Proving Mobile’s Contribution To Marketing A Work In Progress

The explosion in mobile use in the past few years has put pressure on brands to play catch-up on the advertising side. That’s heightened the need not only for ad creative and formats tailored to mobile screens but new ways to gauge their performance.

Proving Mobile’s Contribution To Marketing A Work In Progress

From the Internet of Things to visual search to virtual reality, there were no shortage of buzzy trends and technologies showcased at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year.

But in a keynote talk, Sir Martin Sorrell offered a bit of a (nonvirtual) reality check at the industry’s biggest annual bash, stating “the mobile revolution still hasn’t registered yet with companies,” in part, because of lingering questions about mobile measurement.

“People are not sure of the [return on investment],” he said.

The WPP chief is hardly the first to note the challenges of measuring advertising in a highly fragmented medium that lacks the cookie-level tracking of the desktop Internet. But the explosion in mobile use in the past few years has put pressure on brands to play catch-up on the advertising side.

That’s heightened the need not only for ad creative and formats tailored to mobile screens but new ways to gauge their performance. That effort is still very much a work in progress, with measurement standards and practices in mobile gradually emerging.

“It’s like the early days of digital or, in some respects, the early days of TV,” said Lou Paskalis, SVP, enterprise media executive, at Bank of America. When it comes to judging the effectiveness of mobile advertising, he suggested marketers have to adapt their metrics to fit the medium.

That means less emphasis on traditional digital benchmarks, such as clicks or views, and more focus on users’ attitudes and sentiment because of the more personal nature of mobile phones versus PCs.

“I want something hyper-relevant to me based on my mindset, my motivation, my need state, and my relationship with you as a brand—those are the four corners of how we redefine ROI in mobile,” Paskalis told “Where we’re measuring the impact based on a more long-term view of a customer than one single transaction at a moment in time.”

Mobile Investment

That view reflects how Bank of America approaches mobile advertising. Most of its mobile budget goes to Twitter, Facebook, and other popular social platforms rather than standard display ads across a network of sites or apps. The focus is on building a long-term presence on those properties rather than relying on quick-hit banners.

But while Facebook provides marketers a trove of user data for ad targeting and reporting, Paskalis said the means of closely gauging consumer attitudes in mobile aren’t in place yet. “You want to get down to what are the consistent signals of brand love over time,” he said.

Given the uncertainty around mobile ad effectiveness, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) in recent years has undertaken research to assess the value of investing in mobile compared to other media categories. Its latest “SMoX” report suggested companies should be allocating from 7% to 15% of their marketing budgets to mobile.

The study examined “in-market campaigns” from Coca-Cola, Walmart, MasterCard, and AT&T, concluding that mobile “has a fervent contribution to campaign results, justifying a double-digit allocation of the entire media budget.”

In MasterCard’s case, for example, the findings showed mobile was the second strongest driver of image (as an upper-funnel metric) after TV. “What we found out was that the share of impact from mobile was twice as good as the share of the budget we invested,” said Michael Donnelly, SVP, global digital marketing, at MasterCard.

Donnelly, who also serves as North American chair of the MMA, declined to say what proportion of MasterCard’s marketing spend is devoted to mobile, but called it a “very significant part of the marketing mix.”

Even for businesses with different objectives, Donnelly suggested that traditional measures of ad effectiveness, from increasing awareness to sales, can be applied to mobile. The MMA, he told, has recently begun a new research project focused on mobile attribution, “really trying to prove ROI through all steps of exposure.”

While industry groups try to show mobile advertising works, they’re still putting in place the building blocks for uniform ad measurement. The latest initiative involves extending the ad viewability standard adopted for the desktop in 2014 to mobile.

Last May, the Media Rating Council (MRC) issued interim guidance on mobile viewable impression measurements that employs the same framework for ads on the mobile Web and within apps as on the desktop—50% of pixels must be in view for one second for display and two seconds for video to be counted as an impression.

The MRC released an updated draft of the guidelines for public comment on April 1, with a final version expected later in the second quarter. One of the thorniest issues encountered in adapting the viewability measure for mobile has to do with ads appearing in mobile newsfeeds, also known as native ads.

“We’ve been working hard to see if those ads need to be treated differently from a viewability standpoint because of the unique nature of those environments,” said David Gunzareth, SVP and associate director of the MRC.

It’s no trifling matter. Consider, for example, that Facebook’s mobile in-feed ads accounted for 80% of its $5.6 billion in ad revenue in the fourth quarter of 2015. For Twitter, the proportion of mobile native ads rises to 90% of revenue.

For now, newsfeed ads will have to meet the same measurement criteria as other display ads, pending further analysis and feedback during the 30-day comment period.

Then there’s the fact that ads often take longer to render on mobile devices than on the desktop, which can prolong the process of counting whether an ad was in view for the required time. On a PC it wouldn’t matter, but in mobile it could contribute to draining a phone’s battery life.

“These are the kinds of things that come into play in mobile that really weren’t issues with desktop,” Gunzareth told

On its to-do list, the MRC also has developing rules for cross-platform measurement. A growing array of companies, from Google to analytics startups, have rolled out services to track individual users across screens. “There’s this race to try to figure out how we correlate this known person on the Web with this mass of unknown devices, and the people behind those devices,’” said Matt Asay, VP, mobile, at Adobe (’s parent company).

Mobile Video

Advertisers and agencies can’t stand still as standards and tools evolve for the mobile era. For now, video is seen as format that’s adapted surprisingly well to mobile, both in terms of brand impact and measurability.

“Mobile video is probably the closest thing you can get to branding in mobile when it’s a pre-roll before compelling content the user wants to see,” said Michael Kaushansky, EVP, chief data officer, at Havas Media. And metrics such as views and completion rates give insight on engagement, he told

“[Video] has proven to be extremely efficient, especially in the mobile space, where one of the big struggles brands have is running a typical brand campaign because of the size of the device and size of banner ads,” noted David Marine, VP, consumer engagement, at Coldwell Banker.

He pointed out that its cost-per-view of a mobile video ad on Facebook or YouTube comes in at under five cents, much lower than what it would pay on a CPM basis for a banner ad. And with more than half the real-estate giant’s digital traffic coming from mobile and growing, extending video ads to devices is a logical step.

Still, Marine acknowledged there’s work to be done in creating industry rules for video ads, related to things like length of pre-rolls and auto-play. “There’s still a lot of ambiguity around video standards when it comes to mobile,” he told