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Media Ratings Council Issues Final Location-Ad Measurement Standards

'These guidelines will be central in building the type of trusted media environment where geomarketing can flourish, benefitting both consumers and advertisers,' said the IAB's Anna Bager.

The issues of location-based advertising targeting and measurement are getting a bit more clarity with the release of a 45-page set of guidelines by the Media Ratings Council, which produced the rules in conjunction with industry trade groups the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Mobile Marketing Association.

“With the release of the Location Based Advertising Measurement Guidelines, the industry now has a set of recommended practices to serve as a guide in the collection and reporting of location-based data,” said George W. Ivie, Executive Director and CEO of the MRC.

A Changing Mobile-First World

The MRC was established by Congress in the 1960s to serve as a watchdog for TV ratings’ validity in the use of broadcast advertising, and has since gone on to serve as a clearinghouse for all manner of ad measurement procedures, including online and mobile.

“We are quickly moving from a mobile-first world to one that is mobile-only, and the industry needs measurement guidelines that address this shift,” said Anna Bager, SVP/GM for Mobile and Video and the IAB.

The timing of the MRC’s release of its Location Based Advertising Measurement Guidelines comes, coincidentally, as Congress voted to overturn previous FCC rules to give ISPs — such as cable companies — greater ability to sell consumers’ online data. The cable companies had argued that they face greater regulatory hurdles in the commercial use of consumer data versus “internet edge providers” like Facebook and Google, which are subject to FTC rules.

Either way, determining the proper scope of geo-data for advertising is now squarely in the hands of industry decision-makers.

A Process Complete

The main trade groups have been working for over three years to outline best practices for the use and metrics associated with geotargeting and proximity marketing tools such as beacons. This final document is based on guidelines that were previously were issued in draft form for a 30-day public comment period in November.

The guidelines provide basic definitions for location-based measurement terms, in addition to recommended research practices. It also contains advice on disclosures concerning the assignment of device or user location for use in digital advertising measurements.

In that sense, the guidelines are intended as an industry benchmark by which companies that provide location attribution — and there is a great deal of contention among providers in terms of method and accuracy — that determines geo-data sourcing and results for location-based ad campaigns.

“Accurate location data that’s collected in a consistent and transparent manner can greatly add to the richness and utility of the measurements on which digital advertising is bought and sold, and, as such, the release of these Guidelines represents another step in fulfilling the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) mission of producing standards designed to enhance the state of digital advertising measurement,” the MRC’s Ivie noted.

“Location-based advertising is already a key part of many marketers’ strategies, and these guidelines will be central in building the type of trusted media environment where geomarketing can flourish, benefitting both consumers and advertisers,” the IAB’s Bager said.

Preventing Backlash

At a time when regulatory rules governing the use and measurement of location and related online data may be diminishing, there is a good chance that consumers’ privacy fears could be further ignited. Any consumer resistance to ad targeting would therefore ultimately undermine any reduction in government oversight.

The hope of the groups involved in the drafting the MRC’s rules hope to head off any backlash, naturally.

The Location Based Advertising Measurement Guidelines reinforce the MMA’s ongoing commitment to providing brand marketers with transparency and confidence in selecting mobile marketing partners,” said Sheryl Daija, Chief Strategy Officer, MMA. “Specifically, these guidelines provide marketers with further clarity on what they should expect from their location data providers, how to align metrics to their marketing objectives and better leverage mobile’s unique ability to drive business impact.”

The General Rules

Among the most difficult issues for marketers who want to use location data comes down to the sourcing of that information. Those sources, or signals, can come from a variety of channels, including GPS/satellite, wifi, computer IP-addresses, cell phone towers when it comes to pinpointing the specific lat/long the device accessed. Panel-based check-in services — the location-based ad equivalent of a Nielsen diary that contains what a viewer watched on TV — are another popular avenue for accessing location data.

As programmatic advertising has become mainstream, the general purpose for for location advertising is two-fold: there’s the desire to provide real-time ad targeting as well as developing a greater understanding of consumers according to the places they go that provides more actionable insights than mere demographics (age, gender, household income, etc…) can offer.

One of the problems with a source like bidstream data is that its not a persistent signal like wifi or GPS. Bidstream data often depends on a person opening an ad on their phone while they’re in a specific place. The publisher whose ad is opened in that moment receives the data and passes it on to the network or vendor that placed the ad. If that person who saw the placement then goes to a store that was advertised, that visit counts as being “attributed.”

Of course, a phone’s location services records signals from hundreds of places in a given day. The odds of the information being attributed coincidentally (i.e., incorrectly) is a challenge that comes with real-time data platforms.

Quality bidstream location data, like those coming directly from publishers, is generated from the mobile device native location-based services, which use a combination of GPS, wifi, and other signals. That data is then pulled by the app developer via the phone’s SDKs. The process is the same whether the app sends location data via the exchange (bidstream) or direct. Regardless of a location data’s origin, bidstream or direct from publishers, it’s important to filter data and curate sources as well as recognize and filter low-precision signals.

Here’s how the MRC’s guidelines address bidstream data:

“As ad or bid request data may be subject to manipulation and may carry differing levels of accuracy and precision (depending on the source and method used to derive and transmit location data), it should also be subject to robust validation edit rules/qualifying criteria.”

The MRC encourages the use of multiple data sources to corroborate and inspect bidstream data along with the “accuracy/precision parameter requirements.”

In addition, “vendors using ad or bid request data for location determination are strongly encouraged to also employ alternate data sets and algorithms to detect patterns of inaccurate/fraudulent location data and filter it out, with empirical support and disclosure.”

For the most part, the guidelines don’t contain specific requirements for the use of location measurement — however, when it comes to what counts as a viewable impression, the MRC is clear that it must meet certain pixel and time thresholds (minimum 50 percent of the ad’s pixels for 1 or 2 continuous seconds for display and video, respectively.”

As such, as the industry develops, it will be the major providers of location intelligence that will set the rules.

Still, as advertisers demand more transparency and proof of that such advertising does drive brick-and-mortar sales (where 90 percent of consumer purchases are conducted), expect to see these companies differentiate themselves with offerings like xAd’s Cost-Per-Visit guaranteed ad formats and products like Foursquare Analytics, which promises deeper insights into “why, how, when, and where” smartphone-toting consumers eat, shop, and visit, as the rise of connected homes and cars amid the Internet of Things revolution puts the idea of location front and center for consumers and marketers alike.