What Apple’s iOS Identifier Change Really Means for Marketers

April 1st, 2021 | Ian Meyers, Head of Addressability Product, LiveRamp

Person holding phone with a blurry target and arrow pictured on phone.The iOS portion of the Canadian mobile advertising industry, estimated at $5.9 billion in 2019, is substantially underwritten by a 36-character ID. The simplicity of the Identifier For Advertisers (IDFA) belies its utility — use cases from retargeting, to frequency capping to attribution all have critical dependencies on this identifier.

Apple threw the mobile marketing industry into turmoil when they announced in June of last year that the IDFA would be placed under a permissioning model, the Ads Tracking Transparency framework (ATT). In a step unusual for Apple, the initial September 2020 release was pushed back to “early Spring” of this year. Rumors of further delays have circled, potentially in response to lagging developer adoption and threats of new tracking vectors developed in mainland China.

Why should asking users for permission cause so much chaos? The ATT prompt itself seems designed to discourage users from opting-in; each app must request permission to access the IDFA using a standardized, somewhat intimidating dialog: “App would like permission to track you across apps and websites owned by other companies”. And apps have a single opportunity to request permission, if the user declines access, there is no second chance and no ability to gate content or services as a result of the user’s selection. Early surveys indicate over 60% of users will opt-out of tracking, about the same amount that opted-out of location data collection when new transparency features came into effect. Assuming the IDFA offers effective utility, the loss of that much data will result in lowered efficiency in addressing Apple users.

What is a savvy marketer to do in light of these changes? You may benefit from Apple’s re-introduced, highly-complex SKAdnetwork when you measure app install conversions. Participating applications and Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) will be able to generally attribute app installs to clicks (and soon views), with a number of privacy-preserving caveats. For some app-to-web conversion events, Apple’s Private Click Measurement may fit the bill.

Let’s say that app installs aren’t your only or primary objective — unfortunately, Apple hasn’t provided much in the way of tooling or recommendations. Third-parties have stepped up, investing in providing richer contextual signals and novel approaches that play by Apple’s new set of ATT-enforced rules. Apple and independent players alike can be expected to continue to refine and introduce new solutions after IDFA restrictions go into place.

What’s clear is this: there isn’t a silver bullet to address “losing” the IDFA. Every marketer will need to re-evaluate how to engage with users on mobile and ensure that they have the tools and flexibility to respond to major changes in mobile. Here are a few “no-regrets” steps that every marketer should take:

  • Examine your previous campaigns to understand which app publishers drive value; you may want to tune post-ATT campaigns to take advantage of contextual signals and over-index on these apps, or even consider developing more direct relationships with the applications where your audiences spend time.
  • Ensure that you and your partners have integrated SKAdnetwork and/or PCM, if applicable.
  • Reassess your key performance indicators on mobile — will they be possible to measure if IDFAs are disrupted?
  • Consider allocating dedicated R&D budget to experiment with new tactics on iOS once ATT has been fully rolled out. You will need to remain nimble as the ecosystem undergoes an overhaul.



About Ian Meyers

Ian Meyers is the Head of Addressability Product at LiveRamp, including publisher tools and bidstream infrastructure. He is a seven-year veteran of LiveRamp and previously developed investment research products at Morningstar, Inc.

Ian holds a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.