Did iOS 6 Save Mobile Advertising?

Before iOS 6 was released on September 19, we had a serious problem.

Mobile advertising -- the prodigal son of the digital age -- was being held back. It wasn't the best it could be.

Sure, millions of people were using Google Maps on their iPhone to efficiently get from Point A to Point B, but they were also downloading apps, making purchases on mobile Web sites, and researching new cars or vacation destinations. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any way to learn from all of that great mobile activity. Without an ability to process trends or determine which clicks actually led to some kind of meaningful post-click action, we were limited from taking mobile to the next level.

Bad for advertisers.

At the same time, the standard method of identifying a user was through their UDID, which is akin to the serial number of the device. Rather than being a random number and therefore more privacy-compliant, the UDID was tied directly to a device and potentially the real identity of the owner.

Perhaps more importantly, the way that the UDID was being used was not in line with the strict standards that we had adopted in the online world. There, consumers can delete cookies and select "do not track" options in their online browser. With UDID, those choices didn't exist.

Bad for consumers.

But then iOS 6 arrived, and the Advertising Identifier (or IDFA) was born. An IDFA is a random, unique code that is shared by the device across apps and can be deleted or opted-out by a user if they wish -- just like a cookie. It is an elegant, simple solution to a major problem. In fact, it's almost shocking that it took so long for them to rise to the occasion… but we're not complaining, because it's here, and it has changed the game forever.

Suddenly, the tide has turned. As more and more people upgrade to the new operating system -- the adoption rate is about 75% right now -- marketers are finally able to truly "observe" what consumers are doing on their phone without jeopardizing privacy and giving users the option to opt out of being tracked. Behavioral targeting in mobile (without using personally identifiable information) had been a pipe dream, but now it's a very immediate and promising reality.

Similar to the option to decline cookies, in mobile we expect the number of users that will turn off the Advertising Identifier to be few and far between. We're already seeing high volumes of accurate data that don't just tell us about app downloads and clicks, but create an entire story about a user. For example, someone who downloads an automotive shopping app and uses it repeatedly for 2 weeks is likely in the market for a new car. If at the same time they are a frequent visitor to a snowboarding magazine app, we can conclude that they are more likely to be seeking an SUV that they can take up to the mountains, so we might serve them an ad for a Subaru Forester.

We can also now combine this behavioral data with the vast amounts of anonymous registration data to develop highly detailed user profiles, which means -- you guessed it -- even better targeting. The new Apple IDFA also allows for more accurate frequency capping and post-click conversion tracking.

And there’s more. With the release of iOS 6, Apple has also enabled direct downloads of apps right from a mobile banner, something that was previously only possible from iAds. (Previously, users would click on the ad to “download app” and it would take them to the iTunes landing page.) By opening up this feature, Apple is essentially providing the tools to run much more effective app-download campaigns, leveling the playing field a bit for both brands and app developers who need to generate more downloads and conversely letting publishers and developers monetize.

So thanks, Apple, for finally providing a real tracking and targeting solution for mobile, and for letting others play in the game.

And hey, Google -- your turn. It’s high time to follow Apple’s lead and release an Advertiser ID for the Android platform.

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