Mobile, measurement, and the pivot to privacy

As privacy regulations have tightened, the landscape of mobile advertising has faced significant overhaul. Alongside the deprecation of third-party cookies, the implementation of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework has created a fresh challenge for mobile advertisers.

Not only has the framework drastically reduced the number of mobile users advertisers can target, it has fundamentally shifted the power dynamic between advertisers and consumers. Now, consumers have more control than ever over how they are served targeted ads. Although this power shift is certainly a welcome one from consumers, and crucial for advertisers to gain informed consent to deliver personalised ads, it means that the mobile advertisers must adapt to privacy-centred practices to keep up. And with reports that Google is now beta-testing its Privacy Sandbox, an emulation of Apple's ATT for Android devices, advertisers must keep pace or risk falling behind of progress.

Fortunately, the industry-wide shift towards privacy means that advertisers in the mobile space shouldn’t be starting from scratch; contextual advertising, for example, has seen a resurgence over the last couple of years in response to privacy advancements. The surge of in-app advertising also poses a potential lifeline for mobile advertising, providing the infrastructure to leverage first-party data within the boundaries of privacy legislation, not to mention an engaged audience: recent research indicates that smartphone users spend 90% of their time on mobile engaging with apps.

Nonetheless, adapting to privacy centricity is easier said than done. As of Q2 2022, opt-ins to Apple’s ATT were about 25%, a 16% increase from the year before. While an increase of opt-ins may give cause to celebrate, the inconsistency in users consenting to being tracked arguably raises issues around how to effectively measure the success of advertising campaigns. Although tech heavy hitter Meta has promised a potential workaround to Apple’s privacy changes, Advantage+, the new tool may only serve to reinstate the Facebook-parent’s dominance within digital advertising, adding further pressure to smaller players to implement new solutions to deliver and measure mobile advertisements. 

With mobile advertising in such a state of flux, we looked to industry experts to gauge the state of play in mobile advertising, the impact of these privacy changes, and how advertisers can navigate this shifting landscape:

Apple's ATT has exposed the need for apps to reform

Mobile advertising is going through some major changes, and that includes browsing and even more in app advertising. Since the implementation of Apple's ATT, only around 13-15% of people are now opting in to being tracked via IDFAs. Although the reported numbers seem to vary a lot – from 4% to 40% – it is clear that the majority of users do not want to be tracked. 

The event shook the mobile advertising market to its core. The necessity to build strategies for zero data policies went through the roof. These are the attempts to sign up and recognise your own consumers directly in your digital touch points: loyalty, support and service app. It is difficult for apps to create stickiness, but the new setup has created a lot of excitement and activities in its own apps and services. This might not be the final word on app privacy, but it is showing the need for alternative models.

Dario Bett, CEO, Mobile Ecosystem Forum

Constraints foster innovation

Adopting a new band-aid solution each time a new regulation arises is extremely inefficient. Wise publishers adopt solutions that are private by design while allowing for scale, typically cohort-based targeting with first-party data.

The transition to first-party data came from regulatory necessity rather than in-app advertising opportunities. However, app publishers’ embrace of first-party data as the ‘new normal’ has certainly created a new playing field for the competition for advertising budgets. One example of publishers playing into their competitive edge is the burgeoning trend towards on-device technologies, which enrich publishers’ inventory with behaviour-based data. That allows them to attract campaign budgets by offering advertisers the promise of hyper-personalised branded experiences.

Emma Raz, director of commercial, NumberEight

Measurement tools must be built around privacy regulations

Recent mobile infrastructure changes, particularly in relation to privacy, have significantly impacted marketers’ measurement capabilities. Advertising platforms have been quick to respond, however, striving to keep brands informed of their ad’s performance to support their investments. Apple's SKAdNetwork 2.0 introduced a privacy-compliant tool for measuring limited and aggregated data, and the recent release of version 4.0 has enabled more granular conversion reporting.

That said, measurement remains difficult. For marketers to better understand attribution and demonstrate ROI for each channel, particularly across a multichannel media plan, further innovation is required. Ultimately, marketers need tools that will provide a streamlined view of all measurements, which also stand up to data privacy regulations.

Xavier Klein, marketing services director, Making Science

Developers and brands need the right infrastructure to leverage first-party data

Owned digital assets including apps and websites can be used to generate first-party data. This is important because with the withdrawal of third-party data sources, first-party data becomes essential for developers to monetise their apps or websites and deliver personalised advertising content. First-party data is also consented, and so meets the requirements of privacy regulations. 

However, as developers and brands look to safely execute first-party data in their advertising ecosystems, they will need a privacy-first transmission method. Here, anonymised, transient IDs that only deliver an audience exchange at the point of purchase will be a key enabler and will lie at the heart of tomorrow’s digital advertising ecosystem.  

Tanya Field, co-founder and CPO, Novatiq

Mobile measurement solutions must catch up to infrastructure

Measurement solutions have not kept pace with mobile infrastructure development. Instead, a more complete measure of attention and a hard measure of engagement, such as physical interaction, should be used to evaluate mobile ads and in-app advertising.

To improve measurement, advanced attention metrics should be used instead of traditional metrics such as impressions and click-through rates (CTR). Machine learning could be utilised to optimise user engagement, and in-app advertising should be optimised based on additional data about users or user segments. This approach would enable marketers to increase relevance and improve overall mobile advertising effectiveness.

Paul Coggins, CEO, Adludio

Transitioning to first-party data is crucial

In-app advertising has increased as a response to the privacy frameworks introduced by Apple and Android, meaning app users have to opt into third-party tracking rather than being opted in automatically. Additionally, many companies are directing customers to transfer their activity to an app where they must create an account and agree to the collection of data in order to be able to use it. While this is fairer for the consumer, it means we have to be increasingly agile.

With increased focus on privacy, mobile app marketers must move away from third-party data and focus on first-party data to better understand how users are interacting with their business. Collecting first-party data is relatively low-cost and most customers will agree to some level of tracking in return for incentives like loyalty points or discounts. It also allows companies to target their most profitable demographic, and also to find new customers most similar to their existing ones.

Dan Wild, head of paid marketing, AlphaGeek