DraftKing’s Jayne Peressini on ghost ads, measuring TV, multivariate testing, scaling a growth team, and much more

Are ghost ads scary? Only if you’re afraid of incrementality measurement.

And, should the onus for ad fraud be on ad networks or on marketers? You might be surprised at the answer from a super-successful growth marketing leader, Jayne Peressini.

DraftKing’s senior director of growth marketing started with Glu Mobile in London, worked for Cisco, then Razorfish. She also ran ad operations for Machine Zone and was a director of revenue for Reddit. In other words, she knows growth marketing.

Jayne Peressini joins us for the fourth episode of Growth Masterminds, the podcast where we talk to mobile experts so that other mobile experts — you! — can get smarter by seeing and hearing their perspectives.

Listen right here:

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In previous episodes, we’ve talked to European mobile consultant Thomas Petit on ASO, conversion optimization, and more. We’ve also talked to two superwomen in games, Lauren Clinnick and Christina Chen, on getting featured by Google and Apple, running a studio in a non-traditional tech region, and knowing when to scale.

And we spent an hour with the grand master himself, Eric Seufert, on IDFA, GDPR, programmatic, incrementality, and everything else but the kitchen sink.

Some highlights from Jayne Peressini

Jayne Peressini

Jayne on UA managers as mini CEOs of their business:

I think that in UA you can get caught up in what your KPI is, ARPU, ROAS, whatever it is.

But if you think about it — and I tell my team this all time — they’re mini CEOs, they’re investing these dollars and you have to think about it as: how do you mitigate risk? How do you mitigate your investment? Knowing that there is fraud out there, what should we be doing to mitigate that risk?

And that’s on them.

Jayne on ghost ads:

For those that don’t know what ghost ads are, it’s this idea that it randomizes holdout groups, but it also does it in a way that it is segmenting users for expose, but also who would have been exposed to those ads, which is a little different. So ghost ads is a little different than kind of how you would break out like a treatment in a holdout group preemptively.

Jayne on how to minimize the impact of privacy regulation:

Most people have registered, even if they haven’t used our product they have at least created a registration, so we capture some sort of data. For us, it’s easier to tie that because we have a signup, we have a login event. Let’s say you’re a mobile game or you’re a casual app … that might not be the case.

Jayne on advertising campaigns:

Don’t just think about the front end numbers. Think about how expensive it is to nurture those consumers.

And … a full transcript of our conversation with Jayne Peressini

John Koetsier: Welcome to Growth Masterminds. This is the podcast where smart mobile marketers get even smarter.

This is just our fourth episode. In the first one we went to the USA. In the second we went all the way across and down under to Australia, and the third we were in Europe, specifically Spain. And now we’re back to the States.

So our next guest is an amazing mobile marketing expert. You are going to love her. She started her career with Glu Mobile in London. That is not a horrible place to start actually, pretty good company there. She worked for Cisco. That might have been maybe not so interesting, maybe not so boring. She did some PR, but we’ll forgive her for that.

She worked in ad tech with Razorfish, a great experience if you want to be a growth marketer. And she was with Reddit as a director of revenue and ad ops, I mean, that’s gotta be a cool job. She worked for Machine Zone as well in ad ops, and I’m pretty sure just about the smartest people in the world work in Machine Zone, and she’s now the senior director of growth marketing for DraftKings.

Jayne Peressini, please say hello.

Jayne Peressini: Hello. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.

John Koetsier:  You know, you’ve posted quite interesting articles recently, and so I wanted to start with some of the things that you’ve been talking about. You’ve been in ad tech, you’ve been in the advertising ecosystem for a long time on the inside, and as a buyer as well. You’ve seen a lot of changes over the past few years.

I wanted to ask you, what have you seen that’s really changing? What’s really working now? What’s maybe broken or newly broken?

Jayne Peressini: You know when I post articles, I also try to get the most rise. I try to be a contrarian, but I also, there’s truth and I believe everything I do post.

So, when I look at the industry, I see us replicating things that I’ve done in display, desktop display, when I was a junior buyer just starting out. Which concerns me, but I also see from a mobile perspective, us going in a direction where we have learned from some of our mistakes.

What growth marketers are doing well

So things that I think the industry is doing well, or areas that we’re going towards are, you know, two or three years ago it was not uncommon to be running on upwards of a hundred different sources. And I think what a lot of marketers have realized and the industry has definitely jumped on this bandwagon, is we are as advertisers, we have fueled the fraud ecosystem.

This is not something that was brought upon us by publishers themselves. This was definitely an effect that advertisers brought upon themselves. And I think it’s our job now to fix that. So I see that as being kinda the new thing, the new trend is onus of fraud being back on the advertisers rather than the sources they’re buying through.

I also see marketers more dynamic.

I think a lot of marketers, a lot of smart people in mobile acquisition have been pigeonholed in channel specific buying, and a lot of smart people are now realizing that they can apply the same type of strategies that they’ve used in their channel buying across multiple channels. And you’re starting to see in-house marketing groups work and operate a little bit more dynamically than maybe kind of the static approach that they used to have.

And I think that’s cultivating better talent and retaining people more. I think you kind of saw, if you ever look at peoples’ LinkedIn, people only stay for a year or two and they kind of jump around because they’re not getting exposed to other channels. And I think that this is a good thing that’s in the market where a lot of marketing groups are starting to understand that, hey, if we have smart people, we got to figure out a process, a way that we want to buy and manage media that plays to the strengths of cultivating this kind of new generation of mobile leaders.

And I think the last part is creative.

I think we’ve done such a good job of innovating on the bidding side. And I think creative technology is the next thing that will be big for our industry. The innovation of creative, whether that’s management, tagging, insights from creative, creative, fueling other buying styles, or fueling the algorithms that we use. I think it’s going to be a big change, a big sea change for a lot of marketing groups because it’s been a little bit of an afterthought for some brands and some brands that have taken upon themselves to utilize creative or think about creative from a technical and innovative way are going to be kind of a step or two ahead of their competition.


John Koetsier: Imagine that, marketers rediscovering creative!

How the pendulum has swung and reswung.

Jayne Peressini: It is, I feel like it kind of trends every few years. It’s like, well, we don’t think about creative because we’re not brand marketers, but in fact even brand, now is performance marketing. Even at Machine Zone we were measuring TV. At DraftKings we measure TV.

It’s a performance channel just like any other channel, so there’s no such thing as unmeasurable media these days.

John Koetsier: Absolutely: brand is performance and performance is brand. I mean there’s very, very slim lines separating these right now.

One thing that you said that is very contrarian is that the onus for fraud is on the advertisers. And of course that’s pretty contrarian because a marketer comes and says ‘I have the money, give me what I need’ from an ad network or a media source, right?

But you’re saying, hey, we created this, we have the power to clean it up.

The onus for ad fraud: on advertisers, says Jayne Peressini

Jayne Peressini: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re the ones that hold the purse strings.

I’ve been on multiple sides of the ecosystem, so I feel very confident when I say that because I’ve been on the side where I’m asking for the money from, you know, my days at Reddit, even.  And at an agency where you’re beholden to a client and you’re also trying to help a client, but also interact with these different partners.

And from the advertiser side, if we have the money, people listen to us and we also have to make the smart decisions. And I think that there’s a lot of responsibility in that. It’s not just about kind of managing up and just thinking about your numbers.

I think that in UA you can get caught up in what your KPI is, ARPU, ROAS, whatever it is.

But if you think about it — and I tell my team this all time — they’re mini CEOs, they’re investing these dollars and you have to think about it as: how do you mitigate risk? How do you mitigate your investment? Knowing that there is fraud out there, what should we be doing to mitigate that risk?

And that’s on them. That is not on the inventory sources. The inventory sources are taking direction from us.

If we tell them hit this CPI, they’re going to hit that CPI.

At the end of the day, we’re trying to increase monthly reoccurring revenue. We’re trying to increase new user growth. Those are different challenges. Those require different strategies. And from a fraud perspective, that’s us mitigating that. That is not an inventory source where all they’re trying to do day in and day out is perform for us.

