Tackling viewability: The pros and cons of MRAID and SDKs

“If an ad doesn’t have an opportunity to be seen, it doesn’t make sense for our clients.” That’s what John Montgomery, chairman of the market moving media agency Group M, had to say on the subject of viewability earlier this year.

Viewability has been a persistent thorn in the side of digital advertisers and publishers alike. The issue of what constitutes a view, and how to ensure that every ad clears that bar has dogged advertisers across desktop display, video, and most recently, mobile ad formats.

The market has offered up two major categories of tools–MRAID and SDKs–to tackle monitoring and measuring viewability. But which one should savvy mobile marketers choose? Let’s get to know the contestants.

MRAID

Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definition, commonly referred to as MRAID, is a set of tags designed to work within mobile apps to measure ad viewability. They grant advertisers access to a standard set of specific data culled directly from the device’s operating system. These points include how much of an ad was in view and for how long, along with specific device information like screen size and ad’s position within it.

Pros:

  • Standardization: Every MRAID enabled device reports the same stats to advertisers, ensuring an apples to apples comparison.
  • Data depth: Device level data tells advertisers more about the environment an ad is running in, not just how long it ran.

Cons

  • Space is limited: With so much space occupied by VAST measurement tags, it’s tough to find room for MRAID tags too.
  • App Only: These app native tags don’t work on the mobile web. So advertisers can only measure watch time without knowing if video plays happened below the fold.

What the industry thinks: “With an MRAID tag you’re in control at the creative level. You’re not relying on the partner to give you something, it’s all built into the creative you’re sending out.” – Sheila Benton, manager of analytics at AKA. 

SDK

Software development kits, or SDKs, are a more bespoke alternative for app publishers looking to publishers to begin serving ads on mobile apps. Unlike the standardized MRAID tags, an SDK allows developers to customize the metrics reported on ads within the app. This makes them both more thorough in their ability to record metrics to taste, and less scalable because every kit can be implemented with different standards.

Pros:

  • Customizable: App developers can choose what data points they record and report.
  • More info: Because it’s programmable, advertisers can ultimately have access to a wider range of information via SDK integrations than they can with standard MRAID signals.

Cons

  • Difficult to scale: Every developer can choose to record different metrics, presenting a challenge for advertisers who want performance standards.
  • Hoodies hold the keys: Control of viewability metrics rests with the app developer rather than the advertiser.

What the industry thinks: “If advertisers are looking to scale then they’re going to have a problem with SDKs. You can get really deep data from some publishers, but you’re not getting the same data points across multiple apps.” – Sheila Benton, manager of analytics at AKA. 

Now you know. Hurry up and pick one.

Whichever step the industry takes, they’re going to have to take it soon. The Media Rating Council threw a new spotlight on the issue in June when it redefined its universal view standards for mobile ads.  The new MRC guidelines–which hold that at least half of the ad must have been on screen for at least one second to count as a view–are forcing advertisers to take another hard look at mobile viewability.

SDK solutions offer deeper and more specific data about how and where ads appear, which is critical for publishers trying to establish viewability. However, they also put all the power in the publisher’s hands creating a variety of granular solutions for a market wide problem.

As Sheila Benton noted, MRAID tags put that power and that data back in the hands of advertisers allowing them to scale measurement quickly across multiple apps rather than working out specific measurement deals with every individual app publishers.

“Using an SDK is great for a publisher, they get more access and you can get better data.” said Sheila Benton, “but for scale, standard [MRAID] tags are really the best option.”

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