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‘More work to be done on Chinese transparency’, says Unilever global media head

The Chinese digital ecosystem has undergone a “phenomenal” transformation over the last seven years, but remains behind in terms of transparency, a senior Unilever executive has said.

Luis Di Como

Luis Di Como, Unilever’s senior vice president for global media, described the Chinese landscape as being a “bit behind” and “copycats of Western players” when he first took on his current role at the start of 2011.

Speaking on a panel during Advertising Week New York, Di Como said: “I have to confess at that time, around seven years ago, with all due respect most of the Chinese players were a bit behind and some of them [were] copycats of the Western players. You fast-forward seven years, and I believe that the transformation by Baidu and Alibaba has been phenomenal.

“One of the biggest points of difference is that when you’re in an app like WeChat, you can do all of the consumer journey, all of the integration across all areas of your life within the app. You can go from the discovery to the purchase to WeChat payment without any friction. This does not happen in the Western part of the world.

“[Another] of the key differences between the West and the Chinese ecosystem are the issues related to the overall digital ecosystem, so ad fraud, viewability, brand safety measurement: I cannot see this as a wall as it is in the Western world. I think there is a lot more work to do in that area to make a clear and transparent way to give the confidence to the whole industry. That is important to know.”

Responding to the subject of transparency in China, Steven Chang, the corporate vice president of Tencent, countered: “For China, the commercial advertising history is very short; it’s in the last 20 years and the actual peak is in the last 10 years. Speed is the key for China and we don’t have Internet Advertising Bureau, but everyone, including the client, the agency and ourselves wants to work together for brand safety… We are changing very fast but it will take some time.”

Earlier this year, it was revealed that China has a mobile penetration of 95 per cent – 695.3 million people in total according to eMarketer.

At the centre of this proliferation are the three internet giants of Tencent, the owners of social network and payments system WeChat, search engine Baidu and e-commerce giant Alibaba – collectively known as BAT.

Dentsu Aegis Network CSO Nigel Morris

Reiterating Di Como’s point about the streamlined ecosystems removing “friction” in the consumer journey, Dentsu Aegis’ Nigel Morris said: “It moves much smoother in the Tencent environment because everything connects, so you run through the whole consumer journey. Also what really helps is that the data is in one system, so you don’t get those frictions in the way we want to market and in the customer experience. The ability to take branded content into transactional content is much easier.”

“Interestingly on transparency, the integrated nature of these platforms make it much easier to track the consumer, rather than here when you’re trying to work across different walled gardens, different measurements – it becomes very difficult.Given the relative reach of Tencent, you can operate at scale in one ecosystem… the consumer gets to do more.”

He added: “In a lot of Western markets, there is a lot of negative thinking especially in the US and the UK. There is a almost a backward thinking – what are the negatives around AI, data and brand safety. In China there is a much more positive perspective, and from the consumer perspective, a charging into the future and seeing the future as a much more positive thing.”

China was a big topic during the week-long festival, with WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell himself predicting that Chinese technology players like Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei will overtake the “fearsome five” of Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft in dominating the world.

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