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iOS 14 and SKAdNetwork: Redefining User Acquisition As We Know It

Originally published on Verve.com.

Apple has released a slew of privacy announcements with major ramifications for app developers affecting the whole mobile advertising industry. How does this impact performance advertising?

Commencing with the launch of iOS 14 (likely in September 2020), the new framework requires all apps to describe what data is being collected, used, and attain user permission for its access. It can be seen as the app equivalent of Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention on the web.

Verve Group’s Chief Product Officer Ionut Ciobotaru spoke about how the new changes do not reflect an apocalypse, as some have predicted:

“Instead of an ‘apocalypse’, it is actually a very important milestone. Privacy, advertising, and consumer choice finally meet to sustain a more efficient ecosystem.” – Ionut Ciobotaru.

As part of Verve Group, we are in a unique position connecting all major players in the ecosystem – brands, advertisers and publishers – to people in real time. With this all-encompassing outlook, we recently reviewed the impact of iOS 14 on publishers and brands.

In this article, we’ll look at the third part of the ecosystem, advertisers, going deeper into SKAdNetwork and its impact on performance advertising (i.e. advertisers running in-app user acquisition campaigns).

Silver Linings for Data Driven Marketing

Apple has highlighted two genuinely useful methods for developers to continue tracking campaign data:

  1. 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 the launch of another.
  2. The SKAdNetwork API will grant ad networks the ability to identify who should be credited with downloads and re-downloads.

In addition, the IDFA’s permission request message is customizable. App developers can provide custom description string text, allowing them to tailor their message to try to persuade users to opt-in.

Introducing Apple’s Attribution Solution: The SKAdNetwork

Apple’s SKAdNetwork enables mobile advertisers to “measure the success of ad campaigns while maintaining user privacy”. The ad network API involves:

  • Ad networks – that sign ads and receive install notifications when ads result in conversions
  • Source apps – that display ads provided by the ad networks
  • Advertised apps – that appear in the signed ads

To participate, ad networks have to register with Apple, and developers have to configure their apps to work with ad networks.

Note: Verve Group has a registered SKAdNetwork ID for one of our group companies (Applift). Please reach out to your Client Success Manager or contact us below for more details.

Introducing Apple's SKAdNetwork
Credit: Apple WWDC’20 Keynote

IDFA Has Not Been Killed Off, Yet

Apple did not kill its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) during WWDC. Yet as many have pointed out, the hardware giant appears to be laying the groundwork for its removal. Instead, starting with iOS 14, IDFA is opted-out before point-of-use. According to Apple’s documentation for developers, “Your app needs to request permission to track sometime before tracking occurs. This could be at first launch or when certain app features are used. For example, when signing on with a third-party SSO.”

If a user has clicked, “Ask App Not to Track”, the app will not be able to access the device’s IDFA; it will instead receive the same value as if “Limit Ad Tracking” was turned on. In essence, that means until users have granted permission, their primary identifiers will be zeroed out.

Preparing For A Privacy-First Future

At Verve Group, here’s how we’re preparing for the upcoming changes:

  • Verve Group has its own Apple Vetted SKAdNetwork ID which will be available to advertisers to support campaigns targeting non-IDFA iOS users.
  • Working with the SKAdNetwork consortium to provide an open source list of network_IDs and to drive publisher adoption of the info.plist. This allows us to post back aggregated conversion events. Verve Group’s SKAdNetwork ID will be added to the open source list.
  • CPA optimization will be done based on cohorts defined by advertisers and upon implementation of SKAdNetwork by the MMP.
  • Developing a first-of-its-kind audience builder via Verve Group’s SDK, which allows our advertisers to continue their campaigns by conforming to privacy while targeting audiences.
  • Closely collaborating with all attribution partners to understand how mobile web conversions will be reported.
  • Partnering with publishers to ensure best practices to optimize their opt-in for IDFA.

How Should Advertisers Prepare?

Here are some ways performance advertisers can start preparing for the launch of iOS 14 in September 2020;

  • Define Conversion Events: Don’t set an immediate action after a conversion event as postbacks from SKAdNetwork will be sent only after 24 hours. Be sure to evenly space out your conversion events to accurately track data.
  • LTV Events and Country Attribution: If you want to track the performance of your ad campaigns at a country level, then a best practice is to set up different campaigns per country, as data obtained via SKAdNetwork will only be at a campaign and publisher level.
  • User Consent: Start thinking about the design and messaging of the consent pop-up in your app you advertise. When the user clicks on your ad and downloads your app, you need to request for consent when the app launches. Optimizing your app towards obtaining user consent can be helpful in maintaining activity levels in your app to pre-iOS 14 levels.
  • More Insight with Less Data: With the implementation of SKAdNetwork, mobile marketers should prepare to make campaign decisions based on smaller datasets, and identify actionable insights with that data.

Looking Ahead

SKAdNetwork will help SDK-based ad networks thrive for performance advertising, by levelling the playing field with Self Attributing Networks (such as Facebook, Google, Snapchat, etc).

However, certain services will see a significant impact. A decline in the extent of retargeting and exclusion targeting can be expected, unless there is a healthy consent rate from users. (Mobile) Performance DSPs will need to adapt as well, if they can’t optimize at the user level but only at an aggregated level.

New challenges give rise to new opportunities. In-app retargeting can evolve into contextual targeting (similar to desktop) as opposed to relying on user-level targeting. With retargeting based on contextual audiences, app categorization plays a key role, requiring publishers to become more specific with their app categories on the App Store to ensure improved targeting.

Probabilistic attribution may become a formidable alternative to the SKAdNetwork (which is based on deterministic attribution resulting in certain limitations), with user-level LTV models providing superior capabilities.

Conclusion

In light of the announcement and increasing data regulation, ad tech companies and app developers need to rethink and regroup as the world’s attitude to privacy inevitably continues to shift.

We’re committed to working with all participants in the ecosystem to ensure a healthier, fairer and more transparent ecosystem. With this in mind Verve Group has been working actively towards a privacy-centered future through various initiatives, such as participating in the Prebid Committee, IAB initiatives as well building an in-house CMP. And this is just the beginning.

To learn more about Verve Group’s preparation for iOS 14, reach out to us below.

Sameer Sondhi (LinkedIn) is the Chief Business Officer (CBO) at Verve Group with over 20 years of experience in the mobile industry. Sameer enjoys sports, exploring nature, and cooking in his free time.