Counting Mobile Ads: Setting the Right Impression

Greetings once again from the year of mobile measurement. A couple of months ago I used this column to talk about mobile engagement/interaction metrics, and to issue a call to ensure we’re using reliable, credible metrics to track whether mobile ad campaigns are working.

This time I want to focus on improving mobile currency metrics.

“Currency metrics” refers to the numbers that determine how much the advertiser pays for the campaign. In general, mobile ad contracts are written in terms of sponsorships, cost per action (CPA), or cost per mille, or thousand (CPM). That’s thousands of ad impressions. In order to encourage the highest quality ad metrics, the IAB establishes measurement guidelines, setting requirements for what and how to measure. We encourage companies to undergo audits of their systems and processes to verify compliance.

The IAB, Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), and Media Rating Council (MRC) published an initial set of guidelines for counting mobile web ad impressions a couple of years ago, and our organizations are currently finishing an update to these guidelines. Just last week, we jointly released a brand new guideline for counting application ads (that is, ad impressions served into mobile apps). Together, these two guidelines cover almost all mobile display advertising.

In addition to drawing attention to these new guidelines, I wanted to address a few likely questions about them.

Why separate mobile web and app guidelines?

When we started this project almost three years ago, I hoped that a single set of guidelines could cover all mobile display ads. However, the more we looked at apps versus the mobile web, the more we realized how different the two environments are. The mobile web guidelines are very consistent with the IAB’s existing web impression measurement guidelines, which have set the standard for ad measurement since 2004. Apps are different. For example, the lack of cookies (or any other common device or user identifier) creates a unique set of challenges for measuring ad delivery in applications. Also, apps are much more likely to have offline capabilities, so guidelines for measuring app ads need to be more explicit about taking offline viewing into account. These and other differences mean that ad servers need to distinguish between ads delivered to a browser and ads delivered to an app, and adopt appropriate counting methods for each.

How does this relate to “Making Measurement Make Sense”?

The IAB, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) are currently engaged in a multi-year initiative called Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS). This effort is rethinking digital ad measurement from the ground up, to make it more rigorous and more consistent with the ways that traditional media are measured. IAB measurement efforts, including the application ad measurement guidelines, follow the 3MS principles. The 3MS project is currently establishing a definition of a “viewable impression” for the PC-based web. Viewability should apply to mobile ads, too, so the app guidelines require that ad counts distinguish between viewable, non-viewable, and unknown impressions. This is mainly a placeholder today, with an open definition. Once the 3MS project defines a mobile viewable impression, the app guidelines will apply that definition.

What are the next steps?

The application ad measurement guidelines are currently in their public comment phase. We need feedback from companies across the mobile ad landscape on whether the guidelines are feasible and whether they set a sufficiently high bar for measurement excellence. Following the public comment period, the IAB, MMA, and MRC will make any necessary changes and finalize the guidelines.

After that, we will work to educate agencies and brand marketers about the guidelines and their importance. It’s in the interest of every company selling mobile ads that we earn the confidence of the people writing the checks. Ad impressions, and even viewable impressions, represent the beginning of the measurement saga, not the end of the tale. But getting them right creates a strong foundation for all the other mobile metrics that matter.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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