2021 Predictions for Mobile Marketing, From Industry Leaders at Vungle

By Scott Reyburn | February 10, 2021

To say that 2021 will be a transformative year for the mobile marketing landscape—and the broader mobile industry, for that matter—would be an understatement.

You have to look no further than Apple’s impending change coming to iOS 14 where they will make their identifier for advertisers (IDFA) from opt-out to opt-in, as well as the ongoing transition of the mobile advertising industry’s trading mechanism standard change from the waterfall setup to app bidding.

As a consequence, mobile marketers’ marketing strategies and monetization managers’ revenue strategies for 2021 remain in a state of flux.

Here are five mobile marketing predictions from leaders at Vungle on how they think the industry landscape will shake out in 2021. On to the predictions!

Probabilistic attribution becomes a household phrase

Probabilistic attribution will be a household phrase (well maybe only households of mobile marketers) come early spring. As Apple executes its user privacy promises of 2020, the world of mobile attribution will move from an engineering solution (deterministic) to a data science solution (probabilistic). If mobile marketers want to be able to use the tools and metrics they have been accustomed to using over the last decade, there’s no choice but to adopt and adapt to this new approach to attribution.

Install attribution is the very foundation of the entire mobile marketing ecosystem. When Apple deprecates user IDFA in early spring, an entire string of tools and dashboards that rely on this data will break or, at the very least, lose significant functionality and value. To keep the status quo, there must be a replacement. Probabilistic attribution is the only long-term, viable solution, predicting where a user came from to install your app algorithmically since you no longer can just track where their IDFA came from.

Just as COVID-19 sped up the already existing trends of ecommerce and work-from-home policies for companies of all shapes and sizes, IDFA deprecation will hasten the trends of data science and machine learning becoming mission-critical skills and toolsets in the mobile marketing ecosystem. This was already happening—Apple simply jumped it to lightspeed.

Sophisticated mobile marketers and contextual platforms gain market share under new Apple privacy paradigm

I believe the landscape of mobile marketing will be dominated by two overarching themes in 2021: The proliferation of app bidding for publishers (whom my colleague Sophia Chung wrote about in this article) and the wide-ranging impacts of privacy change for advertisers.

Leaders gain market share. Apple’s delay in enforcing iOS 14 privacy changes until “early spring” isn’t much more time to prepare for such a significant event (especially since there are many open questions without answers). There’s a tremendous amount of testing, new technology, and infrastructure that needs to be built, adopted, and iterated upon as the changes take effect.

Macro level – Marketing budgets will consolidate to fewer ad networks that provide the best return for a mobile UA team’s limited time. SDK-based ad networks and DSPs who have invested in differentiated data and ad creative capabilities will benefit, as contextual targeting becomes more meaningful in 2021. We’ll see the larger networks continue strengthening their data and ad creative moats through M&A.

Developer level – Although there is still a lot of unknown, I predict that mobile marketers who are taking real actions to prepare their businesses will be better positioned to minimize disruption to their user acquisition efforts. In addition to understanding the mechanics of SKAdNetwork, this includes:

  • Learning how to effectively buy against LAT traffic which already accounts for a significant amount of iOS inventory
  • Running end-to-end SKAdNetwork tests with ad networks
  • Reprioritizing time and energy towards Android and even emerging app platforms such as Windows and Amazon—this inventory becomes more interesting going forward


Savvy game marketers may even gain market share as genres such as ecommerce and less-sophisticated mobile buyers struggle and pull back their budgets.

UA automation gains widespread adoption

I expect 2021 to be the year of UA automation. Currently a relatively nascent segment of mobile marketing, I predict 2021 will be the year when UA automation gains widespread adoption.

UA automation comprises several components: LTV prediction, bid and budget management, ad creative insights and automation, and, finally, automated campaign creation. Predicting LTV and automated bid and budget management is largely a solved problem, but Apple’s impending privacy changes will mean that there will need to be intelligent applications of data science to measure the future performance of campaigns using SKAdNetwork and without deterministic attribution. Fortunately, AlgoLift by Vungle and others are already working on this problem. Ongoing campaign management is likely to change with Apple’s upcoming privacy changes as ad networks scramble to adjust to this new privacy-conscious world. Managed APIs are likely to be written and new best practices will need to be adhered to.

At the cutting edge of innovation within UA automation will be the smarter ad creative insights and automated creative testing. Although this will largely be dependent on ad network reporting support, ad creative remains one of the main levers for performance marketing managers to exploit a competitive advantage (more on this below from my colleague Si Crowhurst).

Lastly, incrementality will become a problem that many companies try to solve over the course of 2021. Cross-channel cannibalization never felt like a significant problem in a world of deterministic attribution. But with SKAdNetwork, it will be more important than ever to understand if a channel is adding incremental value or stealing from another channel—or even worse, your organic traffic.

Thoughtful ad creative grows in importance

Marketers have always understood the power of creativity to connect with audiences on an emotional level, but with Apple’s privacy changes soon coming in full force, ad creative will be paramount to mobile marketing in 2021. This change—making Apple’s unique IDFA something users will need to opt in to for being tracked for advertising rather than opt-out—will have a massive impact. Without the ability to identify users, advertisers will struggle to target, optimize, and attribute campaign performance properly, and, as a result, advertising effectiveness will suffer.

As a result, advertisers and ad tech providers will shift their strategies to things such as probabilistic attribution (touched upon by my colleague Andre Tutundjian in this article) and contextual targeting. One of the best ways to make mobile advertising more effective in a post-IDFA world is to ensure ad creative is combined effectively with the contextual signals available through the app. When an ad’s creative and the context of its placement are aligned, the ad is more likely to connect with consumers on an emotional level.

Emotion is one of the most powerful drivers of consumer decision-making and purchasing behaviors. In-app advertisers that can design creatives that connect emotionally with their audiences—matching the feelings kindled by whatever content that person was engaging with before seeing the ad—will draw in and connect consumers to a brand, building brand loyalty and improving performance metrics such as click-through and conversion rates.

Majority of ad impressions transact through app bidding

2021 is finally the year for app bidding to accelerate its growth and become the de-facto standard solution for publishers to efficiently monetize their apps through advertising. With the rise in traditional SDK-based ad networks transforming themselves into real-time bidders and the top mediation platforms opening their app bidding solution to all publishers in Q4 2020, unified auction only became even more fiercely competitive. Not to mention programmatic DSPs are gaining access to all inventory through app bidding.

In order to stay in the “game”, SDK-based ad networks can no longer rely on special or proprietary ad creatives or rendering engines to get publishers to integrate their SDKs. These ad networks would now need a robust bidding algorithm to stay on. This will further accelerate the consolidation trend of ad tech companies. In 2021, we will likely see acquisitions or mergers of DSPs and traditional mobile ad networks to stay competitive in the ecosystem. With the increase in bid density from these new ad network bidders and DSPs, 2021 will be the year to gradually show publishers that app bidding will not only help streamline operational inefficiencies but also drive some uplift in revenue and ARPDAU.