The Giants Of Adtech Are Facing Challengers In The Privacy Era | Singular

Apple Search Ads are on the rise.

Image Credit: Singular

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In the new era of mobile marketing, the giants of adtech are seeing their dominance challenged more than ever before, according to a new report by marketing measurement firm Singular.

The Singular ROI 2023 report said we’re in a new privacy-centric era for return-on-investment for ad spending. Meta and Google still rank near the top, but the giants of adtech are being challenged by relatively tiny networks like Moloco, Mistplay, and Blind Ferret. Apple Search Ads is also on the rise, the report said.

Moloco is growing and tied with Google and Meta in at least one key metric: top ad networks for various specific verticals and geographies. TikTok added quality to ever-increasing quantity as it generated better ROI for more marketers than ever, and two titans of adtech, AppLovin and the newly merged Unity+IronSource, rival the most extensive ad networks.

Apple now owns the second-largest ad network for mobile user acquisition on iOS, according to Singular data.


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To find the best ad networks for mobile marketers, Singular analyzed trillions of ad impressions, more than $10 billion in advertiser ad spend and billions of mobile app installs, said John Koetsier, author of the report (and a former VBer), in an email to GamesBeat.

On Android everything is business as usual, with the Google Ad ID still available until 2024 at least, when the Privacy Sandbox for Android will be set to launch. On iOS, however, this report represents the first full year of results under Apple’s App Tracking Transparency requirements, including the use of Apple’s SKAdNetwork for marketing measurement and attribution. Apple changed the world as it phased out the use of the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) as it prioritized privacy over targeted ads.

Apple’s rise

The top companies in adtech.

Apple Search Ads is not directly comparable to ad networks using the third-party attribution framework SKAdNetwork, since Apple offers the Apple Search Ads Attribution application programming interface (API) for its own first-party network.

But by dollar volume and the number of conversions — which Singular measures on all platforms — Apple Search Ads is now the second-biggest ad network on iOS for app marketing.

Apple Search Ads is now the second-biggest network for user acquisition on iOS, with a huge ad spend platform transition during 2022. It rose from 36% in 2021 to to 47% in 2022.

After a tough start with new attribution methods, brands who measure marketing via Singular have learned how to use Apple’s privacy-focused SKAd Network and increased their spend on iOS. Ad spend on iOS, which dropped in 2021, jumped from just 36% iOS in January to 47% in December 2022.

The top ad networks by percentage growth in spend on Singular were Moloco at No. 1, followed by TikTok for Business, Twitter, Google Ads, Unity Ads, AppLovin, Snapchat, IronSource, Apple Search Ads and Liftoff.

Koetsier noted that retail media is a non-ad network creating an ad network to advertise to its customers. So, for example, Uber has an ad network that targets Uber riders during their trips. All data around that (targeting who the ads go to, what the riders do in response to the ads, and so on) is first-party data to Uber, because it’s Uber clients (the riders) who are getting the ads and responding to the ads.

“That’s similar to Apple Search Ads, where the resulting data is first-party for Apple (because all iOS users are Apple customers),” Koetsier said. “It’s different from ads that are placed with an ad network, where an advertiser buys ads from a network to be placed on in a publisher’s app or website. Since the ads are placed in a third-party app or site, the resulting data is third-party data, which is subject to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency rules. ATT is primarily focused on data sharing across multiple companies’ apps and websites … not so much with first-party data.”

Smaller ad networks like Moloco figured out privacy solutions faster. TikTok paired increasing quality with still-growing quantity to become an even more formidable competitor in mobile adtech.

Meta and Google are still massive and competitive thanks to their installed base and global-scale platforms for which they own both supply and demand: audience and advertiser. But for perhaps the first time, we’re seeing credible avenues of attack for other players, Koetsier said.

Rise of connected TV

Another challenge: the growth of connected TV, where advertising is growing at 20% annually: faster than mobile growth now. And where mobile is a mature market with known players and playbooks, CTV is chaotic and unconsolidated. It’s also a place where only one of the duopoly really plays: Google with YouTube.

A major battle coming in 2023 will be the competition between Unity+IronSource and AppLovin. Both have all the elements of the modern mobile adtech stack, and both have significant advantages, Singular said.

Apple’s SKAdNetwork version 4 has been released but is only beginning to be adopted. While early versions of SKAN depressed mobile advertising due to loss of signal, SKAN 3 is better and SKAN 4 should be a significant improvement, which should boost iOS marketing over 2023, Singular said.

While Privacy Sandbox on Android likely won’t impact the market directly until 2024, Android will likely follow a similar pattern as iOS when Apple rolled out App Tracking Transparency: a surge in spending near the transition as advertisers take advantage of still-available signal and data, and a drop immediately post transition as they adapt to new realities. We could see that surge beginning near the end of 2023.

Surprisingly, Twitter made the cut in seventh place overall for the number of rankings in the various vertical and geography-based top partner lists. The caveat, of course, is that most of the data behind the Singular ROI Index is from prior to Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company and subsequent dismantling of the workforce.

TikTok, probably not surprisingly, is among the biggest growth stories for profitable advertising platforms. The key change this year, however, is that TikTok has added quality to quantity, driving more revenue and app installs for equivalent cost than previous years.

“We are increasingly transitioning from an era of deterministic granular data to a more nuanced aggregated form of marketing measurement that uses many more signals to build a better picture of growth,” said Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv, in a statement. “The companies and ad networks that figure out how to make this work are the ones who will win.”

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