It Can’t Rain Forever: Finding the Bright Side to IDFA

There's a lot to like about the future of Apple's in-app advertising

The future of in-app advertising in the Apple mobile ecosystem is bright.
Jonathan Evans/Getty Images

Apple’s coming enforcement of the AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework with iOS 14.5 is causing many within the mobile ad-tech ecosystem to sound the alarm bells. After all, once it is live, the individual Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) will be largely unavailable for most people, meaning that the user-level targeting that has underpinned digital advertising for at least the decade won’t be possible for the bulk of the iOS ecosystem.

But is the sky really falling? While these changes will no doubt impact the mobile advertising status quo, there is a lot to like about the future of in-app advertising in the Apple mobile ecosystem.

Don’t write off iOS just yet

Realistically, advertisers cannot sustain writing off iOS from their plans forever.

It is very well known that iOS users have historically proven higher lifetime value and generated better ROAS [return on ad spend] over Android. In January, over 56% of all mobile devices owned in the U.S. used the iOS mobile operating system. And this is actually up from June 2020, when just over 51% of all mobile devices in the country ran on iOS, according to data from Statista.

In the wake of Apple’s announcement, more than a few industry prognosticators predicted that advertisers would shift their ad dollars to Android, where user-level targeting is allowed (for now). But brands can’t afford to ignore iOS, especially in markets like the U.S., Western Europe, Japan, Australia, etc. where Apple dominates.

What does the future of iOS advertising look like?

Since mobile will continue to be increasingly important for consumers, iOS 14.5 is a clear stimulus for buyers to look into alternative means of targeting their audiences. Contextual targeting is a viable option, and its adoption at scale will yield higher returns than now.

Contextual targeting, in which ads are shown based on the content being consumed at the moment, has long underpinned traditional offline and pre-programmatic digital advertising. But advertisers underestimate contextual targeting in mobile just because of its association with traditional advertising.

Contextual targeting in mobile is much more advanced than in traditional ad models. With hundreds of real-time signals related to app or site metadata and content, alongside advances in machine learning that make sense of these signals for each user in real time, contextual targeting in mobile is more precise and more powerful than its television cousin.

By using a wide variety of contextual signals, including app categories, content consumed within apps, time spent in app, etc., advertisers will be able to fully understand a consumer’s interests and provide them with messaging that appeals to them in the moment—all in a privacy compliant manner that actually provides consumers with more value than ever before.

Additionally, key metrics for brand buyers such as viewability scores, clickthrough rates and completion rates will still be available. By basing their campaigns on these kinds of engagement metrics, advertisers can still be sure that the right audiences are seeing and interacting with their ads, even if they lack personal identifiers.

While there will be fundamental changes in the way we track and target people (especially as new tools and technologies like Universal IDs and SKAdNetwork become more popular), it does not mean such people will change their habits. Consumers will continue to spend a lot of time using free iOS apps. Advertisers will of course need to make some changes once iOS 14.5, but there are many ways to run successful in-app advertising campaigns without user-level targeting. Multisignal contextual targeting with KPI-based buying will give brands super high returns in the post-IDFA world.

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