chapter, and also had ambitions to find licensees in mature markets such as Japan and Korea and emerging forces such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

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