And I feel like it’s kind of playing this hot potato game that a lot of advertisers do. They have to really think about that. It requires a lot more data. Not a lot of advertisers are set up that way to be able to manage fraud.

And I think that is a reflection point as well, as you can’t be running on a hundred different ad networks, expecting every single inventory source to manage the fraud themselves. And not have the infrastructure to do it yourself. I think that if you’re going to grow, if you’re going to decide that you’re in housing, everything, you’re going to be operationalizing your media internally.

You have this massive marketing group. Fraud has to be an aspect of that.

It could be an ancillary layer, whatever it is, but it requires a lot of infrastructure, a different skillset, a whole different team even that’s not for a junior marketer to even manage themselves from a fraud perspective. It’s not an afterthought. It is a, it should be, a central part of your marketing group.

John Koetsier: Right, right, right.

Well, good segue actually, because the next thing I wanted to talk about is scaling ad spend. And often when you’re scaling ad spend, it’s challenging because you open yourselves up to potentially fraudulent sources of traffic, of clicks, of users, of customers.

It’s also kind of interesting, you were at Unify, the conference that we had this past summer, and I’m just writing about some of  the sessions we had at Unify. And in one of them, I believe it’s somebody from Airbnb or Stitch Fix talking about lift tests, incrementality and measuring that.

And you know, if you throw $100,000 at it, one of them was saying, that’s almost nothing these days. This is not a normal thing for most people who are out there, even many marketers who have very minimal budgets. But at DraftKings, at many of the other companies that Singular works with, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars daily budget and other things like that.

So let’s talk about scaling ad spend. What are some of the obvious pitfalls that you have? What are some of the non-obvious pitfalls and what’s a safe way to grow fast? Is there one?

Netflix, ghost ads, and measuring incrementality

Jayne Peressini: Yes, there is. Let’s start at the top.

So when marketers think about scaling, it’s not about adding a new ad network to the media plan. It’s really scaling your business, which is, yes, not a new logo. So the way to scale naturally … a lot of it is reflection on the incremental kind of lift of additional media spend. And Airbnb, a lot of smart marketing groups, whether you’re Lyft or Airbnb, or Netflix is a perfect example of a marketing group that has embraced incrementality.

There’s a paper, a white paper out there from someone within their group that I don’t know if they created ghost ads, but they definitely champion ghost ads.

For those that don’t know what ghost ads are, it’s this idea that it randomizes holdout groups, but it also does it in a way that it is segmenting users for expose, but also who would have been exposed to those ads, which is a little different. So ghost ads is a little different than kind of how you would break out like a treatment in a holdout group preemptively.

And I think that those types of innovations that Netflix has in place are really good ways to operationalize how to measure incrementality. Because to your point, it is expensive.

A lot of people do it where they will serve a PSA ad, a public service announcement ad. So you know, these users get this ad and these users get our brand ad and we look at the lift. Now ghost ads, I think helps with, like most of us work in biddable media, so we have to bid for these users. And so you capture the bid of that potential user as well.

So you’re actually getting more of a true value of what you would have spent on those users.

And I think that the idea of incrementality keeps us a little bit more honest than just throwing more money at a problem that potentially is not about the money, more money to spend. So there’s a lot that we can do. It’s not just new user growth, but it’s also the treatment of how do we retain and grow our current and existing users as well.

And that should be with us.

I think that our industry has some of the smartest marketers in the world, and a lot of them are just looking at the problem of more users, more users, new users, new users, not how do I retain and grow monthly reoccurring revenue as if I’m almost the CFO of my company.

And I think metrics like revenue, but not just new revenue, incremental recurring revenue is a really good approach. A lot of that is kind of this incrementality idea.

You can waste a lot of money with incrementality tests that are a little bit meaningless too. So I think that it’s, you go here, you have to go in with a pretty good game plan. You can’t just throw random incrementality tests out there because it’s not going to get you anywhere unless you’re trying to solve some sort of business problem with the incrementality tests or kind of a cadence of incrementality tests.

Marketing measurement and privacy

John Koetsier: Right, right. Interesting. Tough stuff. That’s kind of a neat segue as well. I mean, we’re talking about incrementality, one of the things that you’ve written about recently and that I’ve talked to multiple marketers about.

Eric Seufert is one example.

There’s obviously a shift towards privacy that we’ve seen. GDPR has been around for some time, California, the Democrats are selecting who will be their candidate for the presidential elections, and privacy and big tech is a big part of that conversation.

If we have more of a shift towards privacy, how will that impact measurability? Are you concerned about that? Do you think that it’s a radical shift or do you think that this move towards incrementality is something that will help us get through this and we don’t need to worry so much about attribution of this particular user ID to that particular campaign, to this particular bit of revenue?

Jayne Peressini: You know, I kinda consider myself lucky and maybe I should knock on wood right now because for DraftKings it’s a little easier for us to measure, and not like everything’s sunshine and roses in a sense, but most people log in when they use our product.

Most people have registered, even if they haven’t used our product they have at least created a registration, so we capture some sort of data. For us, it’s easier to tie that because we have a signup, we have a login event. Let’s say you’re a mobile game or you’re a casual app … that might not be the case.

And I think for those types of categories or those types of industries, these types of laws might impact that. I think that that is a real reality. For us we operate in a very privacy safe way already. Every partner we work with gets a third party data agreement that they can’t obviously use our users’ data or our data. And we already operate with a level of scrutiny on how we manage data, and I don’t foresee us operating any other way.

It hasn’t interrupted our business. I don’t think it will because we already kind of play it safe in that sense.

I also think that this actually gets into more of the conversation that eventually not just and I’m putting all responsibilities now back on us, so now we have to manage fraud … but this might actually make us have to manage our own attribution in a sense too, because if there’s a privacy, if there’s a lot of implications on the strictness of what we can share, what we can capture, that might just put more pressure on the advertiser at the end of the day to be their own attribution partner.

And this is where you get into it might shift, that instead of user-level attribution you do have to go back to the days of channel-level attribution.

Now it’s not ideal. I hope that doesn’t happen. That’s kind of how early 2000’s, that’s what you did. We could go back there if we really want to. I really don’t want to, but we’ll figure it out.

Maybe I’m a little too optimistic about it, but I think that we have to play out every scenario and every game plan. And so we have multiple game plans for whatever’s going to happen in our industry from a legal perspective. So I don’t see this as we’re putting our head in the sand about it. We have multiple ways to approach this and everyone’s going to be in the same boat.

But I do think there’s going to be some categories, some business kind of categories that will do better in the market if these changes occur, versus others, just inherently based on whether they have a registration and signup.

And that might sound super trivial but I just think we’re going to see that in market.

John Koetsier: I think that’s a really interesting insight and I really look forward to seeing what will happen, what kind of business models will be more effective.

The kinds of business models where a customer is really engaged, puts his or her hand up and says, this is who I am, this is how I’m creating an account, this is how you get in touch with me. And I know that person is less of a user, per se, which we’ve fallen into the trap of calling people ‘users’ I tend to hate that, and more of a ‘customer.’

And it’d be just very interesting to see what that’ll change in terms of business models that succeed, but also marketing practices that succeed. We already talked about KPIs that you optimize for, and when you optimize for eyeballs, and maybe it doesn’t matter exactly which eyeballs, or just the eyeballs that are most profitable, that’s a different model than optimizing for logged in, signed up users/ customers.

And that’ll be very, very interesting how that plays out.

Let’s dive into your vertical a little bit. I’d love to talk a little bit about DraftKings, who you target, who’s your competition. You know what people really get out of playing on DraftKings and how’s that impact your key marketing messages?

Jayne Peressini: Of course. We’ll start at the top then.

So our target audience, I don’t want to say it’s everyone, but I do believe that we are trying to broaden our audience. So you can probably imagine that when I was at Reddit, there was a very particular type of audience.

At DraftKings, it actually is very split by vertical.

