Book Smart Doesn’t Rule in China

If you have spent enough time in China, you know the advertising business is always a struggle of street smart versus book smart. In this column, I’d like to summarise some advertising practices in China and share them with you.

First, I have been questioning Baidu for controlling the search data. Google looks at the whole PPC universe as an ecosystem. It believes that opening search data will facilitate advertisers and eventually will be at Google’s advantage when the advertisers buys keywords from the search engine.

On the contrary, Baidu’s keyword tool is technically not a free tool. You need to open an account, deposit the money, and then you can use the tool. If you want to develop a tool using Baidu’s API, you need to be qualified according to your business relationship with Baidu. Even though China’s search advertising market is worth over 10 billion yuan, surprisingly you cannot find more than five or even less good keyword tools. It is not about technical deficiency. Instead, it is because the Chinese search engine has yet to open its gate.

Recently, I also learned a case about a Chinese domain name registrar who without notifying his client changed a domain name status to ‘CLIENT HOLD’. If a domain name is on ‘client hold’ status, no DNS record will be resolved, meaning that the website of the domain name is out of service. The incident happened coincidentally with the domain name registrar who is also a subsidiary of Alibaba and the affected domain name is the competitor of Alibaba!

Now there is a campaign in China to promote, not to register the domain name with any Chinese domain name registrar in order to avoid wrongful or vaguely imposed policy. I also found a banner message (see below) in Chinese saying “Oppose Internet hegemony and advocate the regulation for domain name registration.”

As a marketer who believes in the scientific approach, having autonomy to manage my own ad plan is important, especially for digital advertising that is so dynamic and fast moving. Ironically, when the ad world is moving towards openness, China’s advertising market is moving backward – data as the key ingredient for a successful digital advertising campaign is actually a scarcity.

As we know, there is no easy market in the business world. Don’t be evil or do evil can be a subjective consciousness. My experience of doing advertising business in China is both exhausting and exciting. And my advice for you is to seek your own balance and don’t ever think that the book smart will always rule.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.