Blog Article

CPM and CPC: understanding mobile advertising rates

October 1, 2020

In this installment in our Mobile UA 101 series, we’ll explore the difference between CPM and CPC payment models.

Mobile is an essential advertising channel, especially for app marketers, but each deployment has a cost. That’s why ad spend efficiency is crucial: Marketers must optimize campaign performance by choosing mobile advertising rates that align with their goals. In 2020, CPM (cost-per-mille) and CPC (cost-per-click) pricing models remain popular, though models like CPI (cost-per-install) and CPA (cost-per-action) are also crucial for app marketers. Each model is well-suited to particular marketing goals — here’s our guide to CPM and CPC in the world of mobile advertising.

Need a primer on mobile game and app marketing? Check out Mobile User Acquisition 101: A Beginner's Guide.

Jump to a section...

What is CPM?

How is CPM calculated?

What is CPC?

How is CPC calculated?

What’s the difference between CPM and CPC?

Choosing between CPM and CPC marketing campaigns

CPM Features

CPC Features

What do CPM and CPC mean for mobile publishers?

Making the most of CPM and CPC


What is CPM?

CPM stands for cost-per-mille, “mille” referring to the Latin word for thousand. In marketing, CPM is the cost advertisers pay for every thousand impressions during a campaign. The model is commonly applied to various advertising formats, including web ads, television, and even radio. Now that digital technologies let marketers access more impression data, CPM has become a far more precise performance indicator.

Today, CPM advertising has an essential role in mobile app ecosystems. An impression is typically counted when an advertisement displays at least one pixel for one second, whether it’s a video, interactive experience, or full-screen interstitial. For this reason, a single well-optimized ad can generate brand awareness for thousands — perhaps even millions, depending on the campaign’s scope.

How is CPM calculated?

Cost-per-mille is calculated by dividing the total cost of an ad campaign by the overall impressions, then multiplying the result by 1000. In the programmatic ecosystem, advertisers and demand-side platforms (DSPs) bid in real-time for ad inventory — essentially bidding on individual impressions. Depending on the campaign parameters, each bid will result in a different payout. For example, an advertiser that bids an average of $0.0002 per impression to show an interstitial ad would achieve a $0.20 CPM for the campaign.  

What is CPC?

CPC stands for cost-per-click, one of the most common online advertising models. Originally designed for desktop web pages, CPC campaigns track the number of clicks and interactions with displayed advertisements. As users transitioned to smartphones and mobile apps, CPC ad models came with them. On mobile, the parameters of CPC ads quickly expanded beyond single clicks to account for each video, interstitial, or playable interaction on the display screen.

How is CPC calculated?

Sometimes advertisers agree to a flat cost-per-click upfront, but programmatic ad buying has become more common in recent years. As in the CPM example, the programmatic model introduces a layer of complexity. In the RTB ecosystem, advertisers choose their maximum bids and compete in an auction for the ad inventory. In these cases, the ad that wins the bid (and thus the click) will be one cent higher than the second-place maximum bid. The cost-per-click is then calculated by dividing the campaign spend by the total number of clicks.

CPM and CPC: Understanding Mobile Advertising Rates


What’s the difference between CPM and CPC?

CPM and CPC are both useful metrics, but they serve distinct goals. CPM campaigns are ideal for brand building and visibility. If you represent a new brand with an untested app, CPM focuses on putting your campaign on as many screens as possible. Once your awareness increases to the point that users are familiar with you, its time to transition to action-based campaigns a conversion-centric campaign.

What’s more, CPM campaigns can be invaluable for understanding your audience. If your ad is playing on apps frequented by millennial parents, you can tailor services, promotions, and even messaging accordingly. Alternatively, if a high value demographic is interested in your app, CPM campaigns let you test interest beforehand.

CPC, on the other hand, emphasizes conversions and down-funnel events. CPC measures the number of users willing to learn more about your app or install it. While marketers analyze performance from this perspective, they can better target focus on the customers and experiences that will generate revenue.

What's The Difference Between CPM And CPC


Choosing between CPM and CPC marketing campaigns

CPM and CPC are equally important as metrics, but marketers can only implement one model in a given campaign. For that reason, it's important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each KPI and choose the one that fits your campaign.

CPM features

  • Inexpensive: CPM rates are generally the least inexpensive.
  • Brand building: CPM campaigns are well-suited for campaigns intended to increase brand awareness.
  • No guarantee of conversion: Marketers must be aware that CPM campaigns have little expectation of revenue from user conversions. Treat them as the first step of reaching and acquiring new customers.

CPC features

  • Pay-per-click: Advertisers only pay for each confirmed interaction with your ads.
  • User engagement: CPC campaigns are well-suited for ads that will move users along the marketing funnel.
  • Next step towards conversion: Clicks are still not conversions — marketers will need to carefully manage the user experience to ensure they become full-fledged customers after clicking on an ad.

It’s worth remembering while CPM and CPC campaigns are useful, they are not the only available pricing models. One popular metric, cost-per-install (CPI), is used to measure ad spend in relation to app installations. As an alternative, cost-per-action (CPA) tracks designated actions beyond the advertisement itself, such as playing the advertised game or signing up for a newsletter. What’s important to note about CPM and CPC is their value as top-of-funnel marketing metrics, while CPI and CPA are more valuable as down-funnel metrics.

What do CPM and CPC mean for mobile publishers?

For app publishers who monetize their apps using mobile ads, CPM and CPC are important in their relation to effective cost-per-mille (eCPM). This metric is calculated by multiplying the CPC and CTR (click-through-rate), and multiplying the result by 1000:

eCPM = (CPC x CTR) x 1000

eCPM tracks ad revenue for every thousand impressions and is used to calculate payouts to publishers — making it essential for their bottom line!

Making the most of CPM and CPC

CPM and CPC campaigns are incredibly useful, but marketers must take extra steps to ensure their success. At MOLOCO, we offer fully-managed programmatic campaigns that ensure every ad is optimized for performance. If you’re ready to take the next step with your mobile ads, get in touch today.

Editor’s choice

Mobile Marketing Milestones: Q&A Interview with Apptica

In this edition of Mobile Marketing Milestones, Moloco's Q&A series with mobile advertising and marketing leaders, we chatted with Ksenia Yurkina, Head of Marketing at Apptica. In this half-hour conversation, we cover how advertisers should be approaching their ad creatives, the best performing ad formats, and so much more. Check it out!

More Tips on How E-Commerce Companies Should Think About Creatives for UA Campaigns

For even more insights on how e-commerce apps should approach their creative strategy for acquiring new app users, we sat down with Adam Widener, Creative Director at Moloco. Here are seven additional tips to consider.

Mobile Marketing Milestones: Q&A With Mobile Action

This installment of Moloco's Mobile Marketing Milestones Q&A series features Muammer Ünal, Consultant at Mobile Action. In this 18-minute conversation, we cover the current state of iOS mobile advertising, how advertisers should be approaching their ad creatives, SKAdNetwork, and so much more.

Subscribe to the Moloco Newsletter

Want to learn more?