We have a very different audience that plays DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) than we do that play Sportsbook and that we do that plays Casino. Some interesting insights that you know from the category in general. In the state of New Jersey since launching, if you look at a year after New Jersey’s implemented or allowed mobile sports betting, 70% of the bets that happen in New Jersey happen on a mobile device.

John Koetsier: Wow!

New Jersey: the sports betting capital of the US?

Jayne Peressini: I think that’s kind of an interesting stat if you think about that.

Actually, New Jersey has passed Vegas in terms of number of bets. So you know, technically you can kind of now consider New Jersey the sports betting capital of the United States, which is kind of weird to think about.

Now that that said, March Madness still from a retail perspective — so people actually going to a Sportsbook. people still fly to Vegas with their buddies and go and bet for March Madness — one of the largest days for Vegas.

I don’t fly to Vegas with my friends to bet on March Madness, but I play Daily Fantasy Sports with my family pretty consistently every week. And it’s kind of a social thing now for us. My grandma even plays, and I think that’s an aspect of the casual or just engagement, we call it ‘skin in the game,’ that daily fantasy sports can have.

Or even Sportsbook, but for daily fantasy sports, which is more of a national product, you can play with your friends on the couch. And you can draft your lineup and it’s almost a conversation starter. And I think that that’s something that a lot of people are starting to realize about sports is that if you don’t want to talk about politics, especially in this day and age, with your family or friends, which can be a little tough.

Sports is a great next topic when you have nothing else to talk about.

John Koetsier: It really is, and the Thanksgiving season is coming up.

Jayne Peressini: Right?

I mean, what better time to talk about sports in the holidays when you don’t want to engage with your aunt or uncle about their views on politics.

So I think sports is emotional too. Like my father is a huge Oakland A’s fan and we went to go see Moneyball as a family with him because we knew that it would be really important for him. And he cried so hard that, you know, the lights came on at the end when the attendants were cleaning the theater, because he was trying to find his contact because he had cried his eyes out so much.

And so you’re playing up to that, right?

It’s an emotional thing for people: who they support, who they root for. There’s multiple ways to be invested in it. So, for Daily Fantasy Sports maybe you’re invested because you want to talk to your family more or your friends more. And this is a way to do that for sports betters that are in States that allow it.

Now that they have more in terms of they don’t have to go drive three hours from a Metro city to go and bet on a game, they can be on their couch still, or at a sports bar even. So we’re actually finding really cool ways to engage with users like that. So for instance, we have some tests going on around leveraging geolocation, so kind of doing a split test between users that have been to stadiums or have been to retail sports books or sports bars and seeing if those users do well when we target them specifically, or geo-fencing, maybe they’re in real time.

So we have some products within Sportsbook that allow you in real time to, you know, within the game bet that match point by point. Whether this play’s going to be a run play, or a pass, or it’s going to be a kick. And the scalability of that and the way that you can play that is very different than if you’re just betting on the outcome of the game. And that just creates different data points, right?

If you want to be in the moment, target those users, it’s a very different idea and concept and strategy, then you want to get them well before the game even starts.

John Koetsier: Yeah.

Jayne Peressini: And so it’s adding kind of these new cool marketing problems to my team, and every day they’re learning something new, like another step or another cool thing that we’ve found even for Casino.

0Weather, right? You’re sitting at home, and especially now when the weather’s changing, maybe you’re in the middle of a snow storm. Casino product plays very well to people that are indoors for a long periods of time. And that’s just an interesting, cool thing that you can target.

So layer on weather data to your media!

John Koetsier: What’s super interesting to me about what you just said is that we’ve been in this zone where social media has been the virtual place where people have occupied tons of time, hours and hours daily.

And that’s still the case, but we see an increasing flood of people, I had one on my Facebook feed just yesterday, said ‘I’m taking a break from Facebook.’ And that’s a pretty normal thing for me to see these days. And sometimes it’s a week break, sometimes it’s a month break. Some people are saying, I’m quitting this social network and I’m moving over to that social network. You can join me there if you’re there, or something like that.

But we see that people may be starting to reduce their hours on those things, and perhaps other social experiences that are around a topic like yours, sports, might be replacing that.

Jayne Peressini: I hope so. Man, I hope so. I mean, wouldn’t that be a great day if that were the case.

I recently went to a comedy show with my wife and they did a cool thing where they made us lock up our phones. So we had these lockers and they made us lock the phones. I mean, I’m sure it was basically so that we couldn’t record the comedy show, but what it did is we were sitting in the theater and you know, we’re killing time an hour almost before the comedian was going to go on, and everyone was talking to each other as if it was the first time in the history of the world that people lifted their heads.

And I think sports plays to that.

A lot of the time that I spent even growing up was playing on sports teams. I was a very active athlete growing up. I was always on sports teams. I felt this gravitation, this sense of community around sports, and what better way than, and I don’t want to say sports is going to bring our nation together in a sense, but it is just a nostalgic, and hopeful and it brings up these emotions that a lot of people, I think just sometimes you just need that.

And it makes me feel good, even if I don’t want a daily fantasy sports contest. I’m happy that I participated with my family. And then everyone makes fun of me for having the worst lineup because I work at Draft Kings.

So like, how could that even happen?

Jayne Peressini’s best advice on …

John Koetsier: Cool. Very cool. We have a few moments left and I wanted to do some sort of rapid fire stuff , best advice for growth marketers. So I’ll shoot and you shoot back.

Best advice for growth marketers on messaging.

Jayne Peressini: Don’t get caught up in A vs B. Think about modified versions, version one, two, three.

John Koetsier: Nice. Multi-variate.

Best advice for growth marketers on advertising campaigns.

Jayne Peressini: Don’t just think about the front end numbers. Think about how expensive it is to nurture those consumers.

John Koetsier: Best advice for growth marketers on building a team.

Jayne Peressini: It’s really hard. It’s really hard. Have faith and manage your team like a soccer manager or a football coach and you’ll be fine.

John Koetsier: Excellent, coaching versus managing, love it.

Best advice for growth marketers on when to scale.

Jayne Peressini: Always be scaling. When you are asked to do it, it’s too late that you’re thinking about it just then. Always be looking for those opportunities. It’s like building your pipeline in sales.

John Koetsier: And last one … best advice for growth marketers on how to scale.

Jayne Peressini: Start by tightening the screws on your current and existing partners, and then after that, look inward at your data and your decision making. And then look outward at new inventory.

John Koetsier: Wonderful, wonderful.

Jayne, thank you so much. This has been such a pleasure. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as well, and I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jayne Peressini: Thank you, it’s been great.

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Ad spend on TikTok jumps 75X from May to November

There are space shuttles and there are rocket ships. And then there’s TikTok.

TikTok has grown an amazing 614 million users this year, according to SensorTower. The social network that’s basically a hybrid of Vine and YouTube is now closing in on 1.5 billion users. That’s serious scale — and serious growth. We haven’t seen that kind of growth since perhaps Pokemon Go, which  exploded in 2016 and captured 750 million downloads in a single year.

And some of us never expected to again.

The reality is that when you grow an ad-supported social media platform by more than half a billion users, you’re probably going to grow ad revenues too. In fact, you better … because supporting all those hundreds of millions of new users is going to cost some cash.

Based on data Singular is seeing, TikTok has done just that.

And is well-positioned to continue growing ad revenues significantly for the foreseeable future.

TikTok spending blasts off

In fact, TikTok ad spend by Singular customers has jumped 75X between May of this year and November. (Singular optimizes well over $10 billion in annual ad spend for customers like Lyft, Nike, Rovio, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Twitter, and many others. So we have good visibility into where top advertisers direct their dollars.)

Ad spend on TikTok Jumped 75X from May to November

At the beginning of the year, we saw very limited spend.

The company has been growing fast, however, and in June, TikTok quietly showed plans for a self-serve ad model to select clients. It’s still early days in those efforts, and TikTok will very likely be continuing to iterate on efforts to make it easier for advertisers to build campaigns on the platform. (TikTok, by the way, is integrated with Singular for analytics, attribution, and ad monetization.)

One advertiser I talked to said that he’s “pretty impressed with how quickly they’ve built up the platform,” but that sometimes the speed shows. In other words, there are occasional glitches.

