Mobile has the unique capabilities to deliver the right ad to the right person in the right place/context. But it’s a new pilot in the U.S. — bringing together Coca-Cola and pretzel seller Auntie Anne’s — that will go one step further to show how brands can close the loop by using mobile to trigger real-world purchases and track the results all the way down to the item level.

This pilot — which concludes this week —is built from the ground up to provide brands (in this case Coke and Auntie Anne’s) data that tells them which ads were viewed and which ones led to an actual redemption. As Tom Daly —Group Manager, Interactive Marketing, Coca-Cola — put it in a recent interview: The pilot is the first to connect “the  dots from awareness building, to driving foot traffic,  to a [Coke] customer, to a transaction.”

Read between the lines, and Coke clearly has it’s eye on the prize. Yes, effective advertising is about using mobile to track an offer from the moment the ad is served to the moment the consumer (who fits the target demographic) responds. But smart companies are beginning to realize they can also use the data mobile delivers to go much deeper in the purchase funnel. Granted, this pilot is sharply focused on coupon redemptions. But Coke is also looking to this particular campaign to help understand precisely where it is in the “transaction chain” that mobile makes the biggest contribution.

Fortunately, this is precisely what the pilot partners set out to make possible in the first place.

Mobile’s true role

In a nutshell, Coke and Auntie Anne’s have partnered on a location-based mobile ad test in Atlanta, Georgia. The aim is to close the loop by tracking mobile coupon redemptions at the point-of-sale through technology supplied by Sparkfly.

The pilot is running exclusive on the Millennial Media platform, and is leveraging Millennial Media’s audience targeting to reach moms in or around shopping malls where Auntie Anne’s has a physical location.

The creative offers consumers a coupon for a Coke and a soft pretzel at the moment the  consumers are close to one of Auntie Anne’s 11 shopping mall locations. Consumers can then click on the ad to redeem it immediately, or save the offer for later. (If the person  chooses to save the deal, they will receive a SMS message with a link to the redemption code that can then be used at any time during the promotional period.)

If the consumer chooses to use their coupon for a purchase at that moment, then they can redeem the offer by showing the clerk at Auntie Anne’s a unique four-digit code (that was delivered directly to their device when they clicked on the display ad).  The cashier manually enters the code into the existing POS system, where the combined reporting capabilities offered by Millennial Media and Sparkfly allow Coke and Auntie Anne’s to track campaign results in real-time, and right down to the creative that triggered the purchase.

As Marcus Startzel, Millennial Media General Manager, puts it: It’s all about making the right connections to get the right audience. ” We use our first-party data to build unique audiences on our platform…. We can then overlay this with location data we have on our platform, and combined, it allows us to reach the right consumer, at the right time and place.”

My take:

The pilot is making the headlines, but the real news is the data it can deliver. The point-of-sale integration from Sparkfly and the technology and analytics from Millennial Media effectively equip brands to track campaign performance in real-time, as well as item-level tracking of individual sales.

Brands have more than visibility into what works (and what fails), and can use this new data to gain a holistic view into the performance of their advertising and marketing campaigns.

This is huge, when we consider that brands are already focusing their campaigns — and their mobile strategies — further down in the purchase funnel. I know from my own exclusive interviews with +35 C-level executives at brands and agencies that the action (and spend) is all around understanding mobile’s real role. I can’t reveal more about this project just yet, so watch this space!

In the meantime, Coke gets high marks for thinking BIG Picture here. It knows that mobile maps to every stage of the purchase funnel, and it has set out to show the way.

It will be interesting to learn what this pilot delivers. No doubt the results will be impressive — and confirm the pivotal importance of data in marketing and advertising as brands seek to understand mobile’s real value and assess of the performance of mobile against other channels.

This post is part of our Mobile Advertising Briefing Room, a thinking space dedicated to providing its community mobile intelligence, consumer research, case studies and industry best practices that equip marketers to reach and engage their target audience at scale. This discussion is hosted & sponsored by Millennial Media.