The Impact of iOS 14 on Mobile Advertising

Published Feb 3 2021 Last updated Feb 3 2021 4 minute read
Impact of iOS 14 on Mobile Advertising hero image
  • Janos Moldvay
    Written by Janos Moldvay

    After studying computer science and business administration, János worked in data science and marketing intelligence at the Otto group for three and a half years. He then successfully set up and led data science teams at Xing and Jimdo, among others. János has been working on AI-based attribution modeling since 2011 and founded Adtriba at the end of 2015.

In June 2020, Apple shocked the mobile marketing world with the announcement of their new App Tracking Transparency Framework (ATT). It was originally planned to be rolled out with iOS 14 in September 2020, but is now postponed to early this year, 2021. 

There are still many unknowns about how much advertisers and the ad platforms will be affected, but we will attempt to break down what we know so far and some ways that we, Adtriba, are preparing with our partner, Funnel, to tackle the topic of attribution. 


What we know about iOS 14 so far

Within Apple’s new framework, app developers are required to ask their users for permission to access their IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) which basically identifies when mobile users interact with mobile campaigns. Experts estimate opt-in rates to be between 10-20%, which means that the vast majority of iOS users are not trackable. It doesn’t help that the mandatory language in the opt-in popup is phrased in a way that could put users on the fence about accepting the tracking: “App X would like permission to track you across apps and websites owned by other companies”.

Advertisers and mobile app developers will still be able to link app installs and marketing conversion, but it will be through Apple's SKAdNetwork. This change makes the process complex and non-straightforward, as user-level information won't be available. According to Apple, “the ad network API helps advertisers measure the success of ad campaigns while maintaining user privacy. "

Introduced with iOS 11.3 in 2018 and iOS 14 in 2020, SKAdNetwork is being brought to a second version that incorporates the ability to track conversion events. Ad networks must register themselves with Apple in order to receive install validation information via the SKAdNetwork API at whichever URL link they specified upon registration. 

Here’s a visual description of how the SKAdnetwork mechanism works:

SKADnetwork mechanism

Source: SKAdNetwork Sequence of Events 


Once the app records a conversion event and triggers the ‘updateConversionValue()’, a 24-hour timer is started. When the timer expires, a postback is fired to the respective ad network, allowing it to record the conversion as well.  

The SKAdNetwork provides ad networks with some information that allows for targeting optimization and basic attributions, but this data is somewhat limited. On the top of that, Apple is limiting attribution to a 24-hour window; that is: if a conversion happens 24 hours after the install, it won't be attributed to the marketing click. View-through tracking will also be disabled, which will definitely impact most marketer's reports. 

Advertisers should prepare to see core changes to setup and functionality of all advertising platforms, and not just a loss of data from iOS users.  

Potential Impacts for Advertisers 

There’s no doubt that there are a lot of question marks around how advertisers should be adjusting their strategies to work within this new framework. It’s going to take some time to see how this actually plays out, but there are some likely potential impacts that we can foresee.

For example, for Ecommerce companies that have a large and varied product offering and audience, it could be challenging, if not impossible, to gain access to a breakdown of each of their customer touchpoints (e.g. ad click, add to cart) for their different audiences. Once the user is on the site, data available on how the user reacts to different products is limited, and it could be harder to feedback important optimization information to the ad platforms  on how certain products are actually converting (being purchased) for specific audiences. 

With the 24 hour conversion event window, gaming companies will potentially have an issue linking their most valuable conversion events, purchases, which typically don’t occur within the first 24 hours after install, with campaigns and ad channels. The new restrictions make it extremely difficult to analyze and quantify which channels and campaigns acquired the best users. This also makes it impossible to feed back the information about campaign efficiency into the ad platforms. 

For B2B companies, it seems that it will have the biggest impact on targeting/retargeting, and audience creation. B2B companies may need to think about prioritising which conversion events will help to ensure that they get enough volume to accurately optimize their campaigns.  

However, these are all speculations and we will need to see how this all plays out during 2021. 


Insights from Adtriba

Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) is a solution for still being able to quantify marketing channels' and campaigns' effectiveness. MMM uses statistical analysis of time series data from marketing activities (e.g. daily spend on Instagram app install ads) to understand install and conversion impact. Additionally, non-marketing effects can be integrated as well, such as trend, seasonal or product changes. This type of macro modeling implicitly accounts for cross-device effects, which is another advantage over user-level journey modeling.

An example of this methodology at work exists with one of Adtriba and Funnel’s mobility clients, FREE NOW. The macro data modeling approach was applied to compare it to their existing install attribution via an MMP. Within the testing, the model generated had a mean average percentage error (MAPE) of 9% on the test set, meanwhile evaluating the effectiveness of the different marketing activities on the install numbers. 

The aggregated data modeling approach is more holistic since it includes all digital paid marketing campaign touchpoints, and offline campaigns. For example, if a campaign tends to have an effective impact on assisting installs, but isn’t prone to be the last click before the install, it will be undervalued through the MMP’s last click perspective. In this case, by accounting for assist performance by the campaign it isn't undervalued in the macro-modeling approach - delivering a more realistic assessment.

Reassessing Your Approach

Ideally these different methodologies to measure marketing performance should be combined to achieve reliable and robust measurement of marketing activities in the post-IDFA iOS 14 world.

The basis for marketing measurement for mobile app campaigns will most likely shift more to macro-level measurement models based on aggregated marketing data. This data mostly consists of cost, click and view data per marketing channel/campaign per day and should be integrated through data integration systems, such as Funnel. Adtriba has partnered with Funnel for automated integration of aggregated marketing data.

RCTs, AB-Tests and experiments are other valuable sources of information to validate the results from macro-level modeling. Results from experiments should be used as inputs for MMM in the form of priors, but should be conducted regularly and with the necessary scientific discipline to maximize the usefulness of the results. 

Adtriba's Mobile Ad Measurement System

Diagram: Adtriba’s Mobile Ad Measurement System including integration of RCT results and marketing data consolidation through Funnel


For granular and operational optimization of ad campaigns, e.g. optimizing CVR and creatives, a mix consisting of remaining user-level data and the limited data available from the SKAdNetwork should be applied. With all the limitations it should still be possible to get some basic estimations regarding optimizing, for example, text ads and creatives. This obviously depends on what additional data Apple will make available and whether it will relax the current restriction to only 100 different campaigns.

Overall, marketing managers need to be adaptive and continuously follow the latest developments regarding restrictions and regulations impacting measurement and optimization. MMM is based on aggregated data, which will always be available and therefore constitutes a solid base for mobile marketing measurement and optimization systems. 

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