A Debate on Standards Part 1: The Cookie Crumbles

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A crucial cornerstone of modern-day performance marketing is measurement. For mobile marketers, measuring the effectiveness of the campaigns is critical as it can help to connect the dots and gain about user insights into user events such as app install or in-app behavior to understand the user journey with the ad.

Since the days of online advertising on desktop, we have seen user tracking being done through cookies. For most companies doing online advertising, cookies were the ultimate tracking mechanism as a system to join the user data to serve ads. However, as users moved to mobile and advertising picked up on mobile web and app, the cookie has started to crumble. The post-cookie online era poses unique challenges for mobile, with most mobile marketers understanding that attribution on mobile doesn’t work in the same way: browser cookies don’t apply in an app environment and such a methodology is no longer sufficient for users across multiple devices.

In a cookieless environment, where the apps are hosted on either the Apple AppStore or Google Play store, marketers lost certain control over the user flow, where in the desktop advertising space, a sufficient pixel on the “thank you” page would suffice.

This in turn led birth to a sector of analytics companies (MMPs) which do not only visualize data, but also are the ones to attribute which event came through which media vendor, using complex technological means that include:

  • Device ID matching
  • Mobile device fingerprinting

In an ideal world, these MMPs provide an incredible solution. They allow any advertiser to create the attribution model that suits them, using standards for attribution windows, KPI thresholds, but more importantly — the MMPs could post the attributed event to the media vendor providing those, for either optimization and/or billing records (where advertiser and media vendors agree on a performance based pricing structure). This scenario would be perfect where advertisers and publishers get a holistic view of when a conversion takes place. Except that it is rarely an ideal world!

While the absolute majority of large mobile app developers do work with a reliable third-party MMP for their analytics and attribution, some media vendors took themselves outside of the equation by being self attributing.

Intermission: What are Self-Attributing media vendors?

Self-Attributing media vendors are media vendors who developed their own model of attribution, where they rely on either the mobile app developer integrating their proprietary SDK or demand the MMPs to post all app install & event data in order for their own model to indicate within their reporting and analytics which events should be attributed to them based on their model.

And yes, the point is that Self-Attributing media vendors make the performance of the campaigns look a LOT better through their own reporting and analytics when compared with third-party MMPs.

Moreover, given that the 2 largest publishers in the world do this (Facebook, Google), this created a precedent followed by other media vendors with even less legitimate claim to focus on skewing reports to look good to the advertiser, rather than actually working hard to provide value for the advertiser.

In my previous piece, I spoke about how the dawn of digital advertising created an industry where some companies work to bring value for themselves, instead of working to bring value for the advertiser, by exploiting loopholes to get a higher attribution match rate by way of the lack of standards in tracking. This lack of standards creates a chaotic environment where advertisers have no ability to truly measure their effectiveness in running performance based campaigns.

Some of the MMPs confused my call for standard as a call for them — I wanted to clarify this is not the case. You all do a fantastic job already.

The call for standards starts with media vendors: Accept third-party neutral attribution. Self- Attribution is a sign you have something to hide.

The call I will have for MMPs later on would be to help advertisers standardize a multi-touch attribution model for advertisers based on their individual needs. We’ll get to this later on…

As a leading mobile ad tech player, we believe that bringing industry awareness on this issue is key. With this series, we have opened up a space to discuss the problem that a lack of standards poses. In the upcoming weeks our readers will get to read on mobile attribution in greater detail through interviews with some of the major attribution partners in the industry on their take on topic of mobile attribution as well as standardization. Our readers will also be able to get deeper insights into the topic with planned webinars with representation from key stakeholders in the industry to start an active dialogue.

Mobile app developers, what do you think? What challenges do you face with a lack of standard in mobile attribution? Would you like to see a change? Let us know in the Comments section or ping me at