The future of iOS Attribution: Visualizing the crossroads for mobile measurement

Join us for a special AMA (ask me anything) webinar about UA in iOS 14
on August 12th @ 10am PT with experts from Lyft, Homa Games, and ironSource

 
iOS 14 marks a pivotal moment in mobile marketing history and many are wondering what will happen next.

At Singular, we reacted quickly as we’ve been preparing for it for over a year. We formed the Mobile Attribution Privacy Coalition (join the slack channel here) in June of 2019 with less than 20 members, and now it has over 1000 participants! We monitored ITP to predict where fingerprinting will go and we reverse-engineered SKAdNetwork before there were any public docs to understand how it works. And lastly, we released various pieces of content that we believe are informative and pragmatic, as well as some sample code in Github.

It’s now been exactly a month since Apple announced the deprecation of the IDFA in iOS 14, and the number of questions about what it means for marketing measurement is continuing to grow at an exponential rate. Customers and prospects we talk to are constantly asking about the different possible outcomes for attribution, and I thought it would be a valuable exercise to try and build a decision tree outlining the possible solutions and scenarios – including adding our own view on the probability of these events happening. Simply click on the Miro board below, and explore away.

Note: Click the below board to display the decision tree. For the best experience, view the decision tree on desktop. This decision tree is updated regularly with new developments.


 
 

IDFA iOS 14 FAQ: What’s true, what’s fake, and what’s total fantasy

Join us for a special AMA (ask me anything) webinar about UA in iOS 14
on August 12th @ 10am PT with experts from Lyft, Homa Games, and ironSource

 

My personal goal for Singular for the past two years has been to get ready for this scenario: the deprecation of the IDFA.

Well, it happened.

At Singular, we’ve been writing and speaking about IDFA deprecation for a long time. We’ve formed the Mobile Attribution Privacy group with top brands to plan out a PII attribution future, and we’ve been speaking to as many people as possible.

It has been a crazy week so far, and it’s only the beginning. Fortunately, Singular has a SKAdNetwork solution for marketers that you’ll be able to see and test very soon. But I have to say I am quite surprised that an event so dramatic as this one — throwing an $80 billion market into upheaval — is getting very little publicity, and I also see very little content on this topic outside of Singular.

In what has been published, I’ve seen some interesting thoughts and claims, and some obvious falsehoods. I want to share my educated opinions on those.

I’ll start by saying that this all depends on whose point of view we’re taking. In this case, I’m trying to take Apple’s POV, which, based on everything I’ve seen them do on the web and now on mobile, is very (VERY) privacy oriented. I may also refer to them as the “law” since they are pretty much the law when it comes to iOS.

Finally, be aware that this is my opinion based on the facts at hand, and things may change. I will, however, try to update this every couple of days with what I’m learning.

The IDFA iOS 14 FAQ

Claim: “This is not the end of the world.”
Assessment: True

I think the next few months will be challenging for the entire mobile ad ecosystem (publishers, advertisers, ad networks, mobile measurement partners) and anyone in adjacent spaces since we’ll have to adjust to yet-another-new-normal.

Seeing how Apple kept iterating on its parallel solution for the web (ITP), I am convinced that there will be more iterations on SKAdNetwork that will make it better. Our job as a leading MMP is to define how marketers can still get unbiased measurement and understand their ROAS, and that’s where we’ll spend most of our energy.

Claim: “Device identifiers are never used across different app publishers for attribution.”
Assessment: Incorrect

I think this is incorrect because the way attribution works today does involve sharing a device ID between the publisher app to the advertiser app. In fact, just connecting a click to an app open is a connection that’s created between user activity in two different apps. And it’s certainly something that goes from a personal device to a third-party company as well as the app publisher.

Claim: “But we’re a GDPR and CCPA compliant MMP/network/etc.”
Assessment: Irrelevant

I don’t think Apple cares. Apple takes GDPR and CCPA as the baseline. It’s table stakes, and they are now raising the bar, according to their own standards.

Claim: “The IDFA is not going away completely.”
Assessment: Functionally False

Look, here’s my thinking on the topic:

  • You need people to opt-in. The message is scary, and while you can customize at least some of it, most people will say no. I think Apple doesn’t want people to click it.
  • But let’s say, by some magic, you do get people to click it, and your app can now access the IDFA: it is likely still useless because people are just as unlikely to click it in other apps, and then you’ll start having partial views of people.
  • And that means that the IDFA is basically useless… you can’t use it to target, or attribute, or anything else. It’s almost equivalent to IDFV at this point.

Claim: “Fingerprinting will always be an option to provide compliant attribution.”
Assessment: False

I would love for fingerprinting to “always be an option,” and I’m not a complete privacy zealot by any means, but it’s incorrect:

  1. In this video released as part of WWDC, they describe that fingerprinting is indeed a form of tracking this applies for:
  2. Also – In the past two to three years, Apple did a lot of work on Safari, their browser, to reduce cross-site tracking by imposing aggressive limits on cookies and other website data. This project is called ITP, and I believe it was the precursor to all the work Apple did on the IDFA.If you read this ITP article about “Privacy Preserving Ad Click Attribution For the Web” – you will see it bears a lot of resemblance to some mechanisms they added to SKAdNetwork 2.0. And if you look at ITP’s Tracking Prevention Policy, they are very clear about fingerprinting:

Besides, I don’t think that’s the spirit of the law. Or, in other words: in what universe would Apple be cool with fingerprinting when they’re making these very apparent steps towards privacy?

Claim: “There’s no role for the MMP in iOS.”
Assessment: False

While some of the mechanisms have changed, the role of the MMP stays exactly the same: provide unbiased measurement that leads to actionable decisions about media buying and mobile marketing efforts.

That job has not changed one bit. SKAdNetwork is going to cause more mess than before, where you’ll now have those “apple-signed install notifications” sent to all sorts of endpoints, and you’ll need a third party to ingest them and validate them.

You’ll also have to deal with details like:

  • How do I assign campaign IDs in such a small space (a number between 0 to 99, a total of 100 options)?
  • How do I translate these IDs to something meaningful?
  • How do I associate cost to it?
  • How do I translate my “conversionValue” from a 6-bit number (64 options only) to something meaningful?
  • How do I then translate that to ROAS?

All that mess is the job of your measurement provider. That’s where Singular comes in, and I’m sure other MMPs will follow suit (they also don’t have that much time to figure things out because in October iOS 14 will have 50%+ adoption in the market).

IDFA Alternative: “iOS Referrer, similar to the Google PlayStore Referrer.”
Assessment: Unlikely

This is a nice idea that everybody wished for, but I can’t see Apple going for it.

Why? For the simple reason that it lets the advertiser’s app know exactly where a user came from. And that means that even if you can’t access the IDFA, there’s still some cross-app tracking taking place … which is against the spirit of the law. So I can’t see how it would be compliant with Apple’s push for privacy.

