Commentary

An MRAID For Measurement

At an IAB Mobile Center board meeting last year, a very smart senior marketer at a major financial institution said that the industry needed an “MRAID for Measurement.”  I was thoroughly gratified by that statement -- MRAID (it stands for mobile rich-media ad interface definitions) has been one of my proudest IAB accomplishments -- but a little surprised, too:  as an under-the-hood creative API, MRAID is not necessarily something I’d expect a senior brand marketer to have on his radar. 

My interpretation of that statement was that the chaos of mobile metrics created a need for a common framework for defining, tracking, and reporting ad measurement data.  However, when I talked to the relevant IAB working groups about this concept, the response was generally “We have to make sure the existing MRAID spec is working right first,” or “Other things are more important.”  So we shelved the notion and moved on.  Move forward a year (an eternity in the mobile world!) and I think this is a concept whose time has come.

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In September, my colleague Sherrill Mane wrote a piece titled “Pret-a-Mesure,” declaring that the industry needs and wants a “Making Mobile Measurement Make Sense.” If you’re a fan of metrics initiative acronyms, that’s “4MS,” a next phase of the existing “3MS” initiative of the 4A’s, ANA, IAB, and MRC.  The preliminary conversations I’ve been having about the challenges of mobile app measurement make last year’s prescient MRAID call-to-action newly relevant.

We’ve long been aware that, advertising-wise, the mobile app world differs from the mobile Web world -- but often, where measurement’s concerned, that conversation begins and ends with the lack of cookies in apps.  However, the lack of cookies is really a symptom of a bigger divergence between the browser-based Web and mobile apps, which in many ways are a black box for advertisers. 

PC and mobile browsers constitute a known and well-understood platform for advertisers.   Browsers don’t play favorites; their job is to render Web content correctly on a device screen.  And browsers are trusted — by publishers and advertisers alike — not to discriminate by content type or server.  They download code and they render pages, images, video, Flash, HTML5, or whatever, impartially.  They ping servers back impartially, too.  So advertisers have been able to trust that browsers are receiving and displaying their ads.

By contrast, with native mobile apps advertisers don’t generally get to see an app’s source code to verify that it’s doing what it claims when it comes to rendering or counting ads. Besides, there are far too many apps for any marketer or agency to test and certify each one. Software development kits (SDKs) for mobile advertising help simplify things, removing some of the variation that would exist if each app wrote its ad display and counting systems “from scratch.”  Getting audited against IAB’s Mobile App Ad Measurement Guidelines would provide an assurance of reliability, as well — but too few marketers today insist on mobile ad counting audits from their partners. More should!  Even that may not be enough to really prove that marketers get what they pay for with in-app ads.  We may need to go beyond standardizing the measurement processes, to actually get inside the app “black box” and standardize some of the code that tracks and reports.

This is where MRAID comes in.  MRAID today standardizes how an ad communicates with a “container” — the part of the app that manages what the ad looks like and how it behaves.  A prospective MRAID for Measurement would go beyond appearance to standardize how an ad (and/or the ad server that sent that ad) would query the container about when and for how long it was onscreen, if it was viewed while the device was offline, and other metrics, too.

We’re not launching a project… yet.  We still need to work out the timing. It’s probably best to let 4MS establish some measurement standards before we leverage MRAID or something like it as the way to implement them.  But IAB is thinking seriously about this, and we want to start a wider conversation in the industry about what mobile ad measurement guidelines should require, and what technical standards are needed to make those guidelines work in mobile apps.

1 comment about "An MRAID For Measurement".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, November 25, 2014 at 11:11 a.m.

    Ouch!

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