iOS14.5 has arrived.
As has been widely reported, Apple’s latest software update is set to significantly disrupt mobile marketing and cause widespread changes to practice across the industry. By limiting advertiser access to the user’s unique Device ID (the IDFA), Apple are challenging many of the foundational processes we use to demonstrate and deliver media effectiveness on iOS devices.
How will iOS14.5 change the media landscape?
Before we get to the jargon, these are the micro and macro developments we expect once the update rolls out this week:
- A significant drop in iOS app conversions reported via device-level attribution
- A significant drop in audience sizes for iOS app re-engagement campaigns
- Potential short-term drop in iOS CPMs with advertisers temporarily pausing activity
- Various iOS campaign types and optimisation levers to be deprecated in media platforms
- Disruption to media reporting as advertisers shift to Apple’s new attribution framework
- A continuation of recent mergers and acquisitions in the Mobile Ad Tech space
Apple’s mission to protect user privacy
Firstly, it is worth noting that this development from Apple hasn’t come out of the blue. The option to enable Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) has been available on iOS devices since 2016, however, up until now, it has been buried away in the iPhone settings. Approximately 25% of iOS users have LAT enabled on their devices and, to date, these privacy-conscious users haven’t represented a high enough proportion of ad inventory to significantly disrupt the core media buying processes on iOS. (In fact, some advertisers consider non-personalised LAT traffic to be a useful proxy for reaching astute high-LTV iOS users – and they upweight their budgets accordingly).
The big difference with iOS14.5 is the extent to which user privacy is being foregrounded in the Apple developer policy and within user experience across the operating system. Apple’s new policy is part of their App Tracking Transparency framework (ATT) and, as of Monday 26th April, explicit consent will need to be gathered from users if an app wants to access their Device ID for the purposes of 3rd party media targeting and/or attribution. In current industry practice, the Device ID is the primary unique identifier used to serve personalised in-app advertising and to track app installs driven from paid media investment. To access the IDFA for these use cases moving forward, an app publisher will need to serve its users the following ATT prompt:
[Insert App Name] would like permission to track you across apps and websites owned by other companies. Your data will be used to deliver personalised ads to you.
The end user will have to Allow Tracking for the IDFA to be accessed. Otherwise, they will select: Ask App Not to Track and the IDFA will be made unavailable to 3rd parties.
The prompt is not designed to encourage widespread opt-in, and it is important not to understate the difficulties this will create for advertisers on mobile. For instance, a user will need to accept the ATT prompt in both the publisher app the ad is served in and within the advertiser app they go on to download for device-level install attribution to be made available. Opt-in to the ATT prompt is expected to vary by app vertical, but it is fair to assume that end-to-end access to the IDFA will only be available in a small minority of cases.
How will iOS 14.5 affect attribution?
So what happens when we can no longer depend on the Device ID for our marketing? In the past, advertisers have relied on their mobile measurement partner’s Fingerprinting technology to fill gaps in media attribution in cases where the IDFA is unavailable. Fingerprinting is a probabilistic attribution methodology which credits installs to paid media channels by building a unique ‘fingerprint’ of a user’s device (IP Address, Model, Device OS, etc.) and cross-matching this with inbound app installs to identify any close matches. When Apple clarified in January that Fingerprinting attribution would be prohibited in cases where users have not accepted the ATT prompt, it became apparent that we would need a new ‘single source of truth’ for iOS app reporting.
That new single source of truth is the SKAdNetwork (SKAN) – Apple’s privacy-first attribution product. SKAN will be the only solution capable of deterministically tracking installs from users who haven’t accepted the ATT-prompt. There is enough content to write an entire blog post on SKAN (and that is the plan!), however the key takeaway is that SKAN attribution data is significantly less granular than what we are used to, and the SKAN data flow will limit our ability to optimise in real-time to quality sources of new users. Since Apple’s announcement, advertisers have been ensuring that their apps are updated to make the necessary SKAdNetwork calls in recognition of its importance post-iOS14.5.
What does the bigger picture look like?
All the changes being rolled out are part of Apple’s wider mission to create a privacy-first digital experience for their customers. However, there is also likely to be a commercial agenda behind the updates, the exact details of which will become clearer over time. The ATT framework potentially paves the way for Apple to extend the scale and scope of its own advertising products (it is notable of course that SKAN attribution will not apply to Apple Search Ads). Or perhaps a more likely bet is that Apple want to take increased ownership of the app discovery process on their devices, further developing the App Store as a destination for users to discover new apps organically. For the advertising industry, these considerations are for another day. The focus of the week commencing 26th April 2021 will be to ensure a smooth transition into the brave new world of ATT, SKAN and a sudden scarcity of IDFAs.
The new ways of working under iOS14.5 have arrived; from optimising media buys with limited SKAdNetwork data and refining conversion value mappings, to modelling lifetime value for ATT opt-out users and measuring incremental uplift beyond MMP data. ROAST’s Mobile expertise makes us well-placed to navigate these challenges in the post-IDFA landscape. Please get in touch if you would like to learn more about the services we offer in this space.