IDFA Alternative: “Mandatory or incentivized opt-ins will work”
Assessment: Not going to work

First of all, mandatory opt-ins will certainly anger Apple. And they probably won’t like incentivized opt-ins either. But that’s not even the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is that you need opt-in everywhere for this to have any meaning:

  1. Let’s say that I play “CoolGame 3” and they did a great job forcing/incentivizing me to opt-in. Great for them.
  2. Let’s say that now I see an ad for Uber in CoolGame 3.
  3. I go on and install Uber.
  4. Uber wants my ride $$$, so they won’t force me to opt-in. So I would probably opt-out given that scary popup.
  5. Uber can’t attribute me.
  6. CoolGame 3 doesn’t get paid.
  7. CoolGame 3’s great attempts to get me to give them my IDFA didn’t help.
  8. Fail.

IDFA Alternative: “More granular tracking permissions with attribution as an exception.”
Assessment: Doubt it’ll make iOS 14

That’s great, and I’d love for it to become a reality, but so far, it seems that attribution doesn’t fit the criteria that Apple put in place for exceptions. Additionally, IDFA is simply not accessible by the API without an opt-in.

It’s possible that Apple would expand SKAdnetwork to support more attribution use-cases, but in my opinion, an outright exception to use identifiers would be off the table. Looking at how they handled ITP, they made no exception and considered all of this as collateral damage:

Claim: “This will impact the SDK ad networks more than the SANs.”
Assessment: I think both are equally impacted

SANs are the most powerful networks out there, with extremely precise targeting, and according to our data and ROI Index, they are the top-performing channels that capture the lion share of the spend.

That being said, unless SANs like Facebook and Google get special access, this impact could change things for them just as much as it’s changing things for the SDK Ad Networks, and potentially even more because much of their superiority lies with accurate data, the kind of data Apple will be taking away by anonymizing everything. Also – SANs may also have a large dependency on View-Through attribution, which these changes impact too.

Claim: “Apple already provided exceptions to obtain IDFAs without user opt-in.”
Assessment: Seems false in the beta so far

We tested iOS 14, and the method that gives the app the IDFA is returning 0s in case the user didn’t opt-in. This also aligns with Apple’s documentation, IDFA wouldn’t be accessible without a user opt-in.

I don’t think Apple ever said that you could obtain IDFA without opt-in, and what I do see in their docs doesn’t speak about IDFA:

Idea: “Let’s hash IDFAs, and so the actual IDFA will never leave the device.”
Assessment: Doesn’t solve for privacy

Doing a one-time hash creates a really easy way to utilize the IDFA still. If everybody could collect IDFA, and hash it, then you now essentially got a new IDFA (let’s call it HIDFA – Hashed IDFA).

To illustrate:

  • CoolGame 3 takes my IDFA and hashes it. They now have my HIDFA, and they send it to CoolGame’s servers.
  • Uber takes my IDFA and hashes it. They send my HIDFA it to Uber’s servers.
  • Uber and CoolGame 3 can now track me across apps.

So we ended up with the IDFA again.

Claim: “We’ve done fine when Apple deprecated UDID and MAC addresses.”
Assessment: I think it’s irrelevant this time

Yes, we have gone through a lot as an industry, but I don’t think this one is the same. I’d love to be wrong, but in the past, when permanent device identifiers went away, temporary ad IDs gave us what we needed. This is a different scenario entirely, where the OS has stepped into the attribution flow.

Claim: “Facebook will not be affected.”
Assessment: Not sure

Apple has been known to give Facebook an unfair advantage before, whether it’s native integration into the OS or other things. But, in this move, Apple seems to have impacted their own ad network (Apple Search Ads), and play by the same rules.

There is an open question about whether ASA will be able to track installs on LAT users and bill you based on that, but they’re making such a big deal about privacy, it would be SO WEIRD if they just gave ASA or Facebook some magic access… but who knows.

Claim: “This will push all the ad dollars to Android.”
Assessment: I think it’s unlikely

There may be some initial push towards Android where things “simply work,” but I don’t think that’s sustainable. iOS revenue share in most western markets is 65%+, and I doubt app developers will give up that revenue stream. Some of the UA/Advertising capabilities will be impacted on iOS; there’s no doubt about it… but there will be some tools and capabilities that will still enable the advertisers to do their job, and I think these will get much better over time.

Join the conversation

Have questions? You’re not alone. Our entire industry needs to adapt to these new privacy enhancements, and we have to do it fast. We invite you to join our community coalition, Mobile Action Privacy (MAP), on Slack to connect with other thought leaders, ask questions, and share ideas.

You can also watch our on-demand webinar, iOS 14 & IDFA changes: What you need to know, where I reviewed what losing the IDFA means for marketers and what data-driven marketing will look like in the very near future. Stay tuned! More to come. 😊

 
 

Singular announces first-to-market SKAdNetwork support to replace the IDFA

Join us for a special AMA (ask me anything) webinar about UA in iOS 14
on August 12th @ 10am PT with experts from Lyft, Homa Games, and ironSource

 
For the past couple of years we’ve been preparing for the eventuality that Apple would deprecate the IDFA. What was once an unfathomable scenario will now become a reality this September when iOS 14 launches publicly.

While the IDFA isn’t completely gone, Apple created an opt-in mechanism that will effectively render it useless, and as a result, thousands of companies and millions of developers are scratching their heads and wondering what’s next.

We’ve given it a lot of thought here at Singular, as this fundamentally redefines the role of Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs).

MMPs are designed to provide unbiased third-party measurement of your mobile marketing efforts. Up to now, much of that promise was facilitated with the aid of mobile ad identifiers like Apple’s IDFA on iOS and GAID (Google’s Advertising ID) for Android. Moving forward, we face a significant challenge: finding new ways to keep that promise and help marketers optimize their campaigns … while preserving end-user privacy. Even in the middle of massive market shifts like the one we’re going through now.

That is why I’m very excited to announce Singular’s first-to-market support for SKAdNetwork, making it scalable, simple, and seamless for mobile marketers.

Yesterday’s announcement at WWDC is a tectonic shift for mobile marketers. Some are probably wondering how they can optimize ad campaigns in the future. It will still be possible, and you will be able to understand which marketing inputs are driving the results you need.

(In fact, we’ll be talking about exactly how next week — join us!)

Context: what is SKAdNetwork?

SKAdNetwork is a library provided as part of iOS to help marketers attribute marketing in a privacy-safe way.

Apple’s been working on it for some time. Thankfully, we’ve also been working on how to support it for over a year now. But in iOS 14, Apple has given SKAdNetwork some major renovations that made it a whole lot more useful and usable. And it definitely feels like Apple listened to us and other marketers in the Mobile Attribution Privacy Coalition who spent time analyzing its strengths and weaknesses.

The key concept in SKAdNetwork is that the iOS operating system will now play a central role in facilitating marketing attribution.

If SKAdNetwork is enabled in an app, the App Store will now receive attribution parameters when it’s opened due to a click on an ad. Then, if this click results in a conversion — an app download — iOS itself will send a postback accompanied by those attribution parameters.