But clearly, whether it’s difficult or easy to access, TikTok’s audience is simply too large to ignore.

And, since 41% of TikTok users are between 16 and 24 years old, it’s the young audience that advertisers crave, because they can drive trends. (Caveat: that stat is from January of 2019 … the average age has almost certainly skewed older as Gen-Xers pile in to find out what the young-uns are doing these days anyways.)

Still a lot of room to grow

To add context, in the beginning of the year ad spend on TikTok was easily less than 1% of advertisers’ combined spend on Facebook and Google. By August and October, TikTok was running between 3-5% of spend on those platforms.

It’s still a small fraction of what you see on those leading and well-established platforms, but there’s clearly room for more. Ad load — the frequency at which users see ads — is about 22% on Instagram, for instance. That means for every 5 pieces of content, roughly one of them is an ad. And, Facebook is testing higher frequency in Stories. On TikTok, however, the current ad load ranges from a similar high of one every five videos down to a low of one every 20, @mattcatbat, a Tiktok user with over 450,000 followers, told me.

That high-water-mark is not common, in my experience. In my personal testing — yes honey, all that time on TikTok is actually work — I’m seeing very low ad loads … definitely on the low end of the scale.

Which, very simply, means that as TikTok ramps its self-serve platform and other features for advertisers, there’s a lot more potential for growth.

What’s working on TikTok?

In spite of the platform’s massive growth, it’s early days still on TikTok.

TikTok ads: retail & marketplace

We see retail taking the lion’s share of the ad spend on TikTok, along with marketplaces. Retail makes perfect sense: you’ve got a young and presumably fashion-conscious audience on TikTok. These are people who are likely to be influenceable with the latest trends and fashions, and they’re incentivized to purchase.

Markeplaces is a category at Singular into which we put customers who are looking to acquire at least two sets of platform participants. A classic example would be an on-demand food delivery service. These services typically want to acquire both customers (food buyers) as well as delivery personnel (drivers), and probably also food providers (restaurants).

Many of these brands have similarities to retail.

Essentially, they’re looking to add buyers: end-user customers. But TikTok also has a large audience of young adults — some of whom drive — and who probably need a bit more disposable income. So many marketplaces could conceivably add service providers here as well.

We don’t see a lot of gaming yet, which is surprising (at least for us: many Singular customers are game publishers, and they’re usually pretty quick to test new things). We don’t see a lot of financial services, either, which is not surprising.

But that doesn’t mean that no game publishers or fintech companies are active on TikTok. Quite the opposite.

Fintech and gaming: on TikTok?

In fact, one advertiser I talked to is advertising on TikTok for his fintech company.

They haven’t made their content especially TikTok-friendly, but they’re still seeing similar returns compared to other platforms. This suggests two things. First, investing in making content that is more TikTok-friendly should boost engagement and likely also conversions. And second, advertisers in verticals that have a preconception that TikTok would not a good fit for them … should reconsider and test the platform.

Another advertiser I chatted with had similar results in the gaming vertical: not great, but similar to other channels.

One benefit here: since the younger demographic that TikTok specializes in is not on Facebook and might not be accessible via Google either — other than via YouTube, perhaps — TikTik could be accessing a whole new audience for your app or brand.

Of course, you’ll need to do your incrementality testing.

But you may find that you’re accessing a previously unreached audience.

Summing up: test away!

There’s a lot of activity on TikTok, and it’s growing fast. As seasoned advertisers know, the greatest opportunity often comes when platforms are young and there’s less competition.

That means you should be diving into TikTok and testing it for your vertical and your offers. If you do in fact reach a new audience and find ways to connect effectively, you’ll reap greater rewards than those who wait.

It is important to note that while we do see a lot of ad activity, our results, very naturally, are biased to our customer set. So it’s not clear that what we’re seeing is completely representative of TikTok’s reality. However, it should be a good indicator.

How Singular can help

Singular is a mobile measurement partner for all the major platforms, and we’re also integrated with TikTok for analytics, attribution, and ad monetization.

Do a demo, and get a free trial of the Singular offering.

We can help you test and measure your results on all advertising platforms, including TikTok.

Growth marketing: 5 trends to watch from Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv

Growth marketing is going through a major transition, especially in mobile marketing.

It’s not the growth hacking of a few years ago, with tips and tricks to juice user acquisition. And it’s not just about social media or a limited set of marketing channels. Rather, it’s a set of holistic marketing efforts based on a complete growth strategy, built with data-driven scientific marketing via tracking/measuring tools and incrementality data.

Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv spoke about five key trends impacting the state of growth marketing at our recent UNIFY conference in Napa Valley. You can see his entire presentation — and almost all of the presentations at the conference — at UNIFY @ Home right here.

Or, watch it right here, starting at about 5:30 after our co-founder Susan Kuo’s intro to the conference:

So what are these key trends in growth marketing?

Trend 1: Convergence into a single platform

You’re using too many marketing analytics and other martech tools: maybe as many as 91 across your larger enterprise. And that’s a massive problem.

With so many different systems, you’ve got non-matching datasets and no clear way to combine the data together. So much for a single source of marketing truth!

The result is a new focus for marketing teams:

“People want to establish a single source of truth. They want to have one system with numbers they can count on,” Eliashiv says. “People want consistency … being able to consolidate your stack to the right platform really helps do that.”

That’s why Singular has evolved so much from its founding.

Where at the beginning Singular started with a single simple idea — data is at the core of marketing — the company has added analytics, automation, data governance, deep links, and deterministic fraud prevention. And that’s not all: Singular now also does audience management, bids and budgets, creative analytics, web measurement, automation, and (of course!) mobile measurement as an MMP.

Singular remains vendor agnostic, Eliashiv says. Marketers can plug different components in and out. And, they can use third-party vendors to complement what Singular does.

Still, people are consolidating their vendors:

“60% of our customers are streamlining their stack with us,” Eliashiv says.

Trend 2: Rise of the CGO (or growth organizations)

Marketing teams aren’t what they used to be. They’re not just awareness-generating machines, though they’re also not exactly sales teams. Nor are they simply silo-focused only on user acquisition or customer acquisition.

Instead, they’re growth teams, often led by Chief Growth Officers, VPs of Growth, or a growth manager. (Not, you’ll notice, growth hackers.)

Their focus, Eliashiv says?

These experts in digital marketing build a marketing team that can catalyze growth across the company.

“They are cross-functional by nature,” Eliashiv says. “They can deal with product, data science, with finance, with engineering, and with marketing of course … when these functions become successful, they take on more and more responsibility around the company, and that trend is very positive to companies being aware of their data.”

That means they pay attention to product-market fit. To the overall business. To product itself. To content marketing, where appropriate. And, of course, to some instances of growth hacking strategy and other elements of digital marketing … where they can be applied to long-term growth.

Interestingly, according research we recently did, growth-focused organizations tend to have bigger teams — twice the size of typical companies. And a big component of what they do is data science and artificial intelligence.

Trend 3: Cross-platform and cross-device

We don’t just live on one digital platform anymore. Instead, we access services and information across a wide range of devices and platforms … and brands need to be able to serve people intelligently wherever that contact happens.

And adapt marketing strategies accordingly.

“Cross-platform is picking up steam really fast,” Eliashiv says. “In the past, a lot of products were built for a single platform: web, mobile, console. Now, a lot of products are really holistic across platforms.”

A growth marketer knows that the marketing funnel is actually multiple funnels, and the customer journey is perhaps a many journeys as there are customers.

That leads to a new set of challenges: incomplete and incompatible datasets across multiple marketing channels including web, mobile, and other platforms. Getting consistency of communication and customer state across platforms is a major challenge. Plus, measuring customer activity and conversion rate across multiple devices is hard, making ROI calculation difficult or impossible.

Ultimately, your strategy and your marketing campaigns need to adapt. Traditional marketing won’t cut it any more.

The solution, Eliashiv says, is that Singular expanded data collection across about 500 new platforms.

