Adjust News

Talking ad spend with Project Think Tank

Marne Litfin
Content Manager

The current mobile ecosystem doesn’t allow marketers to easily track accurate ad spend.

But how hard is it? What’s the current state of affairs around ad spend? What kinds of solutions are currently available for app developers who need scalable, reliable ad spend? We wanted to understand how ad spend works across the ecosystem from the folks in the trenches, so we held two more Adjust Think Tanks and brought the experts to us.

Back in June we held our first Think Tank. We brought together mobile marketing experts from a range of different verticals to chat best practices, current trends, attribution and re-engagement tactics for the future. This August we went global! We sent our CTO, Paul H. Müller, and our Director of Product, Katie Madding, to San Francisco and São Paolo to talk about the state of ad spend tracking with the biggest names in mobile.

Sharing a toast with Project Think Tank in São Paolo

What do we mean by ad spend?

As our CTO, Paul, recently explained, the term ‘ad spend’ by itself refers to the cost of acquiring users from a paid source (be it CPI or any other buying model). It doesn’t specify the level of granularity - whether you’re talking about user-level or aggregated data, for example.  When Adjust talks about ad spend, we’re referring to the tracking and calculation of the per-user, non-aggregated cost paid at the time of acquisition - for each and every user who comes in through a paid channel.

The state of ad spend in mobile gaming

Here’s what our Think Tank participants agreed on: they all currently face a ton of trouble in tracking ad spend. There are two solutions in place now, and neither of them are ideal. Scraping dashboards for ad spend is one method, but this is not considered scalable. It is also hard to map this kind of data to marketers’ campaigns and is often not granular enough. Passing ad spend along via URL is the other solution, but this method is susceptible to inaccuracies as ad spend can change between the time of click and the install.

It was clear that there was consensus among the Think Tank participants. The level of truth and transparency around ad spend data is not sufficient. The status quo needs to change. Apps need to be able to calculate ROAS (return on ad spend) and CPI at the user level with data that is reliable, secure, and accessible. As things stand now, it’s just not possible.

The ability to tie cost to the user level would lead to significant improvement in ROAS analysis and save a non-trivial amount of time, energy, and headaches for our internal UA team.

Brian Sapp

Director, Digital Publishing, WB Games

The Think Tankers were united - we need a new solution. What’s the dream? A discrete, asynchronous, server-to-server API that would send user-level ad spend without appending any sensitive information to a click URL, or involve manually scraping dashboards. Also on our Think Tankers’ wishlist? A cost API that would allow app marketers to accurately calculate ROAS at the user level in an automated fashion and forego the need for manual matching of campaign IDs or country data.

Our guests reasoned that a cost API like this would vastly reduce discrepancies, especially if networks were able to send ad spend data at the time they actually knew the  cost of the install. It would mean that apps would no longer require encryption when passing cost, as ad spend would then come in via a secure, server to server request directly. The asynchronicity of the API would mean that it would no longer be necessary to send ad spend in real time in instances where doing so would lead to inaccuracies.

But how could that work? The members of our Think Tank were thoughtful and aware of the considerable amount of challenges standing in the way of this goal. For one, the people power it would take to get something like an ecosystem-wide cost API off the ground and running is daunting. But it goes beyond the fact that new features require a massive time investment - if you’re proposing big changes like these, you need to unite a critical mass of apps to stand together first. Our Think Tanks are a way of building the type of coalition necessary to demand changes to the way the industry does ad spend.

Having user level ad spend in an attribution platform such as Adjust is a no brainer that will consolidate and streamline the marketing tech stack to save time, maintenance, and costs. Analyzing the complete journey of my campaigns all in one place will allow me to identify, optimize, and ultimately scale high performing campaigns more efficiently.

Haydon Young

Director of User Acquisition, Dots

Despite the challenges the Think Tank participants called out, they were united in the fact that trustworthy ad spend would change the way they do business. It is absolutely worth a big push from all sides in order to affect change. By working together, we believe that we can transform the way the entire mobile ecosystem receives and uses ad spend.

We’d like to recognize our participants for bringing and sharing their insights with us. We send a big thank you to the San Francisco Think Tankers: Brian Sapp of WB Games, Chris Luhur of PocketGems, Eric Ma of Scopely, Haydon Young from Dots, Jason Dalrymple from AnchorFree, Kevin Young from Kixeye, and Malachi Rose of Zynga. We say obrigado to the participants who met us in Brazil: Rodrigo de Oliveira of 99 Taxis, Fillipe Chinellato of Nextel, Berardo Plum of Dafiti, Flávio Carvalho of Evino and Caio Cesar of Itau.

Be on the lookout for our next Think Tank. We’ll be back soon, this time in Berlin. We may ask you to participate! Stay tuned.