(And, potentially, some important post-install conversion data, which we’ll cover later.)

This may sound somewhat similar to Google’s Play Referral mechanism, but what makes SKAdNetwork privacy-preserving is the fact that the attribution parameters cannot contain any device IDs or personally-identifying information. In addition, the install postback is sent by the operating system itself, and not by the installed app. As such advertisers will know that an install has happened, but they won’t be able to connect a specific install with a specific device, thus preserving privacy.

SKAdNetwork 1.0 was initially released over two years ago, and it offered very limited granularity plus no support for post-install measurements, making it practically unusable for optimization purposes.

The good news is that in SKAdNetwork 2.0, Apple added “publisher-app” granularity. In other words, marketers can now get data on which publisher drove which install. That’s critical: now we can provide publisher-level insights to marketers. In addition, Apple also added limited support for post-install tracking with their new updateConversionValue and registerAppForAdNetworkAttribution methods.

A high level flow looks like this:

SKAdNetwork 2.0 attribution flow using the updateConversionValue or registerAppForAdNetworkAttribution methods

 

What does this mean for marketers?

Currently, marketers have two main sources of data for measuring marketing campaigns:

  1. From MMPs: metrics on installs and post-install cohorted metrics
  2. From ad networks: metrics on impressions, clicks, video-views, spend

As things currently stand, Singular combines those two datasets together. Then marketers can get both granular and high-level insights on the results of their marketing investments. With those insights, they can optimize acquisition and retargeting campaigns, test new networks, and more.

With iOS 14, everything changes.

For starters, the data flow for app attributions will change. Instead of apps sending postbacks to Singular, now Apple will be sending install postbacks to ad networks whose ads caused the app install. These postbacks include information about the install that is cryptographically signed by Apple, and can be verified using Apple’s public key.

Another key issue with iOS 14: measuring post-install activity. SKAdNetwork includes functionality for an app to send a small amount of post-install conversion data back to the ad networks, but this is limited in both scope and timing. (More details on this shortly in our next post.)

There’s a significant positive here, by the way. In iOS 14, Apple vouches for app installs, which dramatically reduces the likelihood of ad fraud.

All of this means major change for marketers. Whereas previously MMPs collected all the data they needed, now iOS advertisers will need to collect all install postbacks (and any post-install conversion data) from every ad network they run campaigns with. Plus, advertisers will need to validate these postbacks, store them, translate the attribution parameters to human readable data, and then connect it to campaign spend data to determine return on ad spend. Oh, and the closer you can do it real-time, the better you can be at optimizing your future ad spend.

That’s exactly where Singular comes in.

Singular’s solution: making SKAdNetwork simple and scalable

idfa-skadnetwork-apple-singular

Singular is the leader in aggregating data from thousands of data sources. We collect more data from more sources in more ways than anyone else, which we then standardize, aggregate, and present. And that’s perfectly aligned with our MMP attribution product, which has gained incredible momentum in the last two years with many of the world’s best brands switching from legacy MMPs to Singular as a unified aggregation and attribution solution.

Our primary advantage as a platform becomes even stronger in this new SKAdNetwork reality.

We already are by far the best in the world in gathering full data sets from every single channel. After all, that’s our core strength. In supporting SKAdNetwork, we will be adding the role of collecting the various Apple-generated postbacks from all of your ad network partners. We’ll then verify them, de-dupe them, parse them, and connect them to your ad spend to report on ROI.

And Singular will still help you achieve publisher-level granularity for marketing reporting (what some in the industry have called sub-publisher granularity).

Plus, of course, the SKAdNetwork stack will have to work side by side with the existing MMP capabilities of the Singular stack, including continued support for:

  • iOS fingerprinting (adhering to any Apple updates)
  • iOS deeplink support (still fully supported)
  • iOS deferred deeplink support (reliant on fingerprinting)
  • Android attribution (yeah, apparently Android is kind of a big deal)
  • Web and cross-device attribution (growing in importance)
  • Spend and ROAS reporting (critical for marketing optimization)

SKAdNetwork is going to introduce new challenges and complexities. There’s no doubt about that. However, we commit to helping you navigate these challenges.

And we will ensure you have the ability to do your job … while preserving user privacy.

Interested in continuing the conversation? Join us and other industry experts in the Mobile Attribution Privacy (MAP) Coalition Slack group, to exchange ideas and ask questions.

 
 

iOS 14: IDFA is not dead yet, but it’s definitely on life support

Join us for a special AMA (ask me anything) webinar about UA in iOS 14
on August 12th @ 10am PT with experts from Lyft, Homa Games, and ironSource

 

Today at WWDC 2020, Apple announced several new privacy enhancements in iOS14 that will debut in September. We’ve been long anticipating these changes, and have been working to prepare for this since our announcement a year ago on the formation of the Mobile Attribution Privacy group. (See more details here, and join the Slack group here).

The good news for consumers: more privacy.

The good news for marketers: it’s not game over for data-driven marketing.

Some of the changes to Apple’s SKAdNetwork framework are extremely promising. Apple’s SKAdNetwork improvements suggest that not only are they listening to what app publishers need, but that we will still be able to provide tools for sophisticated marketers.

In addition, Singular has a number of upcoming privacy-preserving solutions that we will announce shortly.

Opt-In for IDFA

Starting with iOS 14, apps will need to receive permission from users in order to use the Identifier for Advertisers, the IDFA. To be clear, this is explicitly granting permission to track users across apps and services.

Straight from the documentation:
“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.”

IDFA permission request iOS14
Looking at the documentation for iOS 14, we can confirm that when the “Ask App Not To Track” button is clicked, the app will not be able to access the device’s IDFA, and receive the same value as if the “Limit Ad Tracking” mechanism is turned on. In short, until a user grants authorization, all identifiers will be zeroed out.

One piece of good news if you want to use the IDFA and believe it’s something that your users will want?

The message will be customizable. “App developers need to provide custom text, known as a usage description string, which is displayed as a system-permission alert request,” Apple’s documentation says.

That means you’ll be able to make the case to your users that opting in is a good thing for them.

Let’s be frank, however.

The vast majority of people who see a message like the above are not going to opt in. When they see that a publisher wants permission to track them across apps and websites owned by other companies … forget about it.

So you’re going to have to be ready to live without IDFAs.

Checking for IDFA status

Apple is deprecating the isAdvertisingTrackingEnabled function. In order to check if a user has actually enabled measurement, developers will need to check the AppTrackingTransparency framework.

Changes to SKAdNetwork

SKAdNetwork in iOS14 apple

Apple has also made multiple changes to SKAdNetwork, the class that validates advertiser-driven app installations. We’re going to go in-depth on this in a follow-up blog post tomorrow — and a webinar — but here’s the quick overview:

  1. Apple added timers, which likely means that the conversion notification won’t be immediate. This is probably a privacy-enhancing move.
  2. Apple added a mechanism to update a conversion value. This may be an initial method to attach limited post-install KPIs to the conversion notification, which of course is crucial for optimizations.
  3. Apple added Redownload/Reinstall support, which is always nice to know.
  4. Apple added Source App ID to recognize the publishing app (this is huge because we can now facilitate publisher-level granularity).

