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The Discrepancies Battle: Reporting From the Front Lines of Mobile Ad Operations

  |  October 23, 2013   |  Comments

The mobile ads operations community faces a number of challenges on a daily basis, not the least of which are disparities in counting ads between an agency's ad server and that of the publisher. Columnist Joe Laszlo from IAB explains.

Ad Operations is simultaneously one of the most important and most thankless digital jobs. When everything goes right with an ad campaign, the ops contribution is invisible and often overlooked. When anything goes wrong, however, ad ops is the first line of defense (and the first group to get blamed).

For those outside that world, I recommend What Happens in Ad Operations, a hilariously not-safe-for-ad-sales blog, where the digital ad ops community commiserates. Add mobile to the mix and the complexities and headaches ratchet even higher.

One everyday challenge for the mobile ad ops community is discrepancies or disparities in counting ads between an agency's ad server and a publisher's ad server. Discrepancies have existed in digital advertising since the dawn of third-party ad serving. However, over a decade of hard-won experience, standards and best practices mean discrepancies for PC-based ad campaigns (mostly) fall into an acceptably low and predictable range.

By contrast, mobile ad count discrepancies vary wildly, from 5 percent to over 50 percent. Frustratingly, it's not always easy to tell why, or to predict from one campaign to the next which will be highly discrepancy-ridden and which will fall within reasonable bounds.

This year, the IAB Mobile Center hosted a couple of industry dialogs, bringing buyer and seller ops experts together to discuss identifying and addressing discrepancies.

Part of the explanation for the wide variance of mobile discrepancies is the nature of the mobile beast. These are the usual litany things that make everything in mobile challenging: the array of device types, operating systems (and versions thereof), and apps all creating opportunities for counts to go awry, as does the intermittent nature of mobile connectivity as devices move in and out of coverage.

However, our industry conversations led to the conclusion that the most common root causes of mobile discrepancies will be very familiar to anyone who has dealt with the issue in the desktop world: human error, timing of ad calls, and differences in vendors' reporting and targeting capabilities.

The IAB is helping address the discrepancy problem. Getting ad servers to use consistent baseline standards for mobile impression measurement (for example, using client-side, not server-side, counting methodologies) will almost certainly reduce discrepancies. We issued just such guidelines earlier this year for apps and mobile web; now we need ad servers to move into compliance with and be audited against them.

Summarizing our industry conversations, IAB recently published Mobile Discrepancies: Exploring Common Root Causes. This piece recommends that campaign timelines build in steps to test campaign reporting (not just creative) before launch.

A major source of discrepancy headaches arises when the ad servers incorrectly think they are tracking the same thing. For example, location-targeted campaigns will inevitably run into problems if one ad server tracks geolocation based on the device's GPS, while the other relies on IP address. Both parties may think they are talking about the same thing, i.e.: whether the user appropriately saw an ad based on where they were. Yet the data will never match up.

Understanding mobile discrepancies and establishing lines of communications to address them are key steps for the maturation of mobile advertising, but the mobile ad ops plate is very full beyond that. Making sure that ad creative will actually work on mobile devices and handling the issues that arise as the not-yet-standardized mobile world moves to enable programmatic buying are also big challenges.

The complexities of the contemporary ad ops world-including those mobile adds to the mix-shape the agenda of the upcoming IAB Ad Ops Summit, another chance to commiserate, but also to learn and share best practices.

Although Thanksgiving is still a month away, I'd like to say a hearty thank you to the mobile ad ops community (and especially members of our Mobile Ad Ops Working Group). You're the unsung heroes making mobile advertising happen.


Joe Laszlo

As the senior director of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, Joe Laszlo plays a key role furthering the center's mission of growing the mobile interactive industry. Joe manages many of the IAB's mobile standardization, best practices, and research projects; advises both buyers and sellers of mobile media; and oversees the IAB's Mobile Committee and Tablet Committee.

Joe served as the IAB's director of research from 2007 through 2010, also managing the IAB's Mobile Committee for much of that time. During his IAB career, Joe has led IAB projects including: writing buyer's guides to mobile and tablet advertising; standardizing mobile rich media advertising; and working with the Mobile Marketing Association and MRC to establish guidelines for counting mobile web and in-app ad impressions.

Prior to the IAB, Joe had an eight-year tenure at Jupiter Research, where he started researching and writing about mobile interactivity in 2000.

Joe holds an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and a BA from Columbia. He lives in Manhattan.

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