China’s removal of link blockage places power back into hands of consumers and advertisers
Chinese regulators have now disallowed link blocking, allowing the free flow of traffic between rival platforms including Alibaba and Tencent. Humphrey Ho, managing director of Hylink Digital, says this is a dramatic power shift from the hands of tech giants into the hands of consumers and advertisers.
The new regulations will provide users with flexibility and the native experience that they want
Link blocking has long sculpted the traffic of China’s 989 million internet users (CNBC, 2021) into a network of walled gardens, where a few dominant tech giants control ubiquitous, yet insulated, sections of the internet. Rival payment functions and e-commerce, social or content-sharing apps were readily stifled by link blocking, preventing the flow of traffic between sites.
As an example, users on Alibaba’s Twitter-like site Weibo would be prevented from linking out to Tencent-owned content giant WeChat. Tencent restricts users from sharing content from ByteDance’s short video app Douyin (TikTok) on its instant messaging apps such as WeChat and QQ (Nikkei Asia, 2021).
However, the new regulatory move by the Chinese government has disturbed the tech landscape. Regulators have now disallowed link blocking, allowing the free flow of traffic between rival platforms. Undoubtedly, this move has powerful ramifications for marketing and advertising agencies.
For starters, this is a dramatic power shift from the hands of tech giants into the hands of consumers and advertisers. The complex linking rules, dictated by the tech giants, have forced marketers to create content tailored to the experience on each platform, with separate budgets. Now advertisers can finally focus on larger cross-platform strategies and execution. The newfound freedom will allow advertising agencies to create and implement marketing strategies focused on their objectives for success. APAC marketers and global marketers will have to change their traditional approach to Chinese markets.
This would include going back to the campaign’s intention, having objective-based sourcing of the correct platforms and applying the cross-linking strategy. It will require markets to ask the right questions: do we divert users to the WeChat chatbot to talk to the correct agents, or do we redirect them to the mini-programs where they could buy the products, or do we simply allow them to continue to browse? Focusing on the quality of conversions and sources of traffic will increase the competition and force the publishers to up their game.
Another profound change is in the consumer experience. China’s consumer journey has turned overnight from three or four separate consumer journeys into one. Consumers want a seamless experience that feels authentic to their needs. Link blockage enforced limitations where consumers often had to ‘copy and paste’ links to visit multiple platforms to receive and access different content, or to complete a promotional task.
This lack of fluidity caused a loss in engagement and revenue, and negatively impacted brand credibility. The new regulations will provide users with flexibility and the native experience that they want. We are likely to see engagement rates increase cross-platform.
From an advertiser standpoint, specifically the China Advertising ID (CAID), the new regulations will increase the adoption of the CAID, allowing a standard for advertisers. Currently, tech platforms each have their own advertiser IDs for marketers. We see this continuing, but the CAID will increase the adoption of cross-platform campaigns in the absence of link-blocking.
The removal of link-blocking will also allow regulators to increase the adoption of the Personal Information Privacy Law (PIPL), increasing privacy protection of users now that a common set of privacy rules can be implemented cross-platform (Insider, 2021). Effectively implementing the CAID is a regulatory win for consumers, who used to have some apps collect over 100 data points.
What does this mean for advertisers? Analyzing the data in this dramatic shift is vital, requiring a solid cross-linkage strategy, as processes such as these will be used for the first time when marketing to the Chinese market.
Global marketers, APAC marketers and local China marketers will now be able to look at the data where consumers convert, transact and engage that in in-line with how campaigns are planned globally – multi-device, multi-app, singular conversion journey. They will be able to choose to spend their money on the best platform that helps them achieve their objectives.
Link unblocking creates a level playing field for global, regional and local marketers alike, as marketing strategies learned in-market can be planned and applied in the market with much more strategic fluidity.
Humphrey Ho is the managing director of Hylink Digital.