Programmatic uptake continued its rapid rise last year, and the extent to which it has transformed media buying has become especially clear in mobile advertising.

There hasn’t always been a consensus on its potential, of course. Initially, it was seen as a threat to traditional planners, and many marketers, advertisers, and publishers were slow to pick it up.

Attitudes have changed, though, with premium publishers and brands understanding that programmatic boosts media planners’ capabilities and supercharges their ability to build and control a campaign – and the data behind it – at a far more granular level.

New perspective

When once planners were bulk buying media based on aggregated reports from an Excel spreadsheet, they can now have a direct and more detailed view of the media and the target audience, build and manage their own campaigns and obtain a clear view on a campaign and ad optimisation.

Programmatic algorithms mean this new level of perspective can also be analysed on a real-time basis and across many more variables than a human with an excel sheet could ever process. They also allow campaigns to be automatically optimised ‘on-the-go’.

Equipped with the functionality to plan campaigns on a ‘per impression’ and ‘per user’ basis, marketers can learn about their audiences and plan smarter campaigns. Examples include specific campaigns for new customers alongside different offers for dormant or legacy customers, or campaigns segmented to users that planners know have shown certain previous behaviours.

So once you’ve fine-tuned it in this way, to what extent is it possible to measure the performance and bottom-line return on your programmatic spend?

Overcoming challenges

It’s now possible to measure actual engagement with mobile-first tools, and despite common beliefs, the technology required to measure the return on a mobile ad investment, particularly in inventory seen within apps, is already in place.

However, this ability to source accurate measurements comes with a caveat.

From basic ad viewability to user engagement that justifies ROI, the main challenges to overcome for proper attribution, beyond the ones related to cross-channel attribution that exists in any other advertising channel, are actually non-technical ones. While the tools exist, they are often not considered ‘reliable’ by the big players. This is largely because the technology required for proper measurement is not used by the vendors that have established themselves as the standard in the digital advertising world.

Many measurement tools currently available are desktop-first solutions. This compounds the challenge of justifying ROI on a mobile ad spend, as their ability to accurately measure and attribute in mobile, especially with in-app inventory, is very limited.

The right way

To accurately measure ROI on a mobile campaign and avoid wasting advertising money on mobile, the first step is to be aware of – and then compensate and account for – some of the issues inherent in measuring with desktop-first solutions. Otherwise, advertisers will be left thinking that mobile does not work.

So, effective mobile ad measurement to justify ROI in a particular campaign is a question of trusting the right technology providers: first for tracking and attribution, and then for automatic optimisation based on all information gathered. They do exist, even if they aren’t mobile specialists.

As an industry, we all need to figure out how to approach this alignment so that measurement tools operate in the interest of everyone.

With the growing pace of mobile influence, accurate viewability guarantees and ROI measurement are likely to become key differentiators within the mobile advertising ecosystem.