There are quite a few more changes, but we’ll continue researching them and update on those later in our in-depth follow-up post.

Finally: new App Privacy section

Later this year, your app’s App Store product pages will start to feature summaries of your self-reported privacy practices, plus a link to your privacy policy. That includes both data gather via the app that is used to track users elsewhere plus data that publishers might access outside the app and link to users’ profiles in the app. Example: purchases, web browsing history, location data, and other demographic information.

app privacy page in app store

There’s a lot more. We’ll be adding and updating over the next few days.

 

Singular releases free tools & training for marketers impacted by coronavirus

Starting today, Singular is giving our unified marketing data and analytics platform to all SMB marketers for free, with no commitments, for half a year—180 days. In addition, we’ll provide advanced training from industry experts on marketers’ toughest growth and data management challenges.

Marketers at the fastest-growing companies have access to technology and training that others don’t. Singular wants to address the training gap, as well as the technology. To this end, we’re offering best-in-class webinars and workshops on key topics that show marketers how to harness their data to address performance and consumer behavior shifts, and provide ways to leverage this data effectively across organizations.

You can access our free tools and training from our coronavirus resources page:

 

The hurdles that SMBs must overcome

We’re giving access to our Starter tools for free to alleviate the issues that small and medium-sized businesses are encountering during the coronavirus pandemic. Singular unifies data across all of a marketer’s ad networks and channels, enabling them to assess the performance of their campaigns and make better, faster decisions to grow their business.

Now more than ever, marketers need to prove ROI. They need to be able to shift strategies rapidly to adapt to changing consumer behavior and make smart advertising decisions. Others are growing fast in our shelter-in-place reality and need the tools to scale campaigns efficiently. And almost all of us are now working remotely and need to stay in alignment with our colleagues with a single source of truth for Marketing, BI, Finance, Creative, and Executive teams.

In short, it’s a really tough time for SMB marketers right now. Not only are they under a lot of scrutiny—they’re having to justify their work and protect their very existence.

By offering our unified marketing data and analytics platform for free for half a year, we hope that marketers hardest hit by COVID-19 will have the help they need to ride out and overcome the worst effects of the current downturn. They’ll gain a single source of truth for marketing performance; automated, aggregated access to all of their marketing data; and a platform that aligns all of their teams on the same tailored business metrics. 

Other things advertisers can do during this difficult time

Outside of our offer, there are several strategic things SMB advertisers can do today to keep their business stable—if not growing—during this time:

  • Report on ROI daily to demonstrate the value of your work, cut ineffective ad spend, and only invest in what’s working for your business
  • Make sure you have near real-time reporting for key KPIs to quickly react to shifts in performance or consumer behavior
  • Analyze your users’ lifetime value and how COVID-19 has impacted it
  • Plan around negative (drop in ARPU) and positive (drop in CAC) scenarios

A few more things to keep in mind….

Beware of fraudsters

In addition, now’s a good time to double down on fraud prevention. With so many “bad actors” coming out of the woodwork during this pandemic, take extra precautions to protect your data, reporting, and apps. 

Look at cross-device performance

Make sure you’re getting the full picture when it comes to your advertising efforts. That means being able to connect marketing spend data to conversions across devices and platforms. Now more than ever, the effectiveness of every ad dollar is only as good as the accuracy of your ROI analysis.

Learn more about how Singular can help

If you’re interested in learning more, Singular has industry-leading solutions that can help with both fraud prevention as well as cross-device attribution.

The learning curve: continued marketing education

We’ve seen so many great sources of information (and inspiration) pop up online over the last few months: cooking classes, workout routines, music festivals, and more. People are also starting things they’ve wanted to for a long time, like music lessons and catching up on reading lists. 

As folks spend more time at home, this is a good opportunity to level up your skills. Invest some time now to make yourself a better growth expert by learning SQL and Python. (You’ll thank me later.)

Why? As marketers grow more dependent on their BI team, it’s useful to develop the knowledge to understand marketing analytics more deeply. By learning SQL basics, marketers will be able to query their own data, come up with their own conclusions, and become more independent. With Python, you can be self-sufficient in automation and more innovative with your work.

The role of data scientist has become a game-changer in the advertising space. At a minimum, learning how to pipe data into reporting will empower you and your BI team to speak more of the same language.

We’re in this together

A Singular team member recently asked me if I’d had any moments of pause during our shelter-in-place due to COVID-19. I’ve had so many. As we’ve shifted to working from home (I feel for you, fellow parents), buckled down to focus on how we can be even more effective, and understood the pressures that many businesses face, one thing has stood out for me…

We’re living history right now. These times will be in history books.

How we respond to the challenges we face says who we are as a global community. It also demands that business leaders summon our best selves to give back and lift up.

There can be a tendency to get lured into a constant stream of news headlines and CDC data. At the end of the day, you realize that the most effective thing you can do is just stay home and weather the storm, and to connect with friends and family in ways that are meaningful and make sense given current events. 

As I see people come together—for each other, healthcare workers, neighbors, and businesses—I know we’ll get through these challenges. We’ll conquer a pandemic and bring our best selves to whatever lies ahead.

Singular is doing our small part to help.

Digital Marketing Software Free

Fake security features in mobile attribution SDKs

I often hear about security questions our customers are asking regarding our mobile attribution SDK security. It usually comes up when companies are evaluating a new attribution provider, and either submit an RFP/RFI document or run their own checklists. What’s interesting is that nine times out of 10, the SDK security questions center around two topics:

  1. Do you have an open/closed source SDK?
  2. Do you have an SDK encryption mechanism?

These questions are natural—stakeholders want to make responsible decisions for their business. This is especially true in today’s world where the MMP is the source of truth, one that fraudsters are constantly trying to manipulate.

The problem is: these mechanisms, and some others, are over-hyped by other MMPs and not real security measures. They’re the absolute basics, like remembering to lock the door when you leave the office. 

But they don’t offer any real protection. Instead, they provide a false sense of security.

In this article, I’ll explain a bit more about why SDK security is such a difficult problem, why the aforementioned mechanisms aren’t real security, and what Singular’s doing to continue to provide strong protection against fraud.

What’s so hard about securing the SDK?

SDKs are pieces of code that run inside a mobile app. Their main function is to collect and report data like app opens, user events, revenue, and metrics to a server (e.g., Singular’s servers). They also support some functionality like deep linking, fraud prevention, etc.

Since apps communicate with their servers over the internet, there’s an inherent challenge of verifying this communication is indeed originating from a real device and a real user.

As such, two of the most commonly used techniques for securing SDK communication are adding encryption and closing the source. The point is to make it hard to fake authentic communication, but it’s actually security through obscurity—which is a big “no no” in the world of security. As a result, advertisers have a false sense of safety and are easy pickings for fraudsters.

