Q&A with Liftoff on the Role of Machine Learning and Transparency in the Mobile Ad Market

As consumers spend more time on their mobile devices, marketers are investing more of their ad budgets into the mobile ad market. But in the backdrop of that advertising growth is an industry in a state of major transformation. 

Mobile ad identifiers are disappearing, requiring a different approach to addressability and measurement. Consolidation among major players in app development and monetization has also significantly shifted access to mobile supply. 

As an industry, we’ve made great strides in bringing clarity to the app supply chain and providing a higher level of traceability within transaction data, fees, and costs. And investments in machine learning (ML) from both DSPs and SSPs help ensure marketers can make the most of their investment. 

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Liftoff, a complete mobile app marketing platform, is one such company helping to advance the industry by improving transparency and using ML to magnify the impact of mobile ads. To date, the company has worked with over 1 million apps in over 200 countries to help marketers attract and engage high quality users at scale with ML-optimized campaigns. 

I spoke with Michael Deignan, global head of platform partnerships at Liftoff, to hear more about the developments he’s seeing in the mobile ad market and what they mean for marketers. 

1. eMarketer estimates that the mobile ad market will reach $168.9 billion in 2022, which is 68% of all digital ad spend. Why is mobile app such a critical advertising channel for marketers?

Michael Deignan: Mobile is a critical channel for all marketers looking to grow their user base, increase brand awareness, and crucially, maximize revenue. Generally, users who engage with ads for an app are more likely to continue to engage with an app and take further action—be it subscribing or making a purchase.

In-app advertising is one of the most reliable ways to drive higher spenders to apps, augment the volume of in-app purchases, and increase revenue. Advertisers without an app can also push users from mobile to a web browser to complete an action, opening up new audiences for any business.

2. Liftoff invests heavily in ML and improving efficiency, as we do here at Index. What kind of efficiencies are you creating for your customers?

MD: The mobile ad market is complex and dynamic. There are over 7 million apps on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store combined, and it’s impossible for one marketer (or even a marketing team) to navigate. Machine learning makes the process more efficient and effective by letting marketers take a set-and-forget approach to ad campaigns.

Liftoff’s robust ML models capitalize on years of data to navigate and bid on the market based on an app’s specific goals. Marketers can optimize for user acquisition, reengagement, app-to-web, cost, or return on ad spend (ROAS) with the model that delivers the best users at the right cost.

3. As the mobile programmatic market matures, it’s so important to focus on transparency throughout the supply chain to ensure quality and provide visibility into transaction-level data for marketers. What steps are you taking at Liftoff to improve transparency and prevent fraud?

MD: Supply chain transparency allows the DSP to better understand the sources of inventory our customers are buying (direct vs. indirect) and determine how we value it effectively across our KPI benchmarks. It is important for Liftoff and our partners to identify any blockers, signals, or potential scale that rebrokeraged traffic may be inhibiting from a direct integration.

From a mobile perspective, it is critical that the DSP’s algorithm is fully calibrated with the SSP, so the performance metrics are prioritized properly. Otherwise, the connection may risk hyperactivity, domain spoofing, or a high ratio of clicks to installs.

To combat these instances within our strategy, Liftoff continues to investigate the impact of duplicate bid requests, spend discrepancies with partners, category blocks, and various drivers for high CTRs. A major supply path optimization (SPO) effort is to ingest the complete SupplyChain object from our partners to drive our ML towards optimal bidding and measure the impact of restricting indirect supply.

4. With your focus on delivering high performance in quality, brand-safe environments, how has partnering with Index helped you drive outcomes for your customers?

MD: Ultimately, Liftoff’s goal is to deliver the highest ROAS for our advertiser customers. As a result, we’re looking for supply partners who can give us access to unique inventory, a breadth of mobile ad formats, and bidding signals that give us what we need to inform our bidder where we can derive the most value.

Partnering with Index has given us access to a strong suite of non-gaming apps that performs well for both our gaming and non-gaming advertisers. 

5. With increasing restrictions around device identifiers and Apple’s inevitable move to expand its anti-tracking features, what does the future of addressability and measurement look like for the mobile ad market? How should agencies and brands adapt?

MD: The focus on privacy has been a forcing function for innovation in the identity resolution space.

We see brands making investments to unlock insights from their CRM, grouping their first-party customer data points into privacy-centric household IDs through DMP partners like LiveRamp and others. We see mobile publishers looking to create an identity loop by leveraging alternative identifiers to make their inventory personalized and addressable.

It’s unclear which of the dozens of alternative IDs are going to win, but full consolidation seems unlikely. We’re not going to have a mobile ad ID (MAID) replacement, so brands and agencies should remain flexible and build infrastructure that can capture and report on multiple alternative identity signals while the industry coalesces around a few solutions.

6. There’s been quite a bit of M&A activity in the mobile ecosystem lately. How do you see this consolidation playing out for the future of mobile ad tech?

MD: The introduction and proliferation of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) (and ultimately Android Privacy Sandbox) signified the first domino in a chain reaction of M&A. Within this movement we’ve seen two core themes emerge:

  1. Access to supply and building content fortresses; and 
  2. End-to-end platforming and vertical integration across the consolidator layer (Applovin, Digital Turbine Liftoff, Unity/ironSource).

AppLovin and ironSource consolidated the access to supply in a significant way and really settled the ongoing mediation and header bidding wars that had been taking place. Unity followed with a very strategic acquisition of ironSource to further their supply-side product offering for their core customer, content developers. 

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see if a major content company steps in to snap up an ad tech player in an attempt to steal market share from the walled gardens. 

To learn more, explore how mobile and in-app advertising can fit into your omnichannel strategy or get in touch with our team. 

Steve Roach

Steve Roach

Head of mobile app sales

Steve Roach joined Index Exchange in early 2016 and has 15 years of sales and ad tech experience. He successfully launched and operated partnerships with the world’s largest media companies, ushering them into the programmatic era and helping them to develop comprehensive sales and yield management strategies. As head of mobile app sales, Steve oversees a team of seasoned sales executives who are responsible for procuring new supply as well as new DSP partnerships for Index Exchange. His responsibilities cover the publisher and DSP acquisition strategy and scaling strategic partnerships in emerging programmatic markets. Prior to Index, Steve ran global publisher sales teams at Google, Admeld (acquired by Google), iSocket (acquired by Rubicon Project), Rubicon Project, and Mopub. Hailing from Connecticut, Steve enjoys a quiet, yet wonderfully hectic, life with his wife, three kids and dog.

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