What does it really mean to be an attribution authority?

By Oren Kaniel
attribution authority importance

I often get asked many questions by both advertisers and network partners about AppsFlyer being an unbiased Attribution Authority. Some didn’t know what it meant precisely and others didn’t understand its value in the mobile ecosystem. I’ve put together this Q&A to address the most common questions I get on the topic.

Q. What is an attribution authority?

Attribution Authority is an independent moderator in the advertising industry that is responsible for crediting the appropriate media partner (publisher or ad network) for user actions such as app installs or downstream events such as in-app purchase using various technologies.

As opposed to other analytics solutions, the attribution data AppsFlyer provides is used not only for measurement and optimization but also for billing and charging. It means that both advertisers and media partners are relying on our data to settle more than $1B in media payments annually.

As we advance in our Attribution Authority vision, more and more companies are adopting performance marketing models, in which advertisers pay only for valuable user actions such as purchase or booking.

In my vision, advertisers will stop spending marketing budgets without attributing each and every dollar spent to dollar earned.

Q. Why is being an attribution authority important?

The advertising industry has been going through a radical change in the last decade. From blurry to sharp advertising returns on investment, marketing departments are becoming P&L business units. Measuring return on advertising investment is crucial for every business.

Traditional CPC and CPM measurement are simple to measure for both ad networks and advertisers as both parties can easily record them. However, measuring user actions that were driven by a specific ad/campaign is much more challenging. Besides that, there is a conflict of interest between the parties.

Ad networks would like to take credit for more user actions which contradict with the advertiser interest. Given that the CPA (Cost Per Action) payout is much higher than CPM or CPC by many orders of magnitudes, every user action can turn a negative ROI campaign to positive and vice versa.

CPM and CPC models are dying for a good reason.

If advertisers could credit publishers only for meaningful users actions such as purchases, the world would be a better place:

  • Advertisers would pay only for value (marketing/investment with minimal risk)
  • Networks would be able to capture more of the value they produce to advertisers
  • End users would enjoy much better advertising experience

Q. Why is the independence of the attribution authority platform important?

Billions of advertising dollars are changing hands every month and both advertisers and ad networks need a reliable attribution data source for billing. Because of the inherent conflict of interest between advertisers and publishers/ad networks, there is a need for an independent, 3rd-party platform to measure advertising campaigns that is trusted by both parties. Not only for optimization, but also for billing.

Our mission is to enable any ad network to work with any advertiser on any type of campaign. We will do the needed development to support the needs of clients to ensure they will succeed.

Q. Why can’t a media company or an ad network be an attribution authority?

Imagine the following pitch:

“We will sell you the highest quality users and will also build the best software to enable you to spend your budget with our competitors…”

You probably would be puzzled because it doesn’t make sense, does it?

The market is becoming more educated than ever before, leading advertisers understand that they need a long term independent attribution platform.

Here are a few recent examples:

  • Criteo retiring Ad-X to focus on retargeting media sell
  • Flurry, InMobi, GA and Trademob attribution functionality market share is minor
  • Apsalar announced that they are shifting from their DSP business to focus on analytics

Q. What are the ground rules for becoming an attribution authority and staying independent?

Sure, here are several basic rules to follow:

  1. Do not accept investments from “strategic” investors that can affect your independent positioning
  2. Do take investments from top tier financial investors. Building a global standard requires long term strategy and patience, which is why we selected Fidelity, one of the largest financial institutions with the ability to support the complete execution of our vision
  3. Make sure that there are no conflicts of interests within all of the company stakeholders such as: investors, board members, advisors, consultants and team members
  4. Do not offer media or media services such as: media buying, bidding optimization engines, etc.
  5. Unbiased attribution authority can’t play both sides. The same way that you cannot imagine a lawyer representing both the defense and the prosecution. Choose one side, and stick to it
  6. The platform MUST have 100% uptime and be as secured as possible
  7. You must be an unbiased arbitrator that doesn’t discriminate against partners or campaigns and has access to all data for the purpose of settling discrepancies
  8. Attribution Authority must be an accepted standard by the market. In some segments there is one leader that takes it all, such as Google Search and Facebook social network. We believe that the rule applies for attribution standard as well. We are happy that a few external research companies found that AppsFlyer is a clear market leader!

Q. Can you give an example of how advertisers are benefiting from this model?

A few months ago, there was an interesting dispute between one of our clients and one of our network partners. During a weekend campaign, the advertiser measured around 60,000 installs using the AppsFlyer dashboard, however, the ad network claimed 250,000 installs based on its own measurement SDK.

We analyzed the data and it turned out that 190,000 were not new installs but in fact, were app updates, double attributions and re-attributions! We don’t claim that the ad network was acting with bad intent, but they just couldn’t provide accurate attribution simply because they don’t have all the data they need, and more importantly, this is not their business focus.

Given that it was a CPI campaign, we saved the advertiser nearly $285,000 (190,000* an average of $1.5 CPI) over the weekend! This would probably cover their measurement spend with us for the next 200 years or so.

Q. How does it work with retargeting campaigns?

Advertisers send us all their users’ data so we can do the attribution correctly. As a byproduct, we can help them segment these users and based on advertisers request, we can instantly send these data points to the advertisers partners to enable retargeting campaigns without the need to implement another SDK and/or contact R&D.

They can do it with a click of a button from the AppsFlyer dashboard.

To wrap up

We hope that this Q&A helped concretize the value of having an Attribution Authority and how it affects the mobile marketing industry in a variety of ways. As you continue to push your own campaigns, consider whether you are using a platform that is an Attribution Authority and whether it adheres to the principles stated here.

Reflect on how these issues may already be impacting the integrity of your data and your bottom line.

Oren Kaniel signature

Oren Kaniel

Oren Kaniel is co-founder and CEO of AppsFlyer. He loves everything mobile and is a creative thinker, listener, talker, and is trying to be a blogger. Oren holds a BA in Computer Science, Cum Laude, from the Technion, and an MBA from IDC, as part of an exchange with the Wharton Business School.

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