Clorox‘s Vivian Chang: Why Brands Can’t Quit Walled Gardens

As Vice President of Growth for The Clorox Company‘s direct-to-consumer group, Vivian Chang works to create or amplify e-commerce experiences for dozens of brands, ranging from Brita and Burt‘s Bees to RenewLife and the newly launched Objective Wellness.

She‘s running marketing, brand and creative functions as she helps Clorox acquire and retain customers and grow loyalty. To achieve those goals, the company often finds itself directing spend toward the largest tech platforms — aka the Facebook and Google walled gardens — despite knowing that the walled gardens are out of balance with the web.

“The audience is there, regardless of how you want to cut the pie,” Chang says. “As long as the audience is there, they still hold a lot of leverage.”

Clorox maintains strong relationships with the platforms to understand how they are introducing and reacting to major system changes, including the impending death of third-party cookies and restrictions on Apple‘s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA). In turn, the walled gardens communicate their beta programs, policy rationale and recommendations for how Clorox can use the platforms more effectively.

“It is one-on-one partner conversations of what to do within the Facebook ecosystem, and then the Google and Amazon ecosystems, and trying to maximize as much as possible within each,” Chang says. “But are those ecosystems talking to each other? Absolutely not.”

In the first of a two-part interview, CafeMedia spoke to Chang about how Clorox evaluates where to spend its advertising dollars and where it finds its audiences.

Where is the growth right now? What channels are working best for you?

We do try to diversify as much as possible, including even offline channels like DRTV, direct mail, podcasts and audio. But the core spend still goes to Google, Facebook and the affiliate channels of the world. As much as we look to do more with display or online video, we see ourselves shifting spend, oftentimes still prioritizing these walled gardens, which is tough as a marketer since there isn‘t as much transparency and control. It‘s not necessarily our favorite place to play, but it‘s really hard to walk away from those results, and also the audience engagement is there.

Are there other walled gardens breaking through, like Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter types? Or is it still Google and Facebook?

It really is still Google, Facebook, and I‘d say Amazon is the closest third. For our businesses, we also sell on Amazon, and we absolutely support Amazon advertising. We‘re doing less Amazon advertising to drive [consumers] back to the core website, but that is increasingly a part of media plans across the Clorox brands.

The other social platforms are still small. It‘s a little bit more of younger audiences, lower sales or purchase behavior being seen there.

Facebook has a long history of claiming results, and if you took all the results that Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple claim as 100 percent their own, it would probably far exceed your total e-commerce sales. How does that play into your assessment of how effective each channel is?

We do look at it internally based on what we can track, and that can be everything from traffic lifts, where we will run different lift tests, different media mixes across different DMAs and then, ultimately, purchase transactions. We grade it mostly by what we can see from internal data versus what the platforms are reporting.

We also put weight against consumer-reported [data] for how they heard about us or why they are engaging with the brand. And I do think Facebook and some of the social platforms are a more engaging and stickier experience than other publishers on the open web.

Does that make it harder to buy on the open web and open programmatic?

I think it‘s tough. I believe in it, but…these walled gardens have honestly done a really good job of building in all of the different costs, whether it‘s ad serving or audience costs, and making it look attractive by still being able to generate strong, competitive CPCs [costs per click] and performance down funnel. What used to be the argument of better transparency, supply-path optimization — all of these important levers — are not really playing out in transactions.

Are you doing any more work directly with publishers, like the more old-school advertising approach?

We are, yes. There are a lot more content partnerships, and we‘re going straight to the Merediths, the Hearsts and so forth. Instead of what used to be ‘Let‘s get to scale, let‘s go find that audience across everything,‘ I think we‘re taking that step back. Now, we‘re asking, ‘What‘s contextually relevant? How do we really integrate into the editorial?‘ That‘s more of the approach we‘re taking.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.