“We are empowering unified data,” Eliashiv says, which enables cross-device attribution. “Often we receive customer data across platforms and do the stitching together on the back end … the key idea here is to be flexible.”

Trend 4: Doubling down on ad monetization

Ad monetization is not just about hyper-casual games.

“You can build quite a unique business model based entirely on ads,” Eliashiv said, hinting at the monetization model behind literally some of the biggest companies on the planet today.

But in traditional mobile publisher structures, that creates challenges for growth marketing teams: divided loyalties, or at least different goals.

The user acquisition team wants to do what it has always done: grow new users or customers. The monetization team wants to do what it has always done: maximize revenue. But now, the datasets are colliding.

Monetization teams need to look at in-app purchase (IAP) revenue plus ad monetization revenue (and any other way they’re building revenue). And they need that data consolidated, not separate. UA teams, in contrast, need to see ad revenue in ROI calculations so they can accurately understand return on ad spend (ROAS) and profitability for each new cohort of users.

Fortunately, Singular has a solution:

“To be able to see all the data in a single place, we worked on an analytics capability to aggregate, normalize, and provide all the key metrics that monetization teams care about,” Eliashiv says. “Like, what is my eCPM? What is my fill rate? That’s not necessarily tied to user acquisition but tied to my monetization. What kind of instances do I have, or placements?”

In addition, Singular has tied ad monetization into the ROI formula so that acquisition teams can get good data on their returns from their efforts.

Trend 5: Ad fraud

Ad fraud is still a “pain in the ass,” Eliashiv said. It’s a hidden cancer that both takes your money and destroys your optimization … because you don’t know what is true anymore.

That seriously cuts into your growth rate, brings in fake users, and stymies digital marketing campaigns.

But there’s a bigger problem in the fight against ad fraud:

“Two years ago … there was a lot of buzz,” Eliashiv says. “But then afterwards there pretty much was stagnation. There wasn’t any key innovation in the space. And what happened is that fraudsters got more and more sophisticated, to the point where people feel secure when they have ‘something’ that prevents fraud, but it doesn’t mean that it’s 100%. It doesn’t mean that it’s capturing what they need to capture. It doesn’t mean it’s even staying up to date.”

Attacks today are much more sophisticated, and growth teams might not even know that they’re losing money because their tools just are not intelligent enough or aware enough to block or identify new forms of fraud.

Singular took a different path and has been looking for 10X solutions to ad fraud, Eliashiv says.

That’s resulted in next-generation iOS fraud prevention and an industry-first: deterministic Android install validation, which we formally released in August of this year and has been saving companies hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are a lot of misconceptions about fraud in the market.

“Not all solutions are alike,” Eliashiv says. “That’s probably the biggest misconception. People think: ‘I have a solution,’ but it doesn’t always mean that you truly are protected. People often think it’s a specific bad channel that you should avoid. We found fraud even in the biggest channels.”

That is why Singular now offers a complimentary “fraudit” … a fraud audit courtesy of our cybersecurity specialists. Solving fraud will kickstart user acquisition and customer acquisition by providing much better returns on marketing investments.

Next steps

The full video is available above, and all of the UNIFY videos are available at UNIFY @ Home.

In addition, if you’d like to see how Singular is addressing these issues in person, or if you’d like to have a fraud audit, talk to us about a private demo.

Mobile marketing masterclass: announcing UNIFY @ HOME

This summer Singular held a remarkable mobile marketing conference: UNIFY. Now we’re announcing a unique mobile marketing masterclass.

For UNIFY, we didn’t invite thousands of people. We didn’t invite dozens of journalists. We didn’t invite loud-mouthed prognosticators. Instead, UNIFY 2019 was for experts. People who are deep in the trenches of mobile marketing. And we capped attendance so the level of quality was super-high.

One of the scenes at UNIFY 2019

But now we’re opening the (flood)gates. For free.

If we were selective with attendees, we were even more selective with speakers. Experts from Amazon and AirBnB. Nike. Supercell. Coinbase. Glu Mobile. DraftKings. Lyft. BarkBox …and more.

That meant the quality of insight was super-high. And now … you can have access to all of it. We’ve posted the videos from almost all the sessions. There’s one we contractually can’t, due to the sensitive nature of the insight shared … but there’s gotta be a reason for you to come to UNIFY 2020, right?

The videos are available now in one simple UNIFY @ HOME playlist. Here’s what’s included:

The UNIFY mobile marketing masterclass

  • The state of growth marketing
  • Seeing cross-platform with 20/20
  • Building a data-driven creatives engine
  • 5 unexpected effects of fraud on your business
  • Under the hood: Making your tech stack intelligent
  • Go beyond the fundamentals
  • The future of marketing intelligence

Each has world-class marketing experts, adding up to a mobile marketing masterclass that you can access completely for free.

Get access to the class right here.

There’s no cost, and you don’t have to log in to enjoy all the insight. (Oh, and if you want to get on the invite list for UNIFY 2020, there’s a way to do that.)

Mobile re-engagement: Singular, Google, & Rappi deliver the definitive webinar

Singular is hosting a webinar on mobile re-engagement with Google and Rappi, an on-demand delivery startup, on October 9th.

Mobile marketers used to focus solely on user acquisition. Re-engagement entered the picture years ago, but the tools and techniques have not been great. That means many of even the best marketers struggled to measure re-engagement ROI.

That’s changed. The tools — like Singular — have gotten better. And today the focus is lifcycle optimization.

Webinar presenters

Fiona Ryan
Global Product Lead for App Re-engagement,
re-engagement webinar
Santiago Diaz
User Acquisition Manager,
re-engagement webinar
John Koetsier
VP Insights,
re-engagement webinar

Webinar content

In this webinar, we’ll talk about how the best mobile apps grow faster and smarter by re-engaging their users.

Google’s global product lead for apps, Fiona Ryan, and on-demand platform Rappi’s top marketer Santiago Diaz will chat with me about key questions on re-engagement, including:

  • How do you drive app business growth with re-engagement campaigns?
  • What are the top channels & best practices for re-engagement success?
  • When is the best time in the user lifecycle to run re-engagement campaigns?
  • How do you measure re-engagement ROI and other key performance metrics?

We’ll chat about the three pillars of lifecycle management, where re-engagement should fit in the mobile marketer’s toolbox, and how to set up a mobile re-engagement campaign for success. We’ll also talk about the optimal channels for re-engagement campaigns, and how to message users in those campaigns.

Other topics include

  • Timing
  • Success factors
  • Failure factors (!)
  • Appropriate budget allocation percentages
  • Trends in different geographies

In addition, Fiona Ryan will talk about Google’s new campaigns for re-engagement, provide some best practice tips, and talk about how mobile marketers are succeeding.

How do you get all this insight?

Register for the webinar here.


Mobile ad monetization: Analyzing true ROI by tying in ad revenue

Can accounting for ad monetization revenue in your user acquisition ROI analysis help your app business grow smarter and faster? According to Singular Product Manager Lisi Gardiner … yes, it can!

It’s not shocking to most in mobile that ad monetization is growing fast. In fact, App Annie says that 60% more apps will build ad monetization into their overall mobile revenue strategies this year. So it’s clear that in-app advertising is a major — and growing — contributor to mobile publishers’ revenue.

For hyper-casual gaming publishers, it could get to 100% of their revenue.

The ad monetization challenge

But there’s a challenge.

When you only drive revenue via in-app purchases, your income is pretty easy to calculate. And so is your ROI on app install ads, because purchases can be connected to users. And, thanks to Singular and other companies like us, users can be connected to where you acquired them from.

But ad revenue is different.


It’s harder to connect granular ad view or ad click information, such as the publisher, line item and payout, to individual users, and consequently to calculate cohorts. It’s harder to total up receipts from mediation platforms, ad networks, and monetization partners. And it’s much harder to connect those revenues with user acquisition costs to make smart, informed decisions about future marketing investments.

Enter Singular’s Ad Monetization Attribution & Analytics.

I spent some time with Singular’s Product Manager for Ad Monetization, Lisi Gardiner, to learn more.