The best analogy is wax seals, used in the Middle Ages, to seal letters and authenticate the sender. Sadly, in today’s age, wax seals aren’t truly effective tools for security. Anyone motivated enough can find a way to produce perfectly similar wax seals, and fool the letter’s recipient into believing it’s an authentic communique.

mobile attribution

SDK encryption

A standard play in the obfuscation game involves attempts to use encryption to “verify” that the data being sent by the SDK to the server is indeed authentic data.

Encryption algorithms rely on a secret key established between two parties. In our case that would be the SDK and the server. The encryption algorithm, combined with the secret key, enables you to create authenticated, encrypted messages.

While this sounds like a marvelous idea, there is one small flaw in this plan. The SDK that resides inside the app needs to know the secret itself. Most apps that we know, even the paid ones, are publicly available for download in the App Store / Play Store, which means that anybody can get ahold of the secret key. Not so secret anymore… is it?

The way to extract the key is quite simple:

  • Download the app binary (APK for Android, IPA for iPhone)
  • Depending on the platform, you may need to decrypt the binary with publicly available tools
  • Reverse engineer the binary and get the SDK encryption key

For skilled individuals—certainly ones who are financially motivated (fraudsters)—this can be done in seconds if it’s automated by software, or minutes if done by hand.

Does closed source matter?

Probably the best example of security through obscurity is the claim some vendors make about how their closed-source approach is “essential when fighting ad fraud,” while other vendors claim they “live by open source.”

mobile attribution

Sadly, it’s all BS.

Since this is almost a religious matter for some people, I’ll avoid picking sides. Instead, I’ll simply explain why no option really provides security against faking SDK traffic:

  • Open source claims that by being open and transparent with your code, it’ll be easier to weed out bugs and to be audited. As such, you’re creating a more secure environment.

    The obvious downside is that your entire security mechanism is open for all, and you can see how it works (i.e., you can see how someone generates their wax seal).
  • Closed source claims that by being closed and obfuscated with your code, it’ll be harder to find bugs and be audited, and as such you’re creating a more secure environment.

    While it makes it difficult for people to understand how your security mechanism works, there are processes like reverse engineering that any semi-skilled fraudster could utilize that basically reveal something quite close to the original source code. Which means that if you try hard enough… you can still learn how the security mechanism works! 

What you need to understand is that it’s all an obfuscation game, and it’s not real security.

mobile attribution

How do we secure our mobile attribution SDKs?

First off, we do the basics. Closed-source SDK and SDK encryption are the basics, and we’ve done them since the first version of our SDK.

mobile attribution

Second, we developed proprietary methods for iOS and Android that leverage a chain of trust. This chain helps enforce that devices communicating with our servers are real devices, owned by real people.

As the leader in enterprise fraud prevention, Singular is the only vendor with these capabilities. Using this technology, we’ve saved our customers from wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on fraudulent activities. This is not just us raising the bar, but making it virtually impossible to spoof our traffic.

If you’re unsure about your current security and want to talk to our fraud and security experts, come talk to us: fraud@singular.net.

What Singular is doing with the Mobile Attribution Privacy working group

Wondering what Apple’s new privacy enhancements mean for you?
Watch our on-demand webinar iOS 14 & IDFA Changes: What you need to know

 

Will we soon be living in a post-IDFA world? It’s hard to say, but there are some reasons to prepare for it, which is why Singular has established the Mobile Attribution Privacy working group.

In 2019 so far there have been over 1,000 privacy breaches exposing over 146 million records. That’s just one reason why privacy and data security are becoming increasingly important, both from a regulatory standpoint and a customer trust point of view.

mobile attribution privacy

As I shared with you a few months ago, Singular has already started making steps towards a more privacy-safe attribution model.

Recently, we met with representatives from companies including Lyft, AirBnB, Twitter, WB Games, Jam City, DraftKings, Oracle, Branch, Unity, the Mobile Marketing Association, LUMA Partners, and many others as part of a Mobile Attribution Privacy (MAP) working group. Our goal as advertisers and vendors: talk about options for measuring marketing while serving the privacy needs and desires of customers and users … even if the IDFA goes away.

Post-IDFA: what we talked about

In our first meeting, we talked about whether this was mobile and web, or mostly just mobile. The consensus: we’re going to keep this primarily focused on mobile attribution.

We also talked about Google advertising ID, and whether that should be part of the conversation. Though it seems that Google would be much less likely to abandon their primary identifier than Apple, we decided that we should look at global solutions for both Android and iOS.

One of the things we unanimously agreed on: we need to be focused on the needs of people: users and customers. If something doesn’t matter to users, it shouldn’t matter to us, and conversely, if it does, then it needs to be a core concern for marketers and marketing technology vendors.

This is one of those things that sounds simple but is actually complex.

For example, Apple cares first and foremost about their users, but to get these users to the iOS platform they need content providers to thrive and have an economic incentive to build for it. As one participant said: “People choose a phone based on where they can play Fortnite.”

And while big content creators could survive removal of device identifiers (by switching to something else – like an email address), many smaller ecosystem players would struggle to survive, as this will greatly deteriorate people’s ability to know who their users are and where they came from.

Broadening the conversation

Two interesting ideas that have legs came up. And they’re both ways to broaden the conversation.

One is to bring this discussion to the IAB, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and perhaps create a working group focused on Mobile Identifiers. The IAB, after all, is dealing with other privacy-related topics. Another is to view this area as an extension to the GDPR and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) legislation. Both are valid suggestions, and we’ll be looking into both options.

And finally, we spoke about multiple device identifier options:

  • Auto-rotating (short-lived) IDFAs
    If the IDFA auto-rotated, say weekly or monthly, Apple would limit how long you can track any particular user. This should permit proper advertising attribution. One question yet to answer: can an app developer stitch the rotating IDFAs together as long as the user is active within their app? Some would consider that app activity as a “meaningful relationship” which may permit doing so; others might consider it a violation of privacy.
  • Google Play Referrer equivalent
    Google has an excellent mechanism for passing referrer context into Google Play that the app can then query upon installation. Again, this would enable attribution. The obvious problem here is that enabling this type of link tracking makes it impossible to prevent vendors from appending a device ID, click ID, or other form of identification that could be connected to a specific person.
  • SKAdNetwork
    This is somewhat of a similar concept: you pass info to the App Store, but it’s not exposed to the installed app. The data is controlled by the operating system, and the amount of data you can pass along is greatly limited. In its current form this feels immature, but that could change with serious interest from major players.

And the conversation continues

Ultimately, we’re going to continue the conversation. We’re also going to broaden it to new players, and we invite anyone who is an interested party to be part of the next meeting of the Mobile Attribution Privacy group, either in person or via videoconferencing.

If you’d like to be part of the Mobile Attribution Privacy (MAP) Coalition, please join us in the MAP Slack group. There, you’ll be able to connect with other industry folks who are working to move the digital marketing community forward in this new, more privacy-safe world.

