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Advertising beyond IDFA: how mobile app publishers can thrive

By Travis Clinger | SVP, addressability and ecosystem



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March 22, 2021 | 7 min read

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Prior to 2020, the mobile app ecosystem had it pretty good in terms of addressability. IDFA provided a fairly stable means of identification that rarely changed more than once a year, if that, and enabled marketers’ activation, measurement, and personalization workflows.

Advertising beyond IDFA: how mobile app publishers can thrive

Advertising beyond IDFA: how mobile app publishers can thrive

It’s 2021 and the advertising ecosystem continues to see unprecedented disruption—with AppTrackingTransparentcy (ATT) being one of the most disruptive for the mobile ecosystem. Having leaned into IDFA as a primary means of identifying users, mobile app publishers are being forced into a new reality. When Apple requires the implementation of ATT, expected in the early spring of 2021, app publishers will be required to request permission to use app-collected data for tracking and accessing device identifiers, including the IDFA. Permission may only be requested once and is persistent thereafter until the app is uninstalled or the user changes their permissions.

“Maintaining user privacy without losing revenue has no easy solve. Despite that challenge, publishers have significant opportunity if executed correctly. Providing a clear value exchange to users is imperative, and will result in a better user-publisher relationship—and therefore a stronger ad business,” said Rick Welch, vice-president and head of programmatic advertising at Flipboard.

“A first-party data strategy is a highly important component of any modern-day publisher's business. If you weren't already focusing on and building this piece of your business, you're behind and need to get started as soon as possible.“

With the changes to the IDFA, app publishers need to explore a neutral, strategic identity infrastructure that will enable them to maintain and scale their business, while upholding consumer privacy standards, and respecting app store guidelines. Options do currently exist, but they are limited. Some, such as fingerprinting, are also unethical as they bypass direct consent.

Fingerprinting aggregates signals from various user device settings and characteristics— including screen resolution, installed fonts, operating system, and model – to create a “synthetic” ID in place of a cookie. It’s invisible. Lurking and without consent from the consumer, it’s bad business from a privacy perspective. It has no place in the future of digital identity.

What is currently working across the advertising ecosystem is people-based identity, authenticated identity solutions that are durable, scalable, and privacy-conscious. If you want proof that people-based identity works, you need only look at the walled gardens, where 70% of all digital ad dollars went in 2020. The reason walled gardens can provide close to 100% addressability for their inventory is that they have clearly demonstrated the value exchange with users, who share their email or phone number to gain access to valuable content and experiences.

People-based addressability is already proliferating across the digital ecosystem including connected TV (CTV) and OTT because marketers are able to access the addressable reach they’re used to with walled gardens – and with better results. That means publishers are reaping the benefits by sustaining and improving revenue streams, creating better consumer experiences, and taking control of their first-party data.

App publishers need to look at the ATT changes as an opportunity to take back control of their consumer relationships and data strategy. Taking control means championing the importance of first-party, consented relationships, enabling a direct connection between their authenticated first-party data and marketer demand.

With the reduction in IDFAs, it’s important that mobile publishers make their inventory available on the same people-based identity that other display and CTV publishers are using. Regardless of your own ATT permission rate, there will be far less data tied to IDFAs across the ecosystem as a result of this change. Less data density means lower CPMs – unless you provide a directly useful, people-based identifier. Marketers want to be able to buy omnichannel campaigns for their audiences and mobile publishers can offer this through ATT-consented mobile people-based addressability.

Mobile publishers need to start embracing and testing authenticated people-based solutions today. Here are four things to remember as you start moving away from relying on IDFA:

  • Consumer transparency must come first—privacy alone is not enough. Getting consumers to opt in to ATT is critical—this enables mobile app publishers to link their inventory to marketer audiences.

  • Marketers want to buy, frequency cap, and measure against a common identity—not an individual device-ID. To do this, mobile pubs must offer people-based identity as the mobile cross-device graphs will no longer work nearly as effectively

  • Improve customer experiences to deliver differentiated audiences and increase yield and CPMs

  • Seek out neutral vendors that provide authentication guidance. Don’t run the risk of ceding control of your audience to someone else.

“While nobody knows for certain what the impact of Apple's pending IDFA changes will be, publishers, buyers, and the industry at large are wisely recognizing this as a likely pivotal moment in digital and mobile advertising. Over the past several years, we’ve seen a clear and unmistakable trend towards a future in digital advertising which is less reliant on persistent, device-based identifiers such as IDFA and cookies.

“With these changes in the ad ecosystem potentially creating material disruptions to publisher revenue, we and many of our peers have been thinking carefully about how to monetize and scale going forward while protecting user privacy at all times. Building and maintaining user trust in any system meant to aid monetization will be pivotal for every publisher, as we fully enter an era of user-driven — rather than publisher-driven — privacy control. Long term, we anticipate this ’new normal’ will be a win for publishers like Audiomack who prioritize user privacy, for users themselves, and for the digital ad ecosystem as a whole,“ Dave Edwards, vice-president of revenue at Audiomack

Lastly, any authentication strategy should focus first on the most active users. By authenticating and getting consent for this valuable user group you achieve revenue sustainability. Even with only 10-20% of your users authenticating, the impact can be significantly valuable. Once you have a passionate group of authenticated users, you can try implementing complementary solutions that are audience-based versus people-based and/or contextual. This will provide a diversified revenue strategy to protect your overall business model.

Travis Clinger, senior vice-president, addressability and ecosystem, LiveRamp



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LiveRamp is the data collaboration platform of choice for the world’s most innovative companies. A groundbreaking leader in consumer privacy, data ethics, and foundational identity, LiveRamp is setting the new standard for building a connected customer view with unmatched clarity and context while protecting precious brand and consumer trust.

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