What Everyone in Programmatic Needs to Know About Post-IDFA Targeting Options

Editor’s note: This post has been edited since its original publication to reflect recent changes in first-party data guidelines on iOS.

If you’re as sick of acronyms as I am, the flurry of conversation around Apple’s depreciation of IDFA over the last year has probably struck a nerve (or 50). Not only because of acronym overwhelm, but because of the disruption to targeting strategies within mobile apps.

Many advertisers are wondering what they’re going to do now, and how they’ll effectively reach their audience. I was also curious about this, so I dug into the available options in pursuit of the best next steps. 

I’ve explained each of the options here, with the pros and cons of each. But, my hot take is that creative will become more important as a way to hook in interested browsers, and when paired with contextual targeting (yes, you can do this in-app!) will result in a solid strategy that produces better outcomes.

Post-IDFA Options for Advertisers

Option 1: Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting in-app differs from its web counterpart in that it doesn’t specifically involve crawling text to determine the content of a page and serving ads to fit with it, like ads for running shoes in an article about how to train for a marathon.

In-app offers a wide variety of context cues for targeting, like app category, user location, app keywords, all the way down to phone storage, and battery life. For example, if a publisher uses the keywords ‘shopping’ and ‘fashion’ in their app description, advertisers working on behalf of fashion retailers might want to target users in that app. 

Pros of in-app contextual targeting:

  1. Privacy-safe targeting – since contextual targeting uses a variety of identifiers that aren’t necessarily unique to a specific user, it’s unlikely to be affected by ongoing privacy and targeting regulations. This may make it a more sustainable strategy going forward.
  2. Better user experience – ads served in the context of the content being consumed are more likely to be relevant to the reader, and therefore provide better engagement. 
  3. Potential for better performance – according to eMarketer, 35% of marketers said that contextual targeting was their most effective programmatic advertising tactic (#3 of 8), following audience targeting (63%) and keyword targeting (39%).
  5. Cons of in-app contextual targeting:
  1. Targeting won’t be as granular – without a unique user ID or behavioral targeting, it will be more difficult to attribute behavior to a specific user and target based on that data.
  2. Brand safety is still a question mark – there are potential brand safety issues if the content of an app is misread or if the publication misrepresents itself. This risk isn’t necessarily elevated by contextual targeting but is worth mentioning.
  3. Difficult to implement frequency capping – without knowing whether a specific user has been served specific ads, advertisers run the risk of serving the same content to a user repeatedly. Without a doubt, solutions will pop up in the near future to address this.

Option 2: IDFV Targeting

I know, I just said we were done with acronyms. Last one, I swear.

IDFV stands for ID for vendors. App publishers can use it to track users throughout their ecosystem of apps, but it cannot be transferred outside of their network to other publishers.

This could help resolve the issue of individualized tracking within large publisher app groups, but will not necessarily be a fit for smaller app ecosystems.

Pros of IDFV targeting

  1. IDFV can be used without consent – according to Apple documentation, “The ID for Vendors (IDFV), may be used for analytics across apps from the same content provider. The IDFV may not be combined with other data to track a user across apps and websites owned by other companies unless you have been granted permission to track by the user.”
  2. Frequency capping within large app networks – using the IDFV as a unique identifier, large app networks can implement frequency capping to help limit ad fatigue within their portfolio of apps.
  3. Improve first-party data with behavioral information – large publishers can use the IDFV in conjunction with associated behavioral data to make different audience segments for targeting, for example, if a user consumes content related to chocolate chip cookie recipes across a family of apps, it may make sense for a cookie company to buy ad placements in that app network.

Cons of IDFV targeting

  1. Unlikely to be an option for small app ecosystems – if a publisher has one or two apps in their portfolio, it’s unlikely that IDFV data will be sufficient for targeting.
  2. It’s still Apple controlled – meaning, Apple could do away with this as they have IDFA and render this strategy functionally useless.
  3. Will not work when combined with third-party data – any data collected from a third party cannot be used in conjunction with IDFV, per apple’s guidelines. This means that if there isn’t sufficient first-party data, publishers need to make a concerted effort to collect, organize, and pair that data with IDFV and ensure it’s compliant with Apple’s guidelines. This is time consuming and unlikely to happen in the near term.

Option 3: First-Party Data

According to eMarketer “The reduced precision of ads will limit their effectiveness and likely lead to a drop in CPMs. It will make immersive ads even more important, raising the value of first-party data.” In plain terms, advertisers who invest in collecting first-party data about their audiences can reach them more directly and leverage that data to target them through additional channels.

While this is a great idea for targeting on the web and in non-iOS app marketplaces, Apple has recently released guidelines that prevent app publishers from sharing email lists with advertisers for the purpose of audience match. The exception to this is if the user opts in to IDFA within that specific app. Meaning, if they opt into IDFA, they are also opting into email, making this strategy less useful as a workaround. 

Mobile dev memo does a thorough write-up of this here.

So, IDFA depreciation is not the end of the world for in-app advertising. It’s a creative industry, and we’re best at finding creative solutions when the techno-rug is pulled out from under our strategies (you know, almost daily). The important thing is to continue to test and measure using a variety of techniques and creative to find what works best for your target.

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