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Why Apple's Changes to IDFA Will Make Things Harder for Marketers

4 minute read
Kaya Ismail avatar
How marketers will be affected by changes to Apple IDFA, a device identifier assigned to a user's device to track and target users within iOS apps.

Back on June 22, Apple announced the launch of iOS 14 for September 16, 2020. While many iPhone users may have been excited about new features such as widgets on the home screen and a more compact UI, the new update also brought some changes to the IDFA which marketers need to be aware of.

Apple IDFA, or Identifier for Advertisers, is a device identifier assigned to a user's device. IDFA is used by advertisers to track and target users within iOS apps.

It works similarly to web browser cookies and provides advertisers with information regarding user interactions within an app. This information can be used to determine how well a mobile ad campaign is doing and help marketers better allocate their advertising dollars. 

The ability to track user behavior is especially important for mobile marketing given that mobile data traffic grew by 14% between Q4 2019 and Q1 2020, according to recent data from Ericsson Mobility Report. With the growth of mobile activity among users, many marketers may have expected to reap the benefits with more targeted advertising campaigns.

However, with the changes to IDFA, a wrench may well be thrown into the works. 

Why This May Be Tough on Marketers

Apple delayed the enforcement of its new rules until the beginning of 2021, giving developers more time to get their apps in order. However, the effects are still going to have a tremendous impact on marketers according to Yair Yaskerovitch, VP Media at Vancouver, British-Columbia-based Zoomd, “As we see it, it will have a major effect on all user acquisition (UA) marketers, and the biggest impact will be on the re-engagement activities.”

Marketers will have to look for new attribution models to determine the results of their campaigns. Yaroslav Kholod, Head of Programmatic Operations at programmatic ad tech company, Admixer, believes that these new attribution models run the risk of being inaccurate and not as effective as what was possible with IDFA.  “Another drawback is that advertisers won't recognize the market value of an impression and won't be able to plan for the long-term with measurements of ROAS and LTV,” said Kholod. With less accurate measurements marketers won’t have as much data, which will limit their ability to make forecasts and decide what alterations are needed for their campaigns. 

Related Article: What Marketers Need to Know About Google Analytics 4

The Current Alternative to IDFA

Another way for marketers to attribute their ad spend and gauge the success of their marketing campaigns currently is the SKAdNetwork

Learning Opportunities

Developed by Apple, the SKAdNetwork is an API that measures the success of marketing campaigns and allows users to retain their privacy. There are three participants in the network:

  • Ad networks: They sign ads and receive notifications once an ad yields a conversion.
  • Source apps: Display ads provided by ad networks. 
  • Advertised apps: These ads appear in signed ads. 

According to Kholod, the SKAdNetwork tells advertisers if their ad campaigns resulted in app installations or other limited postback events. However, there are still a few drawbacks to the SKAdNetwork. 

David Finkelstein, CEO & co-founder of Florida-based consumer data exchange platform BDEX, points out that marketers don’t get postbacks in real-time, but at best a day later. “Marketers will also not have access to any user specific data, which would allow them to gain deeper insights into consumers in order to make their campaigns more effective in the future,” he explained. 

The SKAd Network also doesn’t provide the same level of accuracy which marketers have grown accustomed to, making it harder for them to drill down into data. “SKAdNetwork will leave marketers with only 100 campaign IDs of granularity while today’s marketers are normally using much more,” added Yaskerovitch. 

Dealing With the Problem

Mobile measurement partners such as Adjust and AppsFlyer are attribution tools that collect and analyze data related to app installations and in-app user behavior. According to Kholod, brands should consider using tools like these to help them get closer to the data.

“Due to their scale, they accumulate various data points, such as install receipts, campaigns and event identifiers, as well as circumstantial mobile device data to recognize users probabilistically,” he said.

However, many believe that mobile app advertising will never be the same, given the changes that Apple has implemented. Given the additional time which Apple has provided these companies, it will be up to advertisers to test other methods against their current offerings to determine how effective these alternatives can be. 

Ultimately, as an industry, Finkelstein concluded, "We need to think outside the box and work together to find that new standard that stresses privacy but also is capable of granular targeting.”  

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