Mobile marketing measurement in a post-IDFA world

Wondering what Apple’s new privacy enhancements mean for you?
Watch our on-demand webinar iOS 14 & IDFA Changes: What you need to know

 

Prior to Apple’s recent World Wide Developer Conference, there were rumors spreading about potential changes to Apple’s IDFA (Identifier For Advertising). As it turned out, Apple was just restricting apps in the Kids category: they can no longer use third-party analytics or advertising.

That’s in line with Apple’s strong privacy story and what it has done in WebKit, the engine that powers the Safari web browser. Already two years ago Apple released Intelligent Tracking Prevention to limit cross-site tracking and third-party cookies, and version 2.2 was just recently released.

But whether we’re talking iOS, Android or the web, the drift of the mobile ecosystem is towards increased privacy. And that impacts marketers.

So where do we go?

At Singular, we’ve spent considerable time imagining and planning for a world where mobile apps and marketers would have to survive in a privacy-safe environment without a common device identifier like IDFA on devices.

In fact, we think there’s an opportunity to re-engineer some components to create a world that is privacy safe, marketer friendly, and fraud-free (as a big bonus). And we’re ready to ask others to join us (keep reading for more details).

Measurement and privacy

Prior to 2012, advertisers and marketers measured the effectiveness of their iOS campaigns using iPhone UDID (Unique Device Identifiers). UDIDs were not privacy-safe because they were unchangeable and permanent, which enables limitless tracking of users essentially in perpetuity.

In an early step to increase privacy, Apple created a semi-permanent identifier called IDFA (IDentifier For Advertising) to address the need for marketers to understand which ads and campaigns work, while also protecting consumers. An IDFA is essentially a random, unique number that, by itself, reveals no personally identifying information. In addition, it was designed to be reset by the consumer if anyone decides to do so.

The IDFA quickly became a central mechanism for the entire mobile marketing ecosystem on iOS, and has a role in countless systems and scenarios, from targeting, retargeting, analytics, rate limiting, personalization, identity, and more.

But what would the world look like without it?

The world without IDFA

After years of relying on an identifier like the IDFA, imagining the marketing world without it at all is challenging. What are some of the main challenges of living without the IDFA … and what alternatives exist?

Last-Touch and Multi-Touch Attribution Models
Mobile attribution providers use IDFAs to identify a device, and link an ad impression or click to a mobile app install. Or, essentially, any conversion.

Without a deterministic link such as the IDFA, both last-touch as well as multi-touch attribution will become much more challenging. Essentially, it won’t be easy to plot out the customer journey in a reliable manner.

As a result, attribution providers will have to look for alternatives. (Keep reading for one of them.)

People-Based Attribution
One of the holy grails for marketers is to track individuals not only across apps, but also across devices. This is useful for marketers because it helps understand true human behavior, which oftentimes happens between devices.

People-based attribution has been the topic of many announcements from multiple mobile measurement companies lately, mostly because it would be amazing to solve that challenge on a holistic level.

There is one major challenge, however.

Privacy.

Concepts like the “persona graph” or “device graph” are problematic by nature, as they require cross-app and cross-domain (web) tracking. Seeing what Apple’s WebKit team has been writing about Intelligent Tracking Prevention and hearing what CEO Tim Cook has been saying about privacy, it’s pretty clear where Apple lands on cross-domain tracking.

Guess what: removing the IDFA would have a major impact on tracking users across apps. And that adds up to a very problematic future for a “people-based attribution” vision.

Fraud Prevention
Fraud prevention solutions rely on ad identifiers to ensure the accuracy of advertising attribution. Some types of fraud can be eliminated or reduced with this identifier. Deleting the IDFA could lead to weaknesses for fraudsters could exploit.

One example?

Click spammers could more easily fake a click as if it came from a device, thereby taking credit for conversions that they are not responsible for.

Campaign Optimization
Ad networks and marketers rely on their ability to link an ad campaign to a particular user in order to understand how their campaigns are performing. That tells marketers what their ROI is, or informs other KPIs that provide valuable feedback.

Without an IDFA connecting the dots between ads and app installs, this will be challenging.

And that could impact marketers’ ability to optimize their campaigns, as well as ad networks’ ability to do so. Think about how your ad networks optimize heavily towards post-install events today — some in a very black box manner.

All of that could be disrupted.

Retargeting
Retargeting often works by identifying a segment of users we would like to communicate with. Example: people who added an item to a cart, but did not make a purchase.

These segments are then pushed to ad platforms dedicated for retargeting in order to bring people back into your app.

The way segments are communicated today in the mobile universe is mostly based on advertising identifiers. Making these ineffective would dramatically impact the ability to retarget your customers. Marketers would have to resort to other means of identifiable information, such as email addresses, which won’t necessarily be a good step forward in terms of privacy.

It’s worth noting this situation would also tilt the playing field in a number of ways:

  1. Marketers that collect emails from their users would have a significant advantage. Not every app does that, and bigger, more trusted brands can do so more effectively than smaller ones.
  2. Big ad networks (Facebook/Google/etc.) that have their customer’s emails would do better. Smaller ad networks, with thousands of smaller publishers, most likely do not have those emails, which could therefore not be used for targeting purposes.

So what are the alternatives?

Alternative #1: Fingerprinting

If you think about it, app marketers already live with one IDFA-less world: mobile web.

Given the mobile browser’s inability to access the IDFA, marketing measurement companies use a technology called fingerprinting to attribute web to app conversion flows. Fingerprinting collects mobile device attributes like IP addresses, device types, software versions, and more, and uses them to create a “signature” that probabilistically identifies a device.

That same signature is collected both on the click and when the advertised app is launched. Then the two are matched, with some statistical error.

In a world without IDFA at all, the app to app conversion flows could simply mimic the web to app flows, using fingerprinting in much the same way.

Downsides

  • Privacy!
    Fingerprinting can work with fairly high levels of accuracy (80-95%, depending on devices and available information) but it can be seen as an invasive and non-permissioned type of tracking. In a way, it may work against the very thing that Apple is trying to achieve: more privacy for users. It also has GDPR implications, which would be problematic since it’s not always clear how to obtain user consent when fingerprinting. Or, even if you can ask for it, it’s an open question whether you’d get it.
  • Inaccuracy
    Fingerprinting uses device attributes such as IP, OS Version, Device Model, and other parameters. While it can have high levels of accuracy, it is still probabilistic not deterministic, and therefore it can have poor accuracy under certain circumstances. Device attributes are not always unique, and some (like IP address) change often. Therefore, the signature can either match the wrong device to an activity, or not match at all.P.S.: Some mobile attribution vendors position low-accuracy fingerprinting products, like matching on an IP subnet, as a feature not a bug!
  • Fraud
    Fraudsters can leverage a fingerprinting-first world. For example, click spammers wouldn’t need to fire clicks for a large number of device IDs. Instead they could use various techniques to generate clicks for common signatures, thereby cheating marketers and disrupting ad networks’ ability to do their jobs and get paid for it.This is a problem especially with iOS. The number of possible iPhone signatures is pretty small since many devices are extremely similar in terms of software versions and hardware models.
  • Limited attribution models
    While fingerprinting can solve for last-touch attribution models, it will make the attribution windows shorter. And, it will be significantly more complex to store multiple touchpoints based on the fingerprint, given their short life-span. This in effect enables short-lived last-click or view-through attribution, but not more advanced multi-touch attribution models.
  • Retargeting
    While fingerprinting solves for attribution, being able to communicate a segment to a third-party retargeting company will be impossible without some shared identity. Emails could be used in some cases, but not in all.

