How to make your ads relevant & measure success without identifying users

End-user privacy had already raised to the digital advertising stage in 2018 in Europe with GDPR, and companies in the space had gotten used to a) requesting end-user’s consent in order to collect cookies and other similar identifiers (notably, GAIDs or IDFAs in applications) and b) processing that information securely when collected. Now, the industry is going one step further in the desktop world as cookies disappear (they had never been very useful in the mobile environment) and as privacy changes in iOS 14 make it mandatory for end-users to opt-in in order to share their IDFA.

The same way mediasmart thoroughly prepared for the first privacy regulation to affect the market, we have been doing our homework since Apple’s announcement about the IDFA opt-in requirement. There is still a lot of uncertainty about how this is really going to affect mobile advertising, of course, but this is the quick summary of our assessment and the measures we have taken.

Let's start by mentioning that there are underlying trends that are not going to change: users will continue to spend more time on their mobile devices and their connected TVs, and advertisers will continue to reach out to those users. What changes are the tools advertisers have at their disposal to ensure their ads are relevant to the users, and to measure their campaigns success.

How to make your ads relevant

Programmatic advertising and platforms such as mediasmart allow advertisers to target ads to specific audiences and specific locations at given times, with the goal of making your ads as relevant as possible to the users who see them. The requirement of user opt-in for sharing their IDFA and their location shall definitely have an impact on the amount of advertising inventory available with this information, and that means less reach for certain types of campaigns:

a) Campaigns targeting/blacklisting audiences (specific user segments with UDIDs) or serving dynamic ads that change based on those audiences shall have less inventory available that can be simply matched with those audiences.

b) Campaigns targeting very specific locations or serving dynamic ads based on the users' location shall have to make a choice between reach and location precision[1].

At mediasmart, we want to empower our clients to continue to target audiences and locations in as much inventory as possible, and for that we do the following:

1. We continue to allow our clients to control the level of precision they require for all location signals, and for campaigns where there’s a struggle for reach, they can choose to specifically target users whose GPS location is known but not precisely shared because users have not opted in. This should be precise within 500m, and should be a bit more accurate than IP based location, which of course can be chosen as well in the absence of GPS signals.

2. We will soon announce an Audience Mapping feature which will allow our advertisers to target Audiences in inventory that does not include user identifiers (mobile web, iOS app inventory with no opt-in…)

3. We have established new partnerships with companies such as Liveramp and Zeotap, so that the alternative user IDs they provide can be used as part of Audiences. Our clients can start relying on these alternative IDs to build their audiences, and the same IDs shall be available in the incoming inventory.

In addition, we also think that the programmatic industry will start appreciating again something that was almost forgotten when audience targeting became readily available: contextual targeting. Contextual targeting is another great way for advertisers to serve an ad that is relevant without knowing who the user is nor anything about their past history, but based on where the ad is placed. We are heavily investing in taking contextual advertising to the next level in mediasmart, both through partnerships to be announced soon, and through proprietary developments.

How to measure campaign success

As an advertiser you not only want to make sure your ads are relevant, but you also want to measure success and to be able to determine which of your advertising channels are working best.

As we already mentioned in a post, back in September, the digital industry has relied on deterministic tracking of campaign results for a long time, and we have gotten to a point in which a lot of advertisers feel that what is not measured as a conversion does not exist. Deterministic tracking has made a lot of advertisers feel safe by having lots of granular user data, but it has also opened the door to a lot of fraudulent activities that fly under the radar and greatly corrupt this industry. With upcoming changes, deterministic user level data should no longer be that readily available, and this should be the trigger to increase the use of incremental metrics to drive decisions, which should lead to less wastage in advertising budgets and, as such, is a great opportunity for advertisers! mediasmart incremental metrics in App Marketing and Proximity Campaigns, may now be more demanded than ever.

This is how mediasmart can help advertisers in an ecosystem in which much of the advertising inventory does not identify individual users deterministically:

1. Our approach to measuring incremental metrics in app marketing and drive-to-store campaigns as campaigns run is statistical in nature, and relies on the comparison between results in a group of users exposed to the campaign and results in a control group that is equally compatible with the campaign settings but is not exposed to the campaign. It does not rely on the absolute precision of conversions measured and attributed (as we know there are always false positives and false negatives). In the case of drive-to-store campaigns, as much of the inventory in iOS comes without the IDFA, you may measure fewer attributed conversions than before from users with iPhones, but the methodology to calculate incremental metrics holds… You may simply need more volume of impressions on iOS than before to reach the same level of confidence on those incremental KPIs.

2. Our ability to measure performance of campaigns using pixels has not really changed, as it was never based on identifying users, but rather on linking a conversion to the click that originated it.

3. When it comes to tracking performance in campaigns that advertise apps (either for retargeting or user acquisition) we have been one of the first DSPs to support the new tracking system by Apple’s SKAdNetwork (as of date we write this article, Kochava Index only counts a handful DSPs globally among their partners who already support it) and a growing percentage of our inventory is ready to track with it. You can read more about this on other posts of ours on the subject.


Overall, we think that changes of this magnitude in the advertising ecosystem, even if traumatic for some, can open the door to new opportunities. In our view, things like the quality of creatives, measurement of ad viewability and other such concepts - which should be of paramount importance for any advertiser but have somehow been taken to the backstage in a world in which only “performance” mattered (performance understood as conversions that can be measured) - will become important again. As it should be! And that is an opportunity for all advertisers to be more effective with their advertising investments.

[1] As per TCF 2.0 opt-in is required in the EU already for users to share their precise location and that is why at mediasmart, where you can always control the level of precision for your location targeting, we have added the medium precision level.

Recent Posts

Subscribe for blog notifications