Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Mobile advertising booms even as it faces its privacy challenges

Mobile remains perhaps the brightest part of the advertising ecosystem with spend continuing to grow and new opportunities ahead for marketers.

Even during the first wave of the pandemic, mobile ad spend for Q2 surpassed Q1 by 8% globally, according to PubMatic, and was a whopping 71% higher than in the same period a year earlier. And it notes that while mobile advertising decreased in the early weeks COVID-19, it bounced back more quickly than desktop advertising.

However, there remain significant challenges, as elsewhere particularly around issues of privacy in both the mobile open web and App ecosystems, with the demise of cookies and other identity solutions as well as further regulations.

Nano Interactive’s UK Trading Director Niall Moody says: “Consumers, globally, are relying more heavily on their mobiles than ever before. This opens huge opportunities for brands and advertisers to target consumers. However, with increased concerns around consumer data privacy, mobile platforms are cracking down on traditional methods to do this.”

He says the challenge could be categorised in three ways: with users becoming more privacy savvy and taking control of their digital footprint; advertisers who seek to leverage first-party-data solutions alone, and for publishers who face “significant revenue losses” from the demise of third-party cookies as CPMs drop for inventory that is no longer addressable using cookies or identifiers. “This ‘hidden web’ is significantly growing.”

George Dixon, Head of Product and Strategy at Mobsta believes that digital advertising is at a crossroads: “The degradation of the third-party cookie and changes to ADID sharing within iOS mean a huge step change for digital advertising.”

This, though, is no bad thing: “I feel it is the beginning of the convergence of all media channels as addressable TV, DOOH and audio evolve their respective channels. The removal of individual identifiers in the digital ecosystem will see digital develop into the same space,” he says, adding that targeting will still be relevant but not “as personal”.

Late last year it partnered with Ericsson-owned Emodo and Three UK to provide Emodo Supply, an operator-verified solution that validates the accuracy and quality of ad inventory in real time in a privacy-compliant way.

Charles Manning, founder and CEO of Kochava, a mobile attribution and analytics platform, agrees that mobile will become the heart of converged channel strategies – with advertisers increasingly looking at how TV and mobile correspond, display and mobile or even mobile with footfall traffic.

He believes that advertisers and media buyers are now “confronting” the privacy question quickly because of the “way that privacy is manifesting itself, and the rate of regulation”.

“Advertisers and buyers of media will have their own identity graphs that represent their users and audiences and equally publishers will have their own identity graph and first-party data.”

He says the ability to share that data openly as in the past would now be limited in capacity, meaning that solutions such as bunkers, cleanrooms or Kochava’s own Identity Locker were needed to do so in a privacy-compliant way.

“I don’t think that you will have one identity vendor in the world that will rule them all.”

He says of the changes that Apple and Google are making or mooted to make that they have a disproportionate effect on many publishers. “These are big changes and our customers, major brands and game companies don’t have 20 engineers waiting in on the sidelines to go and implement some custom solution that adheres to Apple’s changes on a dime,” adds Manning. Without companies such as Kochava anticipating future moves and building systems many wouldn’t have a solution.

“Some people are on the sidelines just kind of sitting on their hands saying, ‘Let’s see if Apple is really serious’. We know Apple well enough, they’re serious.”

Grant Allaway, CEO of AudienceQ, says he “waits with baited breath to see how the industry responds”. “I haven’t seen anything yet which seems to be the perfect answer to the cookie and the IDFA issues, but having worked in digital for many years and seen the demise of the industry predicted many times, I’m very confident solutions and better solutions at that, will be found and that the industry will continue to grow and develop.”

Of particular importance is the need to ensure that any future ecosystem does not allow the FAANG companies to dominate at the expense of creative, nimble, local players. “Supporting the long tail is vital to a healthy, thriving and competitive advertising landscape,” he adds.

The enforcement of Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework will be AdColony’s biggest challenge of 2021 – but also the thing that most excites Jonathan Harrop, its Senior Director, Global Marketing and Communications.

He says it will “severely impact the availability of the unique device identifier advertisers have traditionally used for audience building across mobile web and apps.

“Fortunately, AdColony has actually been optimising our ad serving based on context for over a decade and it turns out, we can target based on these same signals,” he says.

“For those users who do opt out, and we know that will be a not insignificant number of users, this will require advertisers to rethink part of how they address their audience a little, but we have the contextual signals and expertise to find the apps and individual placements where ad creative will succeed and reach advertiser KPIs.”

It’s a similar story for Moody, who believes solutions such as theirs will be a “game changers for brands and advertisers”, particularly as they begin to think about how they transform their strategies to shift away from the user tracking methodologies they once relied on to deliver their digital advertising.

“With so much changes already happening, 2021 is going to be the year brands explore and start actioning privacy centric alternatives that return effective results,” he predicts.

However, there will be challenges in educating advertisers about the “huge opportunities” that exist outside of first-party identifier solutions. “Advertisers cannot ignore that the vast majority of the online universe exists across the anonymous web.”

Yet Harrop, who believes that Google will announce further restrictions on its Android identifier this year, is cautiously optimistic that consumers will continue to willingly opt in to receive advertising on their mobile devices.

“There’s been a lot of doom and gloom about Apple’s IDFA opt-in rates when Apple does flip the switch next year, but I think they’re wrong,” he says. “I think rates will be higher than everyone is expecting, thanks in part to the strong relationships between users and brands and publishers they trust.

“Don’t forget how many people are just going to hit “Yes” to get to the next step and play the game/view the article/watch the video. When was the last time you yourself, as a consumer, clicked anything other than “Accept All” on a cookie disclosure?”

Over the course of mobile month, this series will also consider how 5G will transform mobile, consider further the in-app and mobile web, explore the geo-location opportunities, consider the lasting effects of covid and how mobile data will increasingly transform all aspects of marketing.

Indeed, as Dixon believes: “The most exciting thing about mobile is its data to power other advertising rather than as an ad vehicle.”