Five things advertisers need to know about the newest Apple privacy changes


Casie Jordan, senior director, Professional Services and Partnerships, MoPub

For advertisers feeling confused about upcoming privacy changes in the mobile app world, it’s important to get up to speed. The good news is, there’s likely no need for advertisers to reduce overall mobile ad spend because mobile apps are where consumers spend the bulk of their digital time. In-app inventory will remain an important channel for advertisers to connect with highly engaged audiences across all demographics. 

There are, however, some significant changes underway.

Here’s the background. Last summer, Apple announced several upcoming privacy changes for apps running on iOS, including a user permission requirement for Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) collection. An IDFA is a unique, random identifier assigned to each Apple mobile device, which advertisers can use to target ads and measure effectiveness at the device level; this is the long-standing way advertisers have measured their mobile ads. 

Apple’s new user permission requirement will change the use of IDFA by apps from default to opt-in, meaning that users will get a prompt from every app using IDFA asking for consent to track. This is known as app tracking transparency (ATT). After an initial delay, Apple has announced the change will go into effect in early spring 2021. 

Five ways to address Apple’s IDFA changes

Asking mobile app users to directly opt-in to data collection is a big change for the mobile ecosystem. But if in-app is part of the advertising strategy, it’s not time to panic or reduce spend. 

Steph Lee, senior manager of Partner Success at Activision Blizzard, sums it up: “There’s no doubt Apple’s privacy changes will create a substantial industry shift, but publishers who are committed to creating great games will find success. Since the audiences will continue to grow and stay engaged, advertisers will want to be a part of these premium outlets where they have access to quality content, brand-safe environments and target customers.”

There are five things advertisers need to know today to continue to reach mobile audiences in-app successfully. 

1. IDFA is not going away

There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about “the post-IDFA world,” but that’s not the right way to think of what’s coming. 

First, no one knows what the opt-in prompt’s true impact will be; mobile app publishers are a smart and innovative group, and they’ll be testing, iterating and refining their app prompts to help users understand the value exchange of this data.

Second, keep in mind that these changes only impact Apple devices. Android systems use the standard Google Advertising ID for tracking, and there’s no change to tracking and measurement in the Android world at this time. That’s significant because Android dominates market share globally. At MoPub, we saw that about 60% of ad opportunities on our platform came from Android devices in January 2021.

2. In-app is viewable and measurable

In-app inventory is inherently viewable, and there’s no “below the fold” for mobile apps; there’s typically only one ad viewable to a user at a time. Furthermore, the IAB Tech Lab’s Open Measurement SDK (OM SDK) brings transparency to advertisers by enabling third-party standardized viewability and verification measurement for mobile in-app. These are important factors to consider, and advertisers should keep them top of mind, making sure their buying partners are working with supply platforms that support industry viewability measurement standards.

3. Contextual advertising is a powerful option in the app world. 

Contextual advertising, which is based on a user’s current visit to app content and doesn’t require collection or retention of their online activities over time, provides marketers the ability to leverage unique signals in the IDFA-less portion of the app environment. 

For example, every app is defined and organized by a category, and there are correlations between app store categories and demographic attributes. Advertisers looking for even more granularity can focus on subcategories such as strategy games, which is one of 16 subcategories within gaming. Other contextual signals include app description, company headquarters location, average star rating, daily active users and more.

4. Buying partners can help curate inventory packages tailored to marketing goals

App store rankings, reviews and other data points provide a wealth of information that advertisers can use to target apps with specific parameters via bespoke deal IDs or inventory packages. Working with buying partners to look for unique supply packages is a powerful way to tap into top apps as classified by in-app revenue. It’s also a pathway to apps curated by age, gender and regions of users — and by leading categories such as entertainment, sports, news and lifestyle. Curated inventory packages help make contextual buying easily scalable.

5. DSPs are critical to leveraging SKAdNetwork 

SKAdNetwork is an approach to measurement that Apple introduced in 2018, allowing mobile app attribution to take place without making user-level data available. As for SKAdNetwork— SK stands for StoreKit, which is how app developers interact with the App Store, so StoreKit Ad Network is the idea. 

Especially for performance advertisers, it’s crucial to make sure buying partners support SKAdNetwork and view-through attribution (VTA). An important box to check — does the partner allow advertisers to submit signed clicks to the SKAdNetwork API? (Note that DSP buying partners wishing to provide this information must also register with Apple).

The path forward is innovation

As everyone in the advertising and tech industry knows, change is constant. Still, there’s almost always a path forward for publishers to effectively monetize and advertisers to reach their audiences and campaign goals. If the industry survived GDPR, it will survive changes to the IDFA.

As Peter Rice, associate director of Strategic Campaign Operations at Kepler, notes: “The mobile app space is still an important opportunity for advertisers. Even for those who haven’t yet made the jump into mobile, it’s worth recognizing that upcoming web browser updates to the third-party cookie will introduce similar personalization changes for the desktop advertising world, which will ultimately even the playing field for mobile.” 

When it comes to Apple’s privacy changes, advertisers armed with knowledge about what’s happening will continue to reach their audiences in mobile apps with confidence.

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