‘It’s a significant change’: Twitter’s MoPub weighs in-app ad growth plan amid Apple’s upcoming privacy update

Twitter’s ability to push in-app advertising beyond performance advertisers to brand advertisers is about to be stress-tested. 

The company’s MoPub marketplace for in-app ads will be one of those businesses swept up in the tailwinds from Apple’s latest privacy protection. Like the Facebook Audience Network or Google’s Admob, Mo{ub is the mobile ad platform Twitter uses to give advertisers the option to extend the reach of their ads into other apps. Apple, however, may soon make that much harder to do. 

Starting in September, companies like MoPub won’t be able to collect Apple’s Identifier for Advertising, or IDFA, and use it to identify people unless they opt-in. That’s bad news for MoPub and the publishers that sell ads on its marketplace. One item in the positive column: Apple will give ad tech firms like MoPub an alternative way to measure and attribute campaigns, but that’s likely not much comfort for Twitter and it’s in-app advertising aspirations.

Without the IDFA, MoPub will have no choice but to use the SKAdNetwork — Apple’s replacement for ad measurement and attribution. It’s Apple’s privacy-friendly way to reveal whether an ad has led to an install or other limited “postback” events after the app was installed, but without revealing any user-level specific data. It also ensures that all that conversion data is kept within its own proprietary environment.  

“From our standpoint we know we need to provide support for the SKAdNetwork, which is Apple’s provided solution for tracking and measurement,” said John Egan, head of demand across EMEA at MoPub. “It’s a significant change.”

So much so that he and his team had already had 54 conversations with other publishers, advertisers and measurement companies just three weeks after the announcement last month. “There’s a lot of work needed to build support for a new measurement platform,” said Egan. “But clearly that’s what’s needed and that’s what we’re going to do.”

It’s no surprise MoPub is trying to get ahead of any potential disruptions caused by Apple’s incoming changes given its plans for 2020. A big part of MoPub’s plan so far this year has been to show advertisers that campaigns bought from its marketplace can be measured and attributed in similar ways to desktop devices, which they haven’t traditionally been able to do. MoPub spent the last 18 months working with publishers and measurement companies to surface the data needed to give advertisers this level of data. The IDFA was the backbone of this plan, allowing MoPub to track how ads performed across apps. 

“We need to not only respect the terms of Apple’s new rules but also the spirit of why they were written too,” said Egan. 

Therefore, Mopub won’t attempt to create short-term workarounds to identifying, targeting and attributing ads to Apple devices. 

“We don’t want to do things that are going to become dodgy workarounds that still allow for app tracking,” said Egan. “We’re working with different parties to understand what is, and isn’t going to be, allowed, particularly around fingerprinting,” said Egan. 

Device fingerprinting— where ad tech companies combine certain aspects of a device, from its IP address to the version of the web browser being used, to identify it as a unique device—has been flagged by some industry experts as an alternative to using the IDFA to steer targeting. It is, however, unlikely fingerprinting will work as a workaround as Apple has been cracking down on device fingerprinting since 2018. 

There are, however, other replacements for the IDFA MoPub could pursue — namely, contextual ad targeting.

“There’s an opportunity for MoPub to build capabilities around contextual based targeting whereby advertisers can target ads to apps based on the type of content that’s being consumed,” said Collin Colburn, a senior analyst at Forrester. “Any opportunity that MoPub can use to not do ID-based targeting will be a potential growth area in the absence of Apple’s identifier.”

For all the panic over Apple’s latest privacy protection, Egan believes the market will settle over time in much the same way as it did following the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018. 

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“There’s a fair amount of what’s happening with Apple’s identifier that’s analogous to what we saw with the GDPR where you’re going to need to split traffic into whether consent has been given or not,” said Egan. “A lot of our buyers have found ways to use those different types of traffic [after the GDPR]. I expect the same to happen over time with Apple’s move.”

Despite imminent upheaval to how it monetizes apps on Apple devices, MoPub is pushing forward with plans to pull more advertising dollars into apps. Usually, in-app advertising tends to be the most attractive to advertisers with an app they want people to install, such as game developers. As key as those performance dollars are to MoPub — Twitter recently acquired a mobile ad tech vendor CrossInstall that specializes in buying ads for gaming advertisers — there’s an opportunity to win larger brand campaigns, particularly when more advertisers are reallocating money and more people are using apps. 

“There’s a belief that in-app advertising isn’t a good vehicle for brand advertising and only works for performance advertisers like app installs,” said Egan. “A big focus for us this year is trying to shift that narrative because it fundamentally isn’t true anymore.”

Like other programmatic marketplaces, MoPub’s efforts are focused on being able to better curate the inventory it sells. It is working with analytics firm App Annie to give advertisers the ability to target their ads based on parameters like the review score. The business has also been growing the number of ad tech vendors participating in its version of header bidding. MoPub’s unified auction effectively lets multiple ad tech vendors bid for in-app inventory a the same time. It’s unlikely to be scaled offer, however, as some ad tech vendors won’t adopt this way of selling in-app ads.

“What will keep the unified auction from having universal adoption is that there are a handful of ad networks who have no reason to benefit from this way of selling impressions,” said Egan.

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