How IDFA Changes Affect Performance Marketers and How to Prepare for SKAdNetwork Solution on iOS 14.5

Changes to Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) – dubbed as the “doom of the digital advertising industry for iOS”, are around the corner. Originally planned for September 2020, these tracking restrictions will go into effect, nearly a year after they were first unveiled. The rollout date has finally been set to 26 April 2021. The mobile advertising industry is transforming, and we must be ready for these drastic shifts. IDFA changes are here, no sense of denying or defying it. We need to adapt and meet this challenge head-on. If we take the crumbling of third-party cookies into the context, we can predict Google’s GAID will follow IDFA’s path.

We believe that supporting privacy-first advertising will benefit the whole industry in the long run. We are ready for it, are you?  

IDFA Changes: The Backstory  

Let’s take a step back to contextualize IDFA changes that are happening with iOS 14.5 update. In June 2020, Apple made a monumental iOS 14 announcement on WWDC. Along with cool features that exhilarated iPhone users, the mobile arm of ad tech was astounded by the privacy changes Apple put forth.  

What Is IDFA and How Does IDFA Enable Mobile Performance Marketing  

Every mobile device uses a unique identifier that advertisers can leverage to target a user. Apple’s IDFA, Google’s GAID, Huawei’s OAID, and so on, allow advertisers to track user activity and enable ad targeting and attribution. In their current state, they enable user tracking throughout their mobile journey. Data gathered through IDFA include session frequency and length, lifetime value, context (where does the ad appear), post-install events, and so on.  

The Birth and Death of Identifier for Advertiser (IDFA)  

With Apple, it started with Unique Device Identifier (UDID) introduced back in 2011. It gave marketers the ability to understand KPIs and behaviours at the user level. The issue with UDID was that it was possible to de-anonymize the data collected and link them to a specific user. Apple began rejecting apps that used UDID in 2013. The app industry needed to adapt and started using Apple’s new solution – the (now infamous) IDFA. What differentiated IDFA from UDID was the possibility of a reset. The users received the ability to change their ID as often as they’d like. When the IDFA was changed, all the data advertisers had gathered until that point was useless.  

Apple made a logical step forward in 2016 – users could opt-out of IDFA tracking with Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) function. When activated, LAT users could not be tracked for any marketing purposes. The privacy challenge with LAT was, it was buried deep in iPhone’s setting. That meant many users were not aware of its existence. Hence globally, only 18% of iPhone users have activated LAT 

And here we are – the next update the mobile industry was anticipating since then. IDFA changes on iOS 14.5 will follow strict GDPR guidelines. The user needs to opt-in before they get tracked in any way. In practice that means upon the first open, users will have an option to accept IDFA tracking. If users reject it, the advertiser will receive a string of zeroes making any user identification, tracking, or install attribution impossible at a user level. That means marketers will not be able to track the post-install behaviour of their campaigns on iOS. Yet efficiently tracking post-install events is the only way to understand the LTV of your users and set desired KPIs for performance pricing models.  

IDFA Changes: Apple’s Solution  

The question that poses itself: will performance marketing be possible on iOS devices after the IDFA changes? Quick answer, yes!  

Apple’s ATT (App Tracking Transparency) privacy protection framework has highlighted two methods for developers to continue tracking campaign data. First, ID for Vendors (IDFV) can be used for analytics across apps from the same content providers. Developers who own multiple apps can use the data from one to drive and manage another’s launch. Second, SKAdNetwork API will grant ad networks the ability to identify who should be credited with a download and a re-download.  

SKAdNetwork solution acts as a privacy-oriented attribution solution for in-app marketingPostbacks sent through the SKAdNetwork will not contain any user-level information. In addition, they will also be delayed. For advertisers, this means lesser datapoints to track and optimize towards.  

How Should Advertisers Prepare for IDFA Changes With SKAdNetwork  

To efficiently acquire new customers on iOS devices mobile advertisers need to implement Apple’s solution – SKAdNetwork – sooner rather than later.  

As part of Media Elements Group, we want to secure your mobile growth well beyond 2021. As we know implementing SKAdNetowork can be daunting, we’ve prepared a step-by-step guide to make sure you are ready for the challenge!  

You’ll need to optimize your app towards obtaining user consent. This will facilitate maintaining activity levels in your app to pre-iOS 14.5 levels. But since you cannot expect every user will opt-in, prepare yourself to work with smaller datasets (such as LTV data stripped of key dimensions). More is less, and for this reason, you will need to identify actionable insights within that data.  

When it comes to SKAdNetwork, we know that postbacks will be sent only 24 hours after the conversion event. Therefore avoid setting an immediate action after a conversion event and be sure to space out your conversion events to track accurate data. Set up different campaigns per country to enable tracking ad campaigns at a country level. It is important to realize SKAdNetwork will report the data at a campaign and publisher level only.  

For all of this to work, you’ll need to set up the SKAdNetwork first. We are one of the first networks to be technically compliant and we’d like to lend you a hand as well. Download our infographic that will guide you through post-IDFA:  

  • Attribution of app installs to the right source; 
  • Identification of post-install events; 
  • Tracking campaigns KPIs and optimization for maximum ROAS; 
  • Obtainment of full transparency in your campaign’s conversion data.  

Start Testing Today  

If you are already certain you’ve implemented SKAdNetwork correctly, you’ll need to conduct an end-to-end test. To clarify, that means bringing the advertiser, MMP, ad network, and the publisher together and test a UA campaign within the new ATT framework. This is the most important part of your iOS strategy right now, as it will allow you to gain real data and insights. Changes to IDFA are inevitable, so let’s make sure everything works the way you expect beforehand. E2E testing will guarantee that your mobile acquisition strategy is ahead of the curve.  

Our strong partnerships with publishers and full compliance with all MMP SKAdNetwork solutions allow you to set up flawless test scenarios.  

IDFA changes are a significant milestone. The whole industry is moving towards sustainability, privacy, and user-friendliness. As a result, we should expect more of these privacy-oriented tectonic shifts on mobile, desktop and mobile web. We are ready. Are you?  

Drop us a message, we’d be happy to assist you every step of the way. 

Applift is a leading mobile ad tech company that empowers businesses by creating the next-generation platform for advertisers to reach and convert their audiences on mobile.