Positives

  • The statistical nature of fingerprints increases, to some degree, the privacy of particular individuals, and makes it impossible to completely deterministically track users.
  • This is already a pre-existing solution that enables the entire ecosystem to continue to function the day after IDFA. ROI could still be calculated. Partner postbacks are still possible, and advertisers’ BI setups could stay in tact. This is more important to consumers than some might recognize: advertising pays for the massive amount of free content and experiences the internet provides.

Alternative #2: SKAdNetwork

There’s another potential solution available.

In March of 2018, Apple released a framework called SKAdNetwork that enables attribution of mobile app installs without exposing the IDFA.

Background
SKAdNetwork works by having the mobile operating system become a privacy-oriented mediator between the publisher (the app where the ad is shown), the advertiser (a different app being advertised) and the ad network (that places the ad in the first place).

The ad network displaying the ad in the publisher’s app will have to pass special parameters to the iTunes Service process on the device when an ad click happens. These values will be stored, and if the app was installed as a result of that click, and subsequently launched, the device will send a postback to the ad network in a pre-agreed path between Apple and the ad network.

The postback tells the ad network — and therefore the advertiser — that the ad was successful.

The beauty about the process from a privacy point of view is that the postback does not contain any device identifiers, thus disassociating the identity of the clicking device from the installing device. The postback itself is signed by Apple, which allows the ad network or any third party to verify it, and thereby know that an actual install truly happened from that ad click.

There are some downsides, however.

Downsides

  • View-through attribution
    Forget about view-through attribution … viewing events are not part of the SKAdNetwork model, and therefore would not be available for attribution.
  • Multi-touch attribution
    SKAdNetwork only stores the last click that led to the App Store open, which means that MTA models would be impossible. To be fair, in today’s privacy-sensitive world, impression data from the top publishers (Facebook, Google, Apple, etc) is not available anyway. That already great limits the capability of achieving MTA, so perhaps the loss here isn’t massive.
  • Campaign optimization
    Matching down-funnel events such as revenue and purchases to the ad campaign would be impossible with how SKAdNetwork is implemented today.This is also a tricky area for Apple to implement without running the risk that malicious parties would collaborate to decipher a user’s identity. For example, the app could intentionally send conversion events that could be used to identify the user. A possible path for implementation would be similar to what WebKit proposed here where the number of possible conversions will be limited to 64, and a delay (24 to 48 hours) would be introduced to make it difficult to correlate between conversions and an existing user. But doing so on a mobile device that goes offline could also be tricky.
  • Retargeting
    While SKAdNetwork can help with attribution, being able to communicate a segment to a third party retargeting company will be impossible without some shared identity. As we’ve already seen above, emails could be used in some cases, but not in all.

Positives

  • Accuracy
    SKAdNetwork makes a direct connection between a click and an install without relying on the IDFA. This kind of connection could even survive an IDFA reset — something that consumers can do at any time they wish.
  • Fraud prevention
    SKAdNetwork provides advantages that aid in fraud prevention.

    • The first advantage is that Apple is verifying the install, and that the install is tied to a valid Apple ID. There’s already an existing mechanism for that available today (shameless plug: one that Singular is doing a better job than anyone else preventing fraud with that mechanism, and provides superior results).
    • The second advantage is that Apple verifies there was user intent to open the App Store, with the ad click information associated with it. In addition, that ad click information is digitally signed by the ad network, therefore limiting malicious publishers in their attempts to generate fake ad clicks.(For a deeper deep dive into SKAdNetwork and Fraud, subscribe to our blog and stay tuned for a dedicated article.)

Overall, there are some major advantages here, and we see the opportunity to expand SKAdNetwork into a complete — and privacy-safe — solution.

Announcing MAP: the Mobile Attribution Privacy working group

I think SKAdNetwork holds great potential, and deserves wider adoption, but it also requires more work. We at Singular want to be part of that process, and help improve it, and drive adoption.

To harness the power of the technology, we want to make it more effective and relevant for marketers while preserving its privacy protections for consumers.

Therefore, Singular has decided to formally launch MAP, an open working group for mobile marketing stakeholders. That includes marketers, publishers, ad networks, attribution providers, marketing analytics companies … and people, the people who own smartphones and use apps.

The goal of the working group is to address some key points:

  • Conducting a comprehensive analysis of the post-IDFA world
  • Drafting a proposal for SKAdNetwork improvements, including a privacy-preserving way to utilize SKAdNetwork to analyze cohort data, and addressing other key gaps
  • Building out an API specification for data transfer between the ad network and the mobile measurement partner communication in an SKAdNetwork world
  • Driving adoption of SKAdNetwork in the mobile ad ecosystem.

I’m asking our customers, partners, and fellow mobile measurement and analytics vendors to partner with us in this effort. Together, I think we can shape the future of that protocol, and work together to ensure proper, safe, legal, and ethical design and implementation.

If you’d like to be part of the Mobile Attribution Privacy (MAP) Coalition, please join us in the MAP Slack group. There, you’ll be able to connect with other industry folks who are working to move the digital marketing community forward in this new, more privacy-safe world.

CEO insights: Why creative fatigue isn’t as simple as it sounds

CEO Insights is a new column by Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv focusing on some of the most challenging issues in scientific marketing.

Most sophisticated growth organizations we’re working with are placing an enormous importance on creatives. These companies usually have in-house design teams dedicated for making creatives, plus processes and metrics around the production and launch process.

All of it is designed to ensure optimized results.

These companies understand the power of creative optimization, and distribute shared responsibility for amazing creative throughout the organization. Designers have been educated about performance metrics, and they’re savvy enough to combine their art with science in the form of cold, hard metrics.

These top brands also have periodic meetings (bi-weekly or more) where the design team sits down with the marketing team. Together they carefully examine the performance of various assets, and find a balance between introducing new winning concepts, sustaining proven concepts, and eliminating bad ones.

More advanced marketers also apply particular conventions to how assets are managed and tagged, so that tens of thousands of creative variations can be grouped by a handful of key concepts, which helps identify key trends.

All of these workflows and analysis capabilities are available out of the box for our customers through Singular’s creative optimization suite, and it gives our customers an enormous edge. Click here if you want to learn more about that, or email me if you’d like to see a demo.

So: what is the right process?

One area that was of interest to me was the pace at which companies swap out creative assets.

When asking various companies, I got a range of answers from: “we don’t have bandwidth for that at all” to “we have a constant refresh rate.” Some companies update on a fixed period of time (every two weeks or a month), while others update their creative “whenever design creates a new one.”

