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Not to dismiss clicks and impressions, but ?

By Michael Boland

In the early days of television, advertisements mostly consisted of someone standing in front of a camera, reading a script about the smooth taste of Ovaltine or Lucky Strikes.

It took a few years before they evolved into their own medium, and today of course we have much richer, though still highly annoying, TV ads. But those early ads were done that way for one simple reason ? that is how it was done on the previous platform, radio.

This is where we are today with mobile advertising. Though we see glimmers of innovation that calibrate to the realities of the hardware, most marketers take strategies, analytics and campaign objectives directly from the desktop.

Golden age of mobile
Take, for example, the entertainment industry ? currently the largest spender in mobile marketing.

At the recent OMMA Mobile show, I overheard a few agency types boasting about performance metrics for a recent film release campaign.

The campaign objectives were to drive users to a mobile Web site where they would be further ?engaged? with branding or a trailer. I do not dispute the campaign?s success in achieving these goals ? I just think they are the wrong goals.

Put another way, are we putting the cart before the horse if a movie campaign?s objective is to drive users to a Web site? Call me crazy, but shouldn?t the objective be to drive them to a theater to see the actual movie?

This is where the online habit creep comes in. With a stationary desktop computer, certain proxies were relied on as campaign performance indicators, namely clicks and impressions. But we are now dealing with a device that goes with you to the theater, store or car dealership.  

The newly converted
This represents an opportunity, or a missed opportunity, to close the loop on finished conversions, something that has been missing from online advertising ? or most advertising for that matter ? and campaign performance reporting.

I do not mean to dismiss clicks and impressions. They have been strong performance indicators for mobile versus online engagement levels. These are proof points that require apples to apples comparisons ? see the work of InsightExpress and comScore.

But some campaign scenarios can use the mobile device?s portability and location awareness to drive and measure conversions rather than proxies for conversions. Does this mean you wean yourself off the clicks and impressions that have come to define online performance? In some cases, yes.

In other cases, mix clicks and impressions with more actionable cues that meet the mobile device?s portability and position further down the funnel.

For example, upscale auto brand Lexus puts calls to action in its mobile banner ads that indicate the ability to click through to see closest dealers, pricing and inventory.

The Android-based ShopSavvy application is another example, turning the phone into a bar code scanner.

For scanned items the ShopSavvy application retrieves specs, average prices, reviews and the fact that the nearby Target has the item for $20 cheaper and six pieces left.

Other examples include NearbyNow and TheFind.

Some of these essentially turn the mobile device into dynamic coupon generator. This is fitting during times when mobility indicates higher buying intent.

According to our data, 32.5 percent of mobile users are interested in receiving mobile coupons and promotions.

Moving target
One issue is that we have not figured out the mobile uber-metric ? one that captures the way people are truly engaging content and ads. And maybe there should not be just one: would this force a lowest common denominator on a range of mobile interactions, each requiring nuanced measurement?

Therein lies the challenge. Some of the above scenarios are complicated.

The bottom line is not complicated, as it gives advertisers conversions they want. But it is complicated in its departure from the status quo. Coupons also come with their own set of challenges such as fraud and redemption.

Not to mention the products are mostly in early-adopter phases. Should the system of measurement  be turned on its head yet? Most advertisers still are not sold on mobile. Maybe it is not the best time to scare them away with newfangled analytics.

So for now, maybe you keep using what you know, especially in categories more conducive to branding and impressions. But we have to keep pace with the technology in categories where conversions happen offline, which is most. With mobile, the pace will continue to be swift. 

Now, for some reason, I have a sudden urge for Ovaltine. Is there an application for that?

Michael Boland is senior analyst and program director at market researcher BIA/Kelsey, San Francisco. Reach him at .