How savvy marketers are figuring it out

Koetsier: Let’s start at the beginning … what percentage of revenue do apps get from advertising?

Gardiner: Easy question, harder answer. Ultimately, it really depends on the vertical and the individual app developer. For each, it’s really about finding the right balance of in-app purchase revenue and ad revenue.

Many app developers will constantly play around with that balance, trying to ensure they don’t show so many ads that it would cause the users to churn.

Hyper-casual games often have between 50-100% of their revenue from ads, and media apps (news apps, lifestyle apps, etc.) might have more ad-focused monetization as well. Other kinds of apps have much lower levels if any at all.

Koetsier: I’m guessing that figuring out the right number of ads is not the only challenge …

Gardiner: Absolutely not. Another key challenge is figuring out the right network fit. Many ad networks focus on gaming apps and gaming consumers, while others cater to other verticals, and you’ve got to find the ones that access consumers — potential users — who fit your app.

Koetsier: So how do most app publishers account for incremental ad ROI? How do they even know how much they’re making from each new user in their apps?

Gardiner: It really depends how sophisticated they want to get and how many resources they have. App developers that have a big percentage of ad revenue have some sort of way to combine the data, but ad networks don’t typically provide transparency on a user-level of how much ad revenue they make, although that is starting to change.

So publishers look at other measurements: sessions, geos, clicks.

But the most important thing to take into account is the business model of how you are getting paid.

If you’re getting paid on a rev-share basis, you’re getting paid for the user to not only view an ad, but click on an ad or complete an install. As an app publisher you ideally want to be selling your traffic on a CPM model, because then it doesn’t matter whether the ad actually works and an app gets installed: you get paid.

And, of course, the more eyeballs you have in your app, the more you’ll get paid.

Koetsier: What about those semi-mythical creatures, ad whales?

Gardiner: Some publishers just want to maximize those eyeballs — any eyeballs. But the other perspective we see is app developers who really only care about ad whales … the 20% of their users who view and/or engage with a lot of ads. And they come up with different flows to maximize ad whales.

Koetsier: What kinds of flows?

Gardiner: As an app developer, I have different places in the game where I can place ads. Like Candy Crush, which I play… if you’re out of lives, you can watch an ad and get a new life. But they’ve also added a different flow. If you’ve lost the game, you can add five more moves by watching a video ad.

So app publishers are testing different placements and formats for the ads.

And, of course, different perspectives: focusing on all users versus focusing on ad whales.

Koetsier: That’s quite a difference.

Gardiner: It is. When I talk to people in the industry, no-one is completely sure they’re doing it the right way. Everyone is asking: what is the best method? They want to know what everyone else is doing, and they want to know what maximizes revenue.

They also want to know: what is the best way to measure ad revenue? Should I measure it via eCPM, or track individual ad whale activity?

Koetsier: How do app publishers typically combine ad revenue with any IAP revenue or other revenue they might have, in order to understand overall ROI?

Gardiner: They’re either doing it manually, or they have a BI team that’s helping them combine it.

Since you’re trying to combine the data on device IDs, that’s a lot of data to be ingesting. Especially for hyper-casual games with small BI teams … that could be really costly in terms of time and money.

Koetsier: I assume you have a better way? Give me a high-level overview of the Singular’s ad monetization solution.

Gardiner: On the highest level, we pull in your user-level in-app purchase revenue and your ad monetization revenue, and then connect it with your cost data so you have a complete view of ROI and ROAS.

Singular gives you four different methods for calculating ad revenue:

  1. First, the in-house Singular solution
    For customers using our attribution, we have a plug and play solution that calculates the average revenue per session and automatically connects it with your user acquisition cost. The result is accurate, cohort-level insights into your ROI which you couldn’t get before because you were missing the ad revenue stream. We’re also able to account for more sophisticated setups that use multiple ad revenue events and more complex calculations.
  2. We also work with Ironsource
    We pull in all the user-level revenue data from Ironsource’s mediation platform and then connect it to your cost data.
  3. And we work with MoPub
    MoPub offers impression-level revenue data. We receive Mopub events that report revenue data, then cohort it for every device and combine it with ad spend across all of your acquisition sources.
  4. Finally, we work with Soomla
    We pull ad revenue data from Soomla and then apply/combine it to your cost data, or any other upper-funnel metric, for comprehensive ROI analytics.
Ad Monetization Attribution


Koetsier: How is this different from competing ad monetization solutions on the market?

Gardiner: First off, Singular is the strongest in pulling and calculating ad spend for every media source you’re working with. That’s in our DNA. We guarantee complete coverage and are not limited to Google and Facebook. That means that ad spend is accounted for in every type of report, at every granularity. You can see the ROI for any aspect of your marketing, whether it’s a channel, campaign or creative. There’s a lot of proven tech around this, which now also applies to our Ad Monetization solutions.

Second, we are integrated with all of the platforms that report user-level and device-level ad revenue. This means that regardless of which vendor you’re working with, we make the best effort to account for every portion of your data.

Third, we are the only MMP that has done the extra work to build comprehensive Ad Monetization Analytics that monetization teams can leverage to grow ad revenue. We want everyone to use Singular and have a single source of truth, and that should not be limited to the UA team. Our Ad Monetization reports can replace your manual reports or reporting vendors, and again uses our tech for pulling data from every type of format with automatic error detection and scalability.

Lastly, we’re flexible. If you want to use a custom ad revenue event, that’s supported. If you’re working with multiple vendors across your app portfolio, we will connect to all of them.

Koetsier: So, let’s say I’m an app publisher. What can I expect if I implement this?

Gardiner: As soon as you implement our SDK and connect your publishers to Singular, ad revenue will be available in every single report we have.

First off, we’re giving you complete visibility into your total ROI, which you never had before. Channels and campaigns that you thought had a specific ROI could look completely different once you factor ad revenue into the ROI calculation. Now you can make better decisions about the actual performance of campaigns and channels.

Plus, we’re going to save you a lot of time. If you’re doing this manually and optimizing just one network every day, we’re easily saving you a couple of hours a day.

Koetsier: And what does that change about how I do my job?

Gardiner: You can optimize your campaigns much more frequently … and you have way better insight into how to do it.

Koetsier: So, bottom line: how does it make me better at growing my app?

Gardiner: We provide a full picture of all your revenue … before you didn’t have a complete view of your revenue.

That means you make better-informed marketing decisions. That means you have what it takes to hit your goals. And, that means you know which media sources provide the most valuable users.

For example, some ad networks might be more expensive, and you might be tempted to cut them, but having ad monetization data from them could indicate that they provide more valuable users, who engage with the ads in your app … so they actually have high ROAS and you should be increasing spend with that network.

At the end of the day: you know more and you’re smarter. So you grow faster.

Koetsier: Thank you for your time!

Want to learn more about tying in ad revenue to your ROI analysis?

>> Schedule a demo today.

DraftKings unifies siloed marketing data to uncover deep insights for growth

We sat down with DraftKings Senior Director of Growth Marketing, Jayne Pimentel, to discuss how her team leveraged Singular to unify their siloed marketing data and uncover deep insights for superior optimizations.




My name is Jayne Pimentel and I’m the Senior Director of Growth Marketing at DraftKings. DraftKings is a sports media technology company. Most people know us for daily fantasy sports. We’ve recently entered the sportsbook category, which has been around outside the US for centuries.

When I joined DraftKings, we had one product. We now have three. We brought everything in-house. We got rid of our ad agencies. To scale and to grow a business like that requires a lot of infrastructure. A lot of disciplines that aren’t really core competencies to DraftKings but things that we need to invest in third parties to allow my team to stay agile.

Why Singular?

I remember being a consultant when I joined DraftKings and my first call actually was a Singular call. And then before that when I was at Cognant, even at Machine Zone, over half our clients used Singular. So I was familiar with all of these great brand names that were out there, people like Lyft that we were working with, that also leverage Singular.

Establishing a single source of truth for marketing performance

Singular has helped us become fluent between different kind of siloed teams. The fragmentation of data is something that is achievable to overcome but requires a lot of ingestion of data as well as leveraging something like Singular if you can’t adjust that data yourself.

