A closer look at the audience buy buzz in China

A closer look at the audience buy buzz in China

March 29th, 2013 // 4:14 pm @ // No Comments

The latest buzz in media has definitely been the concept of “audience buy”. This buying concept essentially changes the operating model between brands, media agencies, and publishers. The traditional way of digital media buying usually consists of media agencies buying display ads directly with publishers. Agencies determined which publishers to buy based on the matching of publisher user profile and brand target audience profile.

The old way focused on reaching the target audience thru publishers, hence the term media buying. But the digital eco-system is enormous and ever-growing, and consumers are continually seeking content across multiple publishers. For cost reasons, we obviously can’t buy all those publishers. So here’s where audience buy comes in, because what brands care most about are the digital consumer behaviors across different publishers. Hence our focus in audience buy is placed entirely on buying the “right” digital behavior based on various targeting technologies and cross publisher ad serving.

Now all this sounds great conceptually, but is audience buy really a one size fits all solution for brands? Is programmatic audience buying really going to kill off direct media buy? Well, let’s take a closer look at the audience buy model and evaluate.

Media Objective Evaluation

First let’s evaluate if audience buy is really the right buying model for your brand. We can determine that by looking at the primary digital media objectives of your brand. From an industry perspective, FMCG brands are primarily focused on branding across mainstream digital channels; Finance, Insurance, and many B2B brands are focused on lead generation thru some sort of a registration process.

With branding as a primary objective, FMCG brands are the least suitable for the audience buy model, because most of these brands have traditionally always worked with large mainstream digital channel such as portals and online video sites. Now these brands will still want to maintain a direct relationship with publishers for PR bargaining power, this is especially true in China. The other reason being that lots of publishers in China are realizing the growing popularity of audience buy, hence they’ve invested a lot in various content cooperation efforts in recent years. Content cooperation can range from making a micro-film to creating a brand sponsored column or BBS activity. Publishers will often bundle in display ads with content cooperation, so brands still see value in direct media buy. But that doesn’t mean that FMCG brands can ignore audience buy completely, it can still serve a purpose in campaigns where budget is limited and the brand wants to support the main communication channel with a mixture of different targeted publishers.

However, lead generation brands are very suitable for the audience buy model. The primary reasons are these brands’ focus on accurate targeting and action oriented result. Many B2B brands have a very niche target, for example construction, occupational safety, or IT hardware. While many of them do conduct direct buying with category verticals, the more effective lead generation channels have always been performance based such as SEM. Hence, the benefits of using audience buy for B2B brands are two-fold: wide targeting options, and cost efficiency. Traditionally B2B targeted their consumers online thru buying only category verticals instead of large mainstream portals. But that severely limits ad serving impressions because it only catches consumers when they are browsing the vertical site itself. With audience buy, we can target these niche consumers even when they are browsing portals and other non-related websites based on their historical browsing behavior. From a cost perspective, most publishers charge on a CPM basis, but what these B2B brands care about is not impressions but leads. Hence, audience buy can utilize CPC or even CPA method for the long term. This places the focus entirely on the action and sales lead instead of paying for displaying the ad.

Audience Buy Options in China

Now that we evaluated if audience buy is right for your brand, let’s look at some different buying methods in China for you to consider. I’d like to categorize these buying methods primarily by targeting methodology:


    1. Media List – this is one of the simplest ways for targeting, which is thru a list of publishers. This method is usually used to target multiple relevant mainstream category verticals covering fashion, food, automotive, and IT industries. However, if your target audience is very niche and won’t be found on mainstream verticals, then consider some of the below methods.
    2. Contextual – this targeting mechanism is based on setting a combination of keywords that resembles the brand’s target audience, and then serve the ads if the keyword appears on the website content. This method is usually used to broaden the brand awareness by extending the reach to consumers that are actively browsing relevant content.
    3. Search History – this targeting mechanism works by tracking a user’s browsing history in the search engine based on cookies then serving the relevant ads that matches user search intent. Both Baidu Web Union and Google Display Network utilize this method


  1. Transaction History – this targeting method rides on the booming growth of eCommerce in China for the past couple of years. Since Taobao is one of the dominant B2C eCommerce channels in China, many Taobao and Tmall brands utilize this type of ads to boost their eCommerce sales. Because if the consumer have bought similar products before, then ad is very relevant.
  2. Cross Media Browsing History – this form of targeting is the most sophisticated using a combination of a DSP, SSP, and DMP platform. All the targeting data are gathered from cookies across ads served on multiple publishers. These cookies are then analyzed and each individual consumer cookie gets numerous interest and industry tags. Hence ads are served when the cookie browsing history matches what the brand desires. Now in western markets, the DMP platforms that stores cookies are relatively mature. But in China, it’s still in its infancy and most of the DMP platforms have evolved out of ad network vendors and other ad serving vendors.
  3. ISP Browsing History – this targeting method is mostly likely unique to China as in western market it would be considered an infringement of privacy. The mechanism works by cooperating with ISP on entire user browsing history, and then the ISP’s serve the ads thru a pop-up that non-native to the publisher. The ads will load even before the website, because the ISP intercepts the request and serves the ad first.

So as you can see from the numerous interesting targeting methods and companies, audience buy is certainly a growing trend in China. But before jumping on the bandwagon, we must closely examine our own digital media objectives. Then make an informed decision based on what’s really important to our brand.

This article was written for ClickZ

Category : Blog &Digital Marketing &Featured

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