In April it will be a year since Apple implemented App Tracking Transparency (ATT), a move which forced apps to ask for explicit permission from users to be able to access the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA).
Pre-ATT, IDFA was a crucial tool in advertisers’ mobile toolkit, enabling cross-app tracking and measurement. But with only a quarter of users opting in to tracking, marketers have had to seek alternatives to plug the gaps post-ATT.
Some of these alternatives may soon be needed on Android too, after Google’s announcement last week that it will fade out Android’s own advertising ID (though Google says tools will be available in its own Privacy Sandbox).
Farhad Divecha is managing director at digital marketing agency AccuraCast. He said that, although Apple’s changes have been in place for almost a year now, it took a while for some marketers to start reacting.
“Both changes by Apple and the less-talked about changes by Google have significantly affected advertisers who hadn’t taken steps to shore up tracking before April last year,” said Divecha, “What was interesting was that we didn’t see an immediate impact in May, but started hearing advertisers panicking about steadily declining results in June-July-August, even though Apple indicated that iOS 14.5 was largely rolled out to most devices within the first couple of weeks.”
How marketers are plugging the post-IDFA gap
Not all mobile marketers have had to radically change course. David Counsell, head of trading at the7stars, said that his company and their clients have escaped the worst of the unpredictability.
“Traditionally, we have not been a massively performance-driven agency that’s been over-invested in ID solutions,” said Counsell. “Instead we think about the slightly bigger picture for the impact that an advertising campaign can and should be trying to have, rather than more traditional performance agencies that only chase a last click attribution model, or whatever that might be to, to hit a bottom number.”
But agencies and advertisers which did rely on IDFA say that they have managed to find workable alternatives.
Accuracast’s Divecha said that server-to-sever tracking is playing a role for his clients, both now on Apple devices, and in forward-thinking strategies on Android.
“In both cases, server-to-server tracking is definitely the way forward. We’d had clients implement this with Google Tag Manager and via custom implementations,” said Divecha, “Some did opt for out-of-the-box implementations supported by the various platforms, for example Shopify or BigCommerce, but we do hear a lot of complaints about these solutions showing results that were not quite credible or reliable.”
He predicts that Google’s own solution will be a cornerstone of Android-based campaigns, once Google’s identifier is phased out.
“Google’s own server tracking solution for Google Ads isn’t talked about widely enough, and we think it might be the future for search advertisers,” Divecha added.
Measurement is another area where Apple’s changes have hit advertisers. The7stars’ Counsell says his company has turned to a couple of alternative measurement tools.
“I think it’s for us, we’ve seen a greater adoption of new attention measures – so focusing on how engaging your ads are, and which placements are performing well,” he said. “There’s been a focus on things that aren’t gonna invade your privacy, but can be measured. I’ve personally been a big advocate for things like brand uplift studies.”
Meanwhile Greg Stuart, CEO of MMA Global, a marketing trade association that brings together the ecosystem of marketers, tech providers and sellers, says that measurement and attribution hasn’t been hamstrung to the extent that some predicted.
“There has been a lot of negativity about multi-touch attribution, and a lot of hysterics as to whether or not it will even survive. So we took a step back at the end of last year and wrote a white paper,” Stuart said, ” And our conclusion was that MTA has a very positive going forward, despite identity changes.”
Contextual more complicated on mobile
Contextual targeting has been widely discussed in relation to the deprecation of third-party cookies. It’s role as an alternative to IDFA-based targeting is less clear.
David Counsell notes that how contextual works on mobile targeting depends on how mobile is defined.
“It depends how mobile is really being defined. If you’re only talking about in-app placements, most of the time you’re probably going to run ads that take over the full screen. In that case, the only real context is the app on which the ad is being shown. There’s no placement alongside it to try and target. So therefore, is contextual for app targeting just placement level?,” he said.
But he points out that when it comes to more specialist interstitial app placements, contextual can cause more difficulties.
“I don’t think as an industry, we have quite defined that yet,” Counsell added.
MMA Global’s Greg Stuart said contextual targeting is often underestimated by marketers.
“We found from the research that contextual targeting was a huge driver of advertising performance. And in fact, the single element that we saw performed the best was the application of location data, even when the company didn’t have a location strategy per se to its business,” he said, “So we believe the industry has just got to get better at what is already obvious and apparent to them. I think we’ve been in some regards overcomplicating things.”
“We think there’s going to be a big opportunity in using contextual targeting matched up to the personalisation of creative,” added Stuart.
AccuraCast’s Farhad Divecha notes that there is no one way forward.
“Unfortunately, no one seems to have the answers today,” he said. “Everyone’s watching Google closely, and while I have been critical about their lack of direction, I must say I don’t envy the position they find themselves in. One thing seems certain: whatever they propose, either advertisers, consumers, the competition watchdogs, privacy advocates, or all, will be unhappy!”