So if you don’t want to pay for a ton of servers to ingest impression-level data, click data, I mean that’s also just one piece. Then you also have user data within our apps. Then you also have revenue data and how we monetize. And the fragmentation even on the monetization of a user, how much they’re valued, needs to be also tied to how much we’re willing to pay for that user. And so that true lifecycle value of that user is something that requires data coming from email, S3 buckets, garbage Excel files, whatever it is. But you have to be able to have some sort of system to make sense of all that and to ingest it and unify it.

Democratizing creative reporting & optimization

And it’s also been helpful with our creative team. We actually use the creative tool within Singular often because our creative team, they’re visual people, they’re talent and they like to see the performance but in a more visual way. And also having the creative and the image that is actually associated with the performance, it’s been really helpful to start conversations to help with testing agendas and to make everyone accountable across teams now that we have a baseline around the data we’re bringing in.

Ready to take your growth marketing to the next level? Let’s connect!

Personal Capital tackles cross-platform measurement

We sat down with Rachel Chanco, Director of Digital Marketing & Mobile Growth at Personal Capital, to discuss how they’re connecting cross-platform user journeys.




I’m Rachel Chanco. I’m with Personal Capital. I lead all of the Digital Marketing and Mobile Growth initiatives.

Personal Capital is a digital wealth management company. How we differentiate ourselves from other FinTech advisors in the space is that we are a hybrid model. We leverage toolset technology but we connect you with a personal advisor that can actually really help you plan things out.

Personal Capital currently uses Singular as its mobile measurement partner.

Connecting users’ cross-platform journeys

The user journey is pretty unique. A lot of times people will come from the desktop and then download the app. A lot of times people come from the app and then convert on a desktop.

One of the things I really love about working with Singular is not only am I able to understand data from the mobile side but because of the custom integrations we can do with Singular, I am able to understand a user journey from mobile app install to a conversion that may occur on desktop.

So rather than just sticking to standard mobile measurement events, I’m able to leverage the platform to connect if an event is actually happening on desktop, even though the user came from mobile. I can say that this user was actually valuable even though on a standard analysis they would not appear to be valuable.

So we talk a lot about cross-platform being a real problem within the industry and Singular is helping me solve for that.

Ready to take your growth marketing to the next level? Let’s connect!

How Singular’s mobile attribution is saving app developers up to $500,000/month

Mobile attribution is a commodity, right? You can get it from anyone, correct?

Well, sure, if you don’t want elite-level marketing success. And, if you don’t mind paying fraudsters to funnel all your ad dollars into Lambos, vacations on the French Riviera, and sipping pina coladas on the beach.

That’s become incredibly clear in the last few weeks since Singular added deterministic android install validation to our Fraud Prevention suite. Fraud prevention is included, for free, in Singular’s mobile attribution solution.

mobile attribution fraud prevention
Findings from the 2019 mobile attribution fraud prevention report

One product release, 3 fraud-fighting solutions

The recent product update actually included significant updates to two additional fraud-fighting technologies: Android Organic Poaching Prevention and Android Click Injection Prevention. Android Organic Poaching Prevention stops fraudsters from claiming credit for app installs that are normal, natural user behavior.  Android Click Injection Prevention stops fraudsters from claiming credit for installs that other ad networks drove.

Customers and app developers are saying that collectively, this is having a huge impact:

“Singular’s new progressive anti-fraud solution detected more ad fraud than competing solutions,” says Ronak Jain, Mobile Marketing Manager at Cleartrip, the top travel technology platform for emerging markets. “This is a game-changer and will play a key role in making growth decisions.”

Some clients are saving more than $100,000 a week with the solution. Other app developers discovered that more than 90% of the app installs they had been paying for from a particular network were fake.

Another client in an on-demand services industry discovered that almost 50% of their paid installs suffered from mobile attribution manipulation. The wrong ad partner was getting paid … showing that fraud cheats ethical ad networks as well as advertisers.

mobile attribution fraud prevention
Findings from the 2019 mobile attribution fraud prevention report by Singular

Getting that clarity — and then being able to kill the fraud — returns app marketing to where it should have been all along: advertisers maximizing their hard-earned ad dollars to drive growth.

“Singular’s new fraud-fighting technology helps our User Acquisition team focus on legitimate campaigns and significantly boost return on ad spend,” says John Parides, Senior Director of User Acquisition at Glu, maker of the iconic Deer Hunter as well as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.

But how does this work? What’s the philosophy behind Singular’s mobile attribution fraud prevention?

App developers: 4 key fraud prevention principles

It’s easy to say that you fight ad fraud, or catch mobile fraud. It’s another thing to do it effectively.

Singular’s cyber security team is constantly monitoring anomalies and abnormal behavior, checking a wide array of signals. Once we find something that is abnormal, we dig deep to find the root cause and find a deterministic way to fight that fraud methodology. Essentially, what we’re doing is emulating the way fraudsters think and then reverse engineering their schemes.

Here are the four key principles behind Singular’s Fraud Prevention product.

Singular strives to have no false positives. We want to clearly identify fraud at a granular level. So Singular’s fraud results apply to actual individual installs, devices, and users, not blanket-level sources or publishers.

Finding fraud after it has already occurred is too late. Advertisers have already paid for traffic or users or customers, and then they’ll have to engage in time-consuming and difficult cost reconciliation conversations with partners.

A potentially bigger problem when you let fake users in: marketers get fraudulent engagement and purchase data along with the fake users, muddying your analytics and making it hard to decide where to re-invest. And even worse, legitimate ad networks’ algorithms can adapt to the fraud in real time, de-prioritizing campaigns and sources that are actually working because they are getting fewer installs attributed, thanks to theft by the fraudsters.

So it is absolutely critical to eliminate fake installs BEFORE attribution.

Both advertisers and ad networks need to know what constitutes fraud, and they need transparent reasons why traffic, installs, or other activity has been classified as fraud. So Singular provides user-level decision logic for every single install, click, and impression.

No marketer wants fraud. But marketers do want to personalize their fraud prevention strategies and define how aggressive they want to be. A marketer using largely self-attributing networks like Facebook, Google, Apple, Snap, and Twitter prefers a different strategy to one who is using many different niche ad networks, for example.

So Singular lets customers decide both the fraud rules they’ll use and what actions they’ll take upon finding suspicious activity.

Then, add scale

At Singular, we’re applying that philosophy while also harnessing the power of big data: analyzing more signals in higher volume. In June 2019 alone, Singular measured 70 billion ad impressions, almost 11 billion clicks, almost 6 billion app installs, and almost $350 million in ad spend.

And it’s not just big data. We’re also digging deeper, analyzing detailed signals from individual impressions, clicks, and app installs at greater depth to uncover suspicious activity.

That volume — and depth — are just two of the reasons Singular was recently able to unveil three new fraud-fighting technologies that collectively have become part of our already industry-leading Singular Fraud Prevention suite.

Get all the mobile attribution fraud prevention details

We compiled a data-driven report on the results our beta-test clients got when they used Singular’s latest Fraud Prevention suite.

Check out what they found by getting The Death of Install Fraud on Android for yourself.

Fixing a $13B problem: How Singular is killing app install fraud

You probably saw the news that we released last week: deterministic Android app install validation. This, along with a number of other improvements we’ve recently made, is a massive industry breakthrough that is completely game-changing for many of our clients.

Some of them are now saving massive amounts of money:

“Singular’s updated Fraud Prevention suite is the most powerful mobile app install fraud prevention I’ve seen,” says Channy Lim, Head of BI Department at Com2uS, maker of the hit mobile game Summoners War. “This will save us literally hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, and lead us to make more effective marketing decisions.”

The news is exciting, but I wanted to dive a little deeper.

I would like to share a little more detail about how app install fraud works, the problems with existing methods of finding it, and what we doing differently at Singular.

How app install fraud works

One of the ways fraudsters steal billions of advertisers’ dollars annually is app install fraud. Or, to put it another way: fake installs.

