Mobile marketers on IDFA's end: 'We are seeing drops in CPMs'

The update has rolled out to just 19% of devices, but the move is already confirming advertisers' worst fears

After months of discussion, push back, and debate Apple has finally pulled the plug on its Identifier for Advertisers with its iOS 14.5 update, which started rolling out to users on April 26. Those who've installed the latest iOS update  will be prompted to voluntarily opt in to  tracking when entering each app on their devices—an exciting shift for the privacy-conscious, but a possibly detrimental one for mobile marketers, who've relied on iOS tracking to target consumers.

Back in January, we asked mobile marketers about their predictions and preparations for a post-IDFA world. They were getting ready for most iOS users to eschew tracking once they had the option. So far, that concern appears to be valid.

Illustration of drop in CPMs since end of Apple's IDFA

According to Yaron Nahari, CEO of mobile app marketing services company Bigabid, some mobile publishers have seen just five percent of Apple users opt into tracking since the latest iOS update. Others have had 30 percent of users consent to tracking, while up to half have consented in “extreme cases,” says Nahari. “It really depends on the type of app.” Meanwhile, mobile ad tech vendor Blis counted less than a third of bid requests with IDFAs attached to them during the first three days of the iOS 14.5 rollout, according to Digiday.

Though the update has only rolled out to “about 19 percent of iOS devices,” says director of technical partnerships at mobile app analytics company Kochava, Mark Kellogg, these early opt-in numbers confirm some mobile marketers' worst fears. They'll have to figure out other ways to learn about consumers that don't involve directly tracking their mobile behavior.

The biggest impact, says Kellogg, will be to “those who monetize on ads and those who benefit from targeting,” aka ad buyers. “We are seeing drops in CPM in general,” he adds, “because when you serve an ad [without IDFA] you are probably serving it to who you think you are, but you're not deterministically doing so.” For example, if two people are in the same room, using the same IP address on the same type of phone, Advertisement Software Development Kits, or AdSDKs, can't differentiate between those two users without IDFAs. This lack of specific information makes the ad deliveries less valuable.

Some companies have toyed with workarounds to Apple's new rules. Snap, which owns Snapchat, had plans to circumvent the iOS update by “probabilistic matching,” the Financial Times reported in April. In other words, Snap would collect IP addresses from companies that analyze ad campaigns and compare them to its own user identity data, creating a sort of makeshift IDFA.

Snap has since acknowledged that it cannot track individual iOS users per Apple's update, but mobile marketing analytics platforms like AppsFlyer and Adjust still may offer mobile marketers a similar service, according to the FT.

But mobile marketers have some above-board options, too, for learning about consumer behavior without flaunting Apple's policies. Luca Mastrorocco, cofounder and head of growth at mobile app consulting agency Replug, says he's seen some in the mobile app space “spending an immense amount of hours trying to decode Apple's documentation and working closely with ad tech vendors and agencies to find the best setup.”

The first step, he says, is for a mobile app's product team to “design and implement the best possible pre-ATT [Apple's AppTrackingTransparency framework] prompt,” which greets users right when they sign in to an app and can explain why the app is asking to track their data. Telling users “what's in it for them,” says Mastrorocco, may make them more likely to consent to tracking.

“The permission prompt is the only moment we have to communicate this to our audience,” he says.

Then there's Apple's SKAdNetwork, which offers aggregated user data scrubbed of any identifying information. “At this point, we have several advertisers who will only run on partners who are SKAd-enabled,” says Kellogg. This is forcing more publishers to upgrade to SKAd-supported SDKs.

AdSDKs can collect contextual attributes, like a user's geographic location and the orientation of their screen. The latter can tell an advertiser, for example, the size of the advertisement they can deliver. “You can use the contextual elements to…help justify [premium placements] because you know and understand more about that device at the time the ad is served,” says Kellogg.

"Contextual based targeting is in the spotlight more than ever before,” adds Bigabid's Nahari. “In many cases, it's the only method that can help maintain comparable results” in a post-IDFA landscape.

And though we're still in the early stages of iOS 14.5 adoption, those in the mobile marketing space express confidence in being able to adapt. “It's important to consider that our industry has survived many challenges in the past that have led to more sophisticated solutions that ultimately benefit advertisers,” says Nahari.

Mastrorocco acknowledges that, for mobile marketers, there's simply no other choice. “The change has already happened,” he says, “and we must embrace it.”

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