Making Sense Of Mobile Measurement

Earlier this year, I moderated a panel on mobile measurement where I asked the group to summarize the state of that field in a single word.  Unsurprisingly, nobody said “blissful.”  The words that came first to mind were more like “confused,” “limiting,” “evolving,” or “chaotic,” or my own answer: “nascent.”

Much has been written about the challenges facing mobile measurement.  For example, the IAB’s Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence (MMCoE) released an overview in early October, available here. Somewhat less has been written about industry efforts to address those challenges, and so I would like to review briefly the IAB’s game plan for improving one aspect of the nascent mobile measurement universe.

First, a clarification. People (including me) tend to oversimplify and talk about “metrics” or “measurement” like it’s monolithic.  That’s sometimes useful, but in digital media measurement is composed of at least four distinct topics:


  • Planning: metrics to assess how to place a media buy.
  • Currency: metrics that determine how much media a buyer actually got, and therefore how big the check should be.
  • Analytics: metrics that help the media company understand consumer behavior and improve consumer experience.
  • Effectiveness: metrics that help marketers understand if their campaigns performed as expected, e.g., generated sales, raised consumer awareness, etc.


All of these specialties within mobile measurement would benefit from greater standardization and consistency, along with better trust and transparency.  To keep this from becoming a multi-volume epic, I’ll focus on the vital “currency” category.

The biggest project on the measurement agenda of the broader IAB these days is called “Making Measurement Make Sense,” or 3MS.  This is an industry-wide initiative -- jointly run by the IAB, the ANA (the Association of National Advertisers) and the 4As (the American Association of Advertising Agencies) -- that aims to develop digital metrics and advertising currency to facilitate cross-platform measurement and evaluation of media.  3MS aims to transform today’s cumbersome supply chain into a simple, transparent one that permits efficient planning, buying and evaluating of digital media in a cross-platform world.  Although 3MS is currently focused on PC-based digital measurement, it will certainly shape the mobile world as well. 

For example, core principles published this summer by 3MS call for a steady transition to more audience-based metrics for media currency, importantly including a move from ad impressions served to “viewable impressions” as a key metric.  This has a definite impact on IAB mobile projects.  The IAB MMCoE is currently working with the Media Rating Council and the Mobile Marketing Association to establish industry guidelines for measuring in-app ads.  Knowing that Web metrics will transition to viewable impressions will impact what we define and codify in these guidelines.

Of course, the impression (or whatever more audience-centric metric supplants it) is only one way to charge for digital advertising.  The Web world has long offered a laundry list of different pricing models, sometimes glibly summarized as cost-per-whatever.   A world where nearly anything is measurable is wonderful, but also confusing, and that is one reason for the unfortunate reality that cost-per-click (CPC) is a common web model now being imported into mobile.

CPC is easy.  It’s straightforward.  And for many kinds of campaigns and goals -- and particularly for many kinds of mobile advertising experiences -- it’s completely inappropriate as a pricing model. 

Helping the mobile ad industry identify interaction (or to use a loaded word, “engagement”) metrics that are better than clicks will be the opposite of easy.  We will likely start by simply outlining all the metrics used for selling today -- whether based on time, taps, or other things.  Generating the laundry list makes it feasible to identify which metrics are most widely used, and which are most meaningful.  We hope that by starting this process early in the evolution of mobile media, we can establish better interaction metrics faster, avoiding the click trap.

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