App install fraud is a collection of fraud methods that create fake mobile users and app installs. As opposed to attribution manipulation fraud, which steals credit for existing legitimate app installs, app install fraudsters take matters into their own hands and create app installs out of thin air.

There are multiple ways to perform fake installs fraud, and naturally, some are better than others.

The simplest and most low-tech way is a device farm. You get a bunch of devices, click a lot of tracking links, install a lot of apps, then open them, delete them, and reset each device’s Advertising ID (Android) or IDFA (iOS). Rinse and repeat regularly, and you’re collecting ad dollars.

But there are far more complex and advanced ways to perform fake installs that generate a lot more money far quicker.

One of the other ways fraudsters scale up their device farm operation is to use emulators and bots instead of real devices and real human beings who use the devices. This can be done in the cloud, and potentially on multiple servers in multiple locations, to try to look authentic.

One of the most notable techniques leveraged by smarter fraudsters is SDK spoofing.

Mobile marketers place software (an SDK) from a Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP) in their apps to monitor and measure the results of their marketing. In SDK spoofing, no app is ever actually installed … but an install is being reported to the MMP and potentially other analytics providers by faking the SDK’s traffic. This can be done by technically advanced fraudsters who understand how communication with the measurement service works and how to emulate that communication.

This is far more scalable than running a device farm, because once they have done the initial work, they can create a script to run on servers around the globe. That creates fake installs on fake devices. Alternatively, they can write code that can run on legitimate users’ devices anywhere, reporting installations of apps that have never been installed: fake installs on real devices.

Another example comes in the form of malware, where malicious apps install and run legitimate apps on real users’ devices. This happened for example with the Viking Horde malware. In such cases the user is real and the app is real but the install itself is fraudulent.

As fraudsters become more advanced they tap more and more into the power of the high-tech fake install techniques, and for good reasons. These attacks are highly scalable and hard to find, therefore netting the fraudsters huge amounts of money.

Detecting and preventing fake installs is hard

There are multiple ways to detect fake installs. The problem is that many are unreliable, inaccurate, and most importantly, ineffective.

SDK Message Hashing
Since SDK spoofing aims to fake an MMP’s SDK traffic, MMPs (including Singular) protect each message sent from the SDK. That’s typically done via hashing: taking the data from the message, a secret key that is different for each app, and combining them to create a blob of data that can be verified on the MMP’s backend.

The problem is that the secret is not so secret, as apps that run on users’ devices can create these hashes, so SDK fraudsters can extract the secret and algorithm from the publicly available app binary. At times they don’t even need to reverse engineer the algorithm since the SDK is open source.

Abnormal numbers of new devices
One interesting statistical technique to fight fake install fraud is to look for a high percentage of brand-new or never-before-seen devices coming from specific ad networks or publishers. When you see abnormally high ratios, it’s generally clear that something fishy is happening.

The problem however, is that fraudsters sometimes leverage existing devices or mingle their fake traffic with traffic from real devices, making it harder to spot anomalies.

Abnormal retention rate or other KPIs
Marketers can sometimes identify fraud by seeing abnormal rates of retention, in-app purchases, or other KPIs. For example, if your average retention is 15% on D14, but installs from a particular campaign, publisher, or network show a 1% retention rate, it’s clear that there’s something that deserves further investigation.

But Singular research shows that fraudsters have learned to fake retention and post install events/purchases.

For example, Singular uncovered a case of extremely sophisticated SDK spoofing campaign on iOS that fools most fraud prevention solutions in the industry. The fraudsters not only generated seemingly legitimate app installs but they also continued to send post-install events, in essence faking real users’ activity. They have even tried reporting in-app purchases, and while doing so reported revenue receipts for these fake purchases.

Sensor data and user behavioral analysis
Sensor data based solutions take post-install fake user detection one step further. These solutions try to detect abnormal devices or users by looking at non-marketing data points such as device movements (via a smartphone’s accelerometer and/or gyroscope), battery data, and user-screen interaction.


Simple: sensor data for real devices should look different than simulators that don’t move.

The challenge is that this can be faked as well as shown in the huge “We Purchase Apps” scandal revealed in October 2018. In this massive ad fraud campaign the perpetrators bought real apps, studied the usage patterns of their real users, and then created fake users coming from those same apps.

One of the biggest targets of this campaign was none other than Google itself, the company who has probably put the most effort into profiling real user activities and protecting advertisers from fake user emulation.

And more …
There are multiple other methods, each of which has its strengths and weaknesses.

The problem with post-install fraud determination

While post-install methods do an important job of raising the bar against fraud they have some inherent caveats that stop them from being effective fraud prevention tools.

1: Statistical (in)significance
Post-install methods are statistical tools that work by looking at groups of installs and checking if one or more of these groups exhibit anomalous activities. Usually these groups would be installs coming from the same publisher. For example, when looking for new devices it’s unsurprising to see a legitimate user with a new device, as new devices are constantly being sold to consumers.

However, for a publisher driving thousands of installs, seeing 95% of those installs from new devices should be highly suspicious. Fraudsters have figured out that they can’t be so blatant, and so they take action and hide. Some drive their traffic from many different publisher IDs and even networks to keep numbers low; some mix their fraudulent installs with legitimate installs to make the anomaly less apparent.

Utilizing such techniques allows fraudsters to avoid detection by making the anomalies statistically less significant, making it a lot harder to distinguish legitimates traffic from fake traffic and so making it harder to stop the fraudulent activities without incurring high false positives.

2) Post postback friction
As the name suggests, post install methods only come into effect after an install has happened, and might be processed days or weeks after the install. That also means that they are evaluated after an install postback is sent to the media source, which means after conversion and billing notification in CPI campaigns.

The result is that the media source will charge for the now-known-to-be fraudulent conversion … unless a process of reconciliation is done. This process is often manual, messy, and a cause of great friction between ad networks and advertisers.

3) Non-optimized optimization
Ad networks often perform real-time optimizations based on initial success analytics: evidence of conversions such as app installs. Now, however, those optimizations will be skewed by fraudulent activities.

In effect, having been rewarded by fraud, they will now optimize for MORE fraud.

As an example, if publisher A drives more installs than publisher B for some advertisers, the network might prefer to prioritize publisher A over publisher B and send more ads its way. Now imagine publisher A is actually driving fake installs which are not prevented in real time (as happens in post-install detection). The network will funnel more budget to A over B.

Even if those fraudulent installs are detected post-install and reimbursed, the damage has already been done and goals will not be met because of the optimization changes and budget shift.

Singular’s solution: deterministic pre-attribution fraud decisions

Singular strives to have no false positives. We want to clearly identify fraud at a granular level. So Singular’s fraud results apply to actual individual installs, devices, and users, not blanket-level sources or publishers (although we can – and do – block those too).

We also want to find fraud as conversions or installs happen.

Anything less will suffer from the problems outlined above.

When we took time out earlier this year to consider everything, it was clear that we needed a different approach here. We needed something that would work in real time — install-time — and have an extremely low false-positive rate while still maintaining effectiveness.

To meet these requirements, we decided to disregard everything we thought we knew about ad fraud and look for something new. As we reported publicly last week, after an exhaustive search we found what we believed would be a high-quality deterministic fake install detection method that works at install time.

The new method we discovered depends on signals from the install device that allow us to verify that a user exists, they truly installed the app from the store, and they haven’t installed the app an unreasonable number of times (sorry-not-sorry, fraudsters who “install” an app on a phone hundreds or thousands of times).

Of course, once we found this method, we knew we needed to validate that it works as expected at scale, in the real world, on thousands of ad networks. To do so we tested with some of the most successful mobile publishers on the planet. And we validated our results against post-install metrics.

The actual implementation of our new fraud prevention method proved to have a tremendous effect on some of our customers, eliminating their fake install problem. (Find more about it in our report.)

In a later blog post we will share some more details about our findings, but it’s safe to say that we were blown away by the scale of the fraudulent activity we’ve found, and as more and more customers utilize the feature, the numbers are only going to grow.

Interested in learning more? Schedule a demo to go even deeper.