Although the Media Rating Council‘s big story from the IAB Canada Spring Mixx conference was that it thinks viewability measurement is ready for widespread use, executive director George Ivie had a lot more to say about what the MRC is doing in ad verification, mobile and cross-platform measurement.
Ivie spoke about the way the MRC’s role has changed as the pace of digital invention has accelerated. “We have been way more proactive in the standards-setting arena, because of the dynamics of the marketplace. You just can’t sit back and let all this envelop you,” he said. “Quite honestly, we’re always behind the curve. People develop products way faster than we can set standards.”
Together with the IAB, the MRC has played a pivotal role in setting international standards on measurement in digital media. Although MRC accreditation is not part of a legal framework in the U.S. or elsewhere, measurement providers can voluntarily seek accreditation to assure clients that their measurement rests on sound science. The MRC is currently involved in more than 100 audits of measurement products in 12 countries, including BBM in Canada.
Only 9.4% of advertisers’ digital spend in Canada went to mobile advertising in 2013, despite the fact that Canadians are spending 50% of their online time on mobile. One of the biggest stumbling blocks has been mobile measurement, which so far lacks the broad capabilities and rigour of desktop measurement. The MRC hopes to change that with its guidelines for mobile web and in-app measurement, released in July 2013.
The MRC’s standards for browser-based mobile advertising are very similar to those for the desktop web, but in-app measurement is a whole other beast, according to Ivie. “We think the app standard is a critical, critical standard,” he said.
For instance, the app standard requires that when claiming an app’s reach, publishers have to differentiate between users that have downloaded, opened and used the app, rather than using only download counts to establish circulation. “One big thing that who sell on apps nowadays aren’t doing well is qualifying the universe that they’re talking about,” Ivie said. “You might have the greatest niche app that users take to bed with them at night. But if it’s only 12 users, you should tell somebody it’s only 12 users.”
The MRC has so far accredited four providers for mobile measurement: Apple iAds, FreeWheel, ADTECH and Medialets.
From the MRC’s perspective, cross-platform measurement is young and untested. The Council hasn’t released any cross-platform guidelines yet, and has refrained from accrediting the major cross-platform tools, Nielsen XCR and Google Active GRP.
“There are two components,” Ivie said. “One is, how do you calculate a digital GRP properly? And the second is, once you’ve got good digital GRPs, how do you combine television and digital GRPs on an apples-to-apples basis? Those two are very difficult.”
Ivie said that the MRC does have some expectations of what cross-platform guidelines will include. For one, cross-platform measurement will need to focus on ads and ad campaigns, rather than the content it runs in. The MRC will also define appropriate equations for digital GRPs, so advertisers can be confident they’re getting meaningful numbers without looking under the product’s hood.
The MRC plans to investigate methodology for cross-platform attribution and conversion tracking as well.
“That is the problem of our time: how, in a valid way, to attribute audience to transactions,” Ivie said.
Ad verification and fraud detection
The MRC has released standards for ad verification and begun accrediting measurement providers in this area.
Third-party ad verification providers track an ad from bid to pageview to confirm that it’s delivered to the audience and context that was promised by the supplier. The MRC’s guidelines identify five verification service lines: site context (was the ad served in brand-appropriate content?), geotargeting (was the ad served in the right geo?), ad placement (did the ad’s size and page placement match what was purchased?), competitive separation (was the ad served next to a competitive ad or multiple impressions of the same ad?), and fraud detection.
Ivie highlighted the importance of non-human traffic (NHT) measurement, which tracks digital campaigns’ exposure to impression fraud. At the request of several providers, the MRC is considering closed-door NHT audits; however, unlike other forms of measurement, NHT detection has to be constantly evolving to address new forms of suspicious activity. That makes it difficult for the MRC to set clear standards to judge providers against.
Ivie also noted that it’s important for the MRC to back NHT detection technology so that buyers and sellers will finally have a reliable and accurate estimate of how much fraud is out there. That number could go a long way to instilling trust in the marketplace.