30-second summary:

  • Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT)’s framework minimizes targeting, but there are still ways to do it effectively
  • The impending Google Sandbox debut ensures the days of third-party tracking are over
  • Those who master media mix modeling in this new era of advertising will thrive

Adrienne Rice: Preparing for smart targeting in the wake of Apple's ATT framework American adults spend 4 to 5 hours a day on mobile apps. It is abundantly clear that mobile advertising is the future of persuasion. Especially when you consider 64% of consumers plan on using their mobile phone or tablet to shop this holiday season.

But this rise in viewership coincides with increased privacy by the device gatekeepers, creating an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. When given the opportunity, consumers are opting out of tracking. This means they will see fewer personalized ads tailored to their interests.

The old ways of targeting are never coming back. But the industry needs to do a better job of explaining why tracking is important to consumers. We also cannot return to a world of poor targeting full of ads that do not resonate with the audiences that view them.

The rise of ATT

In April 2021, Apple released a new iOS functionality called App Tracking Transparency (ATT). Companies must now ask consumers if they are ok with data tracking, instead of making it the default. It was the latest example of a large technology company asserting its authority and potential dominance in the powerful mobile advertising space. Moves like this do not just benefit the consumer. They are also advantageous to those providers as their first-party data and targeting abilities now far exceed the rest of the market.

For those who opt out, Apple’s less effective solution is SKAdNetwork (SKAN). SKAN is a device-side “black box” that registers views and engagements (via StoreKit renderings), processes them, then delivers the anonymized data to ad networks and advertisers. The result is direct install attribution while cutting back on the marketer’s ability to gather broader information on individual users.

And Google is Next

Elsewhere, Google has continued to push back its timeline to introduce similar opt-in technologies. But it is only a matter of time. The latest estimated date is that Android Privacy Sandbox will roll out sometime in 2024, subject to change. Anyone who can (e.g., Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon) are working on changes to shared tracking powered by cookies and other technology instead of providing their targeting capabilities. Consumers are now in charge of whether companies target them based on their actions and interests.

While an overwhelming majority of iOS users opted out, about 20% of iOS users opted in to share their IDFA with advertisers.

Fingerprinting is not the answer

Some advertisers that did not find value in SKAN 4.0 instead turned to device fingerprinting, a mechanism to collect information about a user’s device. While the App Store agreement forbids this technology, enforcement has been historically nonexistent.

We have always advised our clients to experiment with multiple attribution models since fingerprint has its downsides. These include concerns over accuracy and overreporting. We also anticipate Apple will eventually step-up enforcement. Temporary targeting is not worth the label of a bad actor from one of the most powerful mobile gateways in the world.

Four ways to maximise impact with ATT in mind

1) Do not give up on the 20%

While it is not surprising that many people opted out of tracking (because tracking can sound alarming), consumers still benefit from personalized ads. And those ads often perform very well. So, the 20% that remain benefit from the work you will do to reach them. Policies like Apple’s ATT are not intended to remove targeting; instead, they ask users’ permission to track their activity across other apps and websites. You will not only be able to reach those 20% more effectively, but you will also continue to garner insights, such as lifetime data, not possible through SKAN 4.0.

2) Maximize the use of SKAN 4.0 source identifiers

Apple has renamed campaign IDs as source identifiers, which can provide details on performance and conversion. But SKAN only passes through maximum reporting data if you hit their privacy thresholds. Meeting those thresholds and setting up your conversion schema to pass through a signal that is early in the user flow and indicative of long-term value is the best way to achieve success in an ATT world.

3) Creative testing to maximize ROAS

One such way is to look to other channels where creative insight is more available. Organic content or Android campaigns are both good options. Think content first and target influencers who can share data from their posts to fine-tune content before activating paid media.

4) Work with reputable MMPs

The best bet for advertisers is to work with a mobile measurement partner (MMP) that can make the most of SKAN’s first-party data, in concert with its suite of effective and ethical attribution products. It is rumored that some MMPs are developing Media Mix Modeling as a new feature, which is more essential than ever before. And it is also more accessible. Thanks to Meta and Google releasing their open-source projects, anyone can use these to measure incrementality for their campaigns.

Apple’s ATT is just the start

The introduction of ATT and the eventual roll-out of Google Sandbox bring challenges. But it is not the time to abandon mobile advertising. Nor is it time to double down on policy-evading means of attribution that will only prompt more consumer backlash. Instead, advertisers need sophisticated, data-informed strategies that put the consumer, and their increased privacy awareness, first.

So how do you know if your game plans for the Privacy Era are working? Testing, testing, and more testing. You may already have access to more useful data than you expect.


Adrienne joined M&C Saatchi Performance in 2019, first as Media Supervisor and then as Associate Media Director. In her time at M&C Saatchi Performance, Adrienne has successfully led campaigns across key accounts and is an expert in performance media for eCommerce/subscription-based advertisers. 

Her priorities are ensuring client budgets work as effectively and efficiently as possible and building long-term relationships with suppliers. Before joining M&C Saatchi Performance, Adrienne worked in digital media at agencies such as Grey in San Francisco and Carat in Sydney.

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