Mobile Advertising Has A Measurement Problem

Brand investment in mobile advertising is growing quickly — spending is projected to reach $46 billion in 2019, according to Forrester — yet only 1% of those ads receive any type of engagement.

What tools and resources do advertisers and agencies have to report and analyze the 99% of unclicked impressions? These ad impressions have value, but there are only flawed and debatable tools for measurement.

Impressions Shouldn’t Be Wasted

Unclicked ads should not be universally discounted as wasted impressions. A recent Nielsen mobile advertising neuroscience study showed how impressions can influence brand perception. 

Analytics platforms, from Moat to IAS, have focused heavily on viewability by making certain that ads are viewable. Contrary to the IAB standard for viewability, which is “a minimum of 50 percent of pixels in view for a minimum of 1 second,” WPP agency GroupM and Unilever announced earlier this year that they would only count video impressions when 100% of the ad player is in view.

Additional measurement techniques are needed to help the industry gauge the value of a viewable impression, especially on a mobile device where a full-screen, viewable impression means a captivated audience.

Survey Measurement is Flawed

Since the dawn of the commercial Internet, the value of display ad impressions has largely been measured through surveys. These are usually online audiences, segmented by consumers who have and have not seen a marketing campaign or creative and asked to respond to a brand perception questionnaire.

This approach only taps into a person's conscious brain --  a major shortcoming.

Subconscious Brain Activity

According to research from the Laboratory for Cognitive Psychophysiology at the University of Illinois, only five percent of the brain's activity is expended on conscious activity. The remaining brain activity is devoted largely to unconscious processing.

Developing a more comprehensive measurement system for mobile impressions will require tapping deeper into subconscious activity. Wearable devices that track neurological activity are readily available to consumers, from MindWave to MUSE and Melon.

Use eye-tracking

A number of software and hardware companies are developing advanced eye-tracking and emotion-sensing tools, such as Tobii and PredictGaze.

Extending these technologies to work with the front-facing camera on smartphones only makes sense. I predict that Samsung's Smart Scroll feature, which uses eye-tracking software to page up or down, will be deployed for advertising measurement in the not-too-distant future.

To assuage understandable consumer privacy concerns, companies developing this technology would require an opt-in for this type of measurement.

The "cancel event"

Beyond opt-in neurological measurement and eye-tracking measures for signaling actions and interest, we must consider other engagements beyond the click. Analytics companies like Nudge are measuring mouseover time on desktop platforms.

The equivalent to hover time on mobile would be placing your finger down on the screen and pulling it off without actually tapping through. This action, known as a “cancel event” in iOS, is not being tracked by advertisers, but could still signal intent and ad interaction.

Improving the ecosystem

Brands will continue to demand new measurement standards and technologies to better understand the role that impressions play in their digital ad spend.

Digital publishers will benefit, as they will be able to command premiums when ads that are simply seen and not “clicked” have a clear and proven benefit to the advertiser.

And ultimately the consumer will always benefit from more relevant, less interruptive and more engaging advertising creative designed to enhance their experience.


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