The more mobile advertising changes, the more it stays the same

The changes made by iOS 14.5, and the shift of IDFA (Apple’s device-level identifier for advertisers) from opt out to opt in, are well documented at this point. That’s an understatement in fact — I would argue we’ve seen too much focus on what’s set to shift.

With the rollout well underway, a more salient question is, what hasn’t changed after all? What remains the same, and can we build around – even improving on and correcting course compared to the past?

With or without IDFA, mobile app media remains a powerful and effective branding opportunity, and a key means to activating audiences through advertising as economies reopen for business.

Year of branding

In the early days of programmatic, you’ll remember that desktop display was seen as pretty much 100% a performance medium. The mindset eventually shifted on this topic, but it took its time. The same is true today in some areas of mobile. The long promised “year of mobile” came and went, but the year of mobile branding arguably still eludes us – even as time spent in the U.K. on mobile is still rising in 2021 and beyond.

Perhaps it’s also this phenomenon which explains the fatalistic response to IDFA in some quarters. Meanwhile, upper funnel, branding-focused campaigns remain comparatively unscathed by the privacy-minded changes Apple has introduced.

Ask yourself this: should a campaign served across major news, weather or social networks be limited to user acquisition simply because it happens to take place in-app? Imagine the effect if the vast majority of campaigns on those same desktop properties also focused on one thing: driving more installs for those same or similar types of apps.

But that is exactly what we’ve seen so far in the app environment – regardless of the audience, context or quality – and predominantly of course with a focus on the gaming vertical. No doubt we’re victims of our own success at driving all of those installs in the first place. But on the flip side, if we wanted the majority of the public to opt in to IDFA, it was (and still is) incumbent on us to demonstrate both the relevance and the variety the medium is capable of.

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New approaches to formats, creative and context

In short, let’s not forget that what we’re seeing. Apple’s IDFA deprecation and similar moves from Google, albeit on an opt-out basis only so far, are the direct result of a channel becoming synonymous with one type of campaign, or stage in the funnel.

If some of a seemingly infinite list of targeting levers are now no longer within reach, now is also the perfect window for new approaches to formats, creative and context.

Post-IDFA, context as a proxy for audience will undoubtedly figure more strongly. First-party data will be another critical factor, as long as it is not treated simply as a way of recreating a third-party-based system.

We need to rebuild with user control and privacy first – and ultimately more effective campaigns will follow. Though it might seem like ancient history, remember not so long ago, the main topic of industry conversation was how to move away from the click. Though performance will always remain an important factor, now is the time to embrace change and experiment with new forms of measurement.

IDFAs, like third-party cookies, adopted multiple different functions over time, from identity to frequency capping, creative optimisation to attribution, although there will be no ‘single source of truth’ or magic bullets for the latter in particular – arguably there never were anyway. The result is greater diversity of data sources, which is surely a good thing for transparency. As it continues to evolve, we should also not discount Apple’s SKAdNetwork – and move towards better understanding the true value of all mobile channels for branding – as well as performance.

Standards or assumptions?

Shared ideas across the ad industry can over time become entrenched, soon becoming unquestioned ‘standards’. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note when those assumptions aren’t always shared worldwide. In much of Asia, for example, in-app formats are viewed as premium, while mobile web is more often sold on the open exchange. Is it just a quirk of fate things didn’t turn out this way across the U.K. and Europe?

Brand safety, context, audience, scale and targeting – five factors brands and agencies are crying out for right now. And will be well into the future, whatever the industry debate or distraction of the moment. And all five are delivered privacy-first as standard to in-app private marketplaces.

In times of change, it may actually sometimes be beneficial to be reminded you don’t have all the answers. As we all move out of our IDFA comfort zones, we’ve heard enough about the potential drawbacks. Our industry, and our job, is to find the benefits. In times of change, let’s focus on what doesn’t.

Written by Darren Walsh, head of programmatic demand at InMobi

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