Obviously, not all creative costs the same to produce, and some creative is super expensive to produce in time and money like playables and videos. Other assets, however, can be produced quickly and efficiently, and when infused with time-specific context (such as a big concert, or a particular live event in a game) they can produce great results.

A common theme I’ve heard is the following way to run analysis on your creatives:

  • Cadence
    • Weekly or bi-weekly
  • Data input
    • Creative asset performance from all channels (Singular does that out of the box: check out our API)
    • Campaign targeting option data, particularly around the major self-attributing networks, to identify targeting methodology (value optimization, bid optimization, etc. …)
    • Channel, country, region, plus any other breakdowns that makes sense to you
    • Four weeks of data
      • Period A: first 2 weeks of data
      • Period B: second 2 weeks of data
  • Two simple data outputs
    • Check the trend of currently running creatives to detect big drops that might suggest these creatives should be cycled.
      • The drops could be in clicks, installs, eCPM, or any other metrics that make sense
      • For customers using Singular’s attribution, we enable ROI granularity all the way down to the creative level, so you can check for a drop in your main KPI (which is often what the ad engines optimize against)
    • Isolate the creatives that did not exist in Period A, but existed in Period B, and identify how they are trending. Learn from new concepts that are succeeding well, and some that are failing to ramp up.

One example:

Creative Period A Period B
  CTR     Conversions     eCPM     CTR     Conversions     eCPM  
Creative 1     3% 7,500 $9.50 1.5% 3,300 $11.75
Creative 2 n/a n/a n/a 3.5% 15,000 $11
Creative 3 n/a n/a n/a 1.5% 3,400 $9
Creative 4 1% 2,200 $3.40 2.3% 4,300 $4.23

Creative fatigue and time

As I look at all this data, the questions I keep asking myself are:

  • When is the right time to swap creatives?
  • Do companies know those times?
  • Can they even figure them out?

The answers to those questions, as I found out, are very complex. After dozens of talks with top tier marketers I got literally dozens of answers, and none of them was the silver bullet I was hoping for.

(Mostly likely, there isn’t any one single silver bullet. The techniques that work for one app are different than those that work for another brand.)

The one common thread in all these conversations was the favorite topic of creative fatigue detection. The formal definition of creative fatigue is that consumers/users/customers do not even see your ad anymore. They’ve become so used to it, that it is now just part of the default background for them.

Traditionally, the first thing people think about fatigue is that CTRs drop over time, because people have seen your ad again and again, and those who wanted to click have done that already.

But when I started researching some data, that naive assumption quickly surfaced as being incorrect.

When dealing with optimizing algorithms like Facebook’s and others, they will track the number of exposures each user had seen (frequency) and will cap that at a certain point, because their algorithm understands that it’ll be a waste of an impression, and also lead to a bad user experience.

So FB simply chooses another ad to show.

You can quickly see this phenomenon in the chart below.

In the first chart, CTR does not drop appreciably throughout the campaign. A campaign manager who looks only at this probably thinks that all is well with her ads.

CTR over time: no creative fatigue?

But there is actually a significant problem.

What’s actually happening behind the scenes is that Facebook knows that it has exhausted your chosen audience, and the number of people it is showing the ad to has dropped precipitously:

Creative fatigue … sometimes, Facebook is smarter than you

It’s important to say ads will not always behave that way. That’s why when analyzing fatigue you need to not only know what assets you’re using, but also what ad channels you’re running on, what bidding methodology is being used, and what their algorithms do.

(For example: due to saturation, the algorithm could also start increasing the CPM bid to generate more impressions, which will decrease your ROAS).

In general, even if these algorithms are smart enough to avoid audience fatigue, it is still the responsibility of the marketer to identify it and remedy the situation. You can find new audiences, add new creatives, and so on.

But there can be more going on

Sometimes when you’re looking for creative fatigue you’ll see data that doesn’t make sense at first. For instance, you might have a click-through rate chart like this one, which shows creative gaining strength over time:

Creative fatigue: can ads gain in CTR and conversions over time?

All looks well at first glance. But … if you check impressions, there’s clearly something else going on. The number of impressions is skyrocketing:

Creative fatigue: Oops, impressions are skyrocketing

Something very different is going on here.

Hint: this behavior can be related to changes in bids and budgets … another key thing to think about when testing for creative fatigue. Changing the bid (even if it’s a CPI/CPA bid) will directly impact the amount of money you’re willing to spend on a certain impression, therefore creating more impressions that were not accessible before at your previous bid.

In short: creative fatigue is one of those concepts that seems easy to understand and easy to diagnose … but actually isn’t. To find out if creative fatigue is actually happening, you need to dig deeper into the data than most can or will.

Fortunately, that’s where Singular can help

What’s next

That’s it for this post. In the next post, I’ll look more at how bids and budgets impact click-through rate, impressions, and conversions.

 

Market share and the exciting future of Singular

I was recently speaking at a mobile marketing conference in San Francisco and saw a competitor’s booth.

In the booth, the competitor showed the relative market share of the various mobile attribution providers. Predictably, theirs was highest. Other players didn’t show very well, and Singular was one of them.

I loved it. Because they don’t understand what we do.

Playing a different game

Mobile Attribution is a very critical piece in a much larger puzzle.

market share
Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv

That’s why we acquired an MMP, re-architected it as part of a holistic solution instead of a point solution, and that’s why we are winning over a massive number of tier one customers.

In fact, Singular has more customers, bar none, in the top 100 grossing apps on Android and the top 100 grossing apps on iOS than any of our competitors. 46% of the top 100 grossing iOS apps are Singular customers (and 50% of the top 50) and 46% of the top 100 grossing Android apps are Singular customers (and 50% of the top 50).

That’s because we offer something different.

Something bigger.

Singular is a marketing intelligence platform. Our mission is to provide actionable insights to our customers, the best scientific marketers in the world.

We do that by solving the massive problem of data explosion and fragmentation in the marketing ecosystem across mobile, web, TV, offline, as well as paid, email, push, organic and any other form of marketing. We go beyond the confines of mobile advertising and mobile attribution, and are the only single pane of glass for all your marketing activity.

Every company in the world needs this.

Looking to the future

Today, we unify the biggest spectrum of more than 2,000 marketing technologies. And it’s just the beginning.

To echo Jeff Bezos, it’s day one.

For us what matters is having the best North Star. And that is the top customers. In every market, the top companies are a constant source of envy and imitation by the up-and-comers and smaller companies.

Since our launch in 2014, and up until this very moment of me typing this, these top customers are the strongest source of influence on our roadmap. That, combined with our vision, is helping us move forward.

We’ve got a lot in the kitchen. You’re going to start hearing more about it in January. Our vision is huge, and we’re well capitalized to make it happen.

For our amazing Singular customers, our sole mission is to be a great, innovative partner that will always put you two steps ahead of the competition. Accept nothing but relentless drive to serve, topped with the whipping cream of world-class innovation.

That is what the best do.

And we aim to serve the best.