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In the new era of mobile marketing, adtech giants are seeing their dominance challenged more than ever, according to a new report from marketing measurement firm Singular.
The Singular ROI 2023 report said we are in a new privacy-centric era for return on investment in ad spend. Meta and Google are still at the top, but the adtech giants are being challenged by relatively small networks like Moloco, Mistplay and Blind Ferret. Apple’s search ads are also on the rise, the report said.
Moloco is growing and tied with Google and Meta on at least one key metric: the top ad networks for multiple verticals and specific geographies. TikTok has added quality to ever-increasing quantity as it has generated better ROI for more marketers than ever before, and two adtech titans, AppLovin and the newly merged Unity+IronSource, rival the most extensive ad networks.
Apple now has the second largest ad network for mobile user acquisition on iOS, according to data from Singular.
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To find the best ad networks for mobile marketers, Singular analyzed trillions of ad impressions, more than $10 billion in advertiser ad spend and billions of mobile app installs, said John Koetsier, author of the report ( and ex-VBer), in an email to GamesBeat.
On Android, everything works as normal, with the Google Ad ID still available until 2024 at least, when Privacy Sandbox for Android is set to launch. On iOS, however, this report represents the first full year of results under Apple’s App Tracking Transparency requirements, including the use of Apple’s SKAdNetwork for marketing measurement and attribution. Apple changed the world by phasing out the use of the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) as it prioritized privacy over targeted advertising.
Apple Search Ads is not directly comparable to ad networks that use the SKAdNetwork third-party attribution framework, as Apple provides the Apple Search Ads Attribution application programming interface (API) for its own proprietary network.
But by dollar volume and number of conversions — which Singular measures across all platforms — Apple Search Ads is now the second-largest ad network on iOS for app marketing.
Apple Search Ads is now the second largest user acquisition network on iOS, with a major ad spend platform transition during 2022. It increased from 36% in 2021 to 47% in 2022.
After a rocky start with new attribution methods, brands weighing marketing via Singular learned to use Apple’s privacy-focused SKAd network and increased their iOS spend. Ad spend on iOS, which dropped in 2021, jumped from just 36% of iOS in January to 47% in December 2022.
The top ad networks by percentage growth in spend on Singular were Moloco in first place, followed by TikTok for Business, Twitter, Google Ads, Unity Ads, AppLovin, Snapchat, IronSource, Apple Search Ads and Liftoff.
Koetsier noted that retail media is a non-advertising network that creates an advertising network to advertise to its customers. So, for example, Uber has an ad network that targets Uber riders during their trips. All the data around that (segmenting who the ads go to, what the riders do in response to the ads, and so on) is first-party data for Uber, because it’s Uber’s customers (the riders) who are getting the ads. and responding to ads.
“This is similar to Apple’s search ads, where the resulting data is Apple’s own (because all iOS users are Apple customers),” Koetsier said. “It’s different from ads that are placed on an ad network, where an advertiser buys ads from a network to be placed on a publisher’s app or website. Because the ads are placed on a third-party app or website, the resulting data is third-party data, which is subject to Apple’s app tracking transparency rules. ATT is primarily focused on sharing data between apps and websites from various companies… not so much with first-party data.”
Smaller ad networks like Moloco discovered privacy solutions more quickly. TikTok has combined growing quality with ever-growing quantity to become an even more formidable competitor in mobile adtech.
Meta and Google are still massive and competitive thanks to their installed base and global scale platforms for which they have supply and demand: audience and advertiser. But, perhaps for the first time, we are seeing reliable avenues of attack for other players, Koetsier said.
The Rise of Connected TV
Another challenge: the growth of connected TV, where advertising is growing at 20% a year: faster than mobile growth is now. And where mobile is a mature market with well-known players and playbooks, CTV is chaotic and unconsolidated. It’s also a place where only one of the duopolies really plays: Google with YouTube.
A big battle coming up in 2023 will be the competition between Unity+IronSource and AppLovin. Both have all the elements of the modern mobile adtech stack, and both have significant advantages, Singular said.
Version 4 of Apple’s SKAdNetwork has been released but is just beginning to be adopted. While early versions of SKAN dropped mobile advertising due to signal loss, SKAN 3 is better and SKAN 4 should be a significant improvement, which should boost iOS marketing in 2023, Singular said.
While the Privacy Sandbox on Android likely won’t directly impact the market until 2024, Android will likely follow a similar pattern to iOS when Apple rolled out App Tracking Transparency: a spike in spending near transition as advertisers leverage the signal yet available and data and a drop immediately after the transition as they adapt to new realities. We could see this increase starting near the end of 2023.
Surprisingly, Twitter ranked seventh overall in number of rankings on the various vertical and geographic based top partner lists. The caveat, of course, is that most of the data behind the Singular ROI Index predates Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company and subsequent dismantling of the workforce.
TikTok, probably not surprisingly, is among the biggest growth stories for profitable advertising platforms. The main change this year, however, is that TikTok has added quality over quantity, bringing in more revenue and app installs for an equivalent cost than previous years.
“We are increasingly transitioning from an era of deterministic granular data to a more nuanced aggregated form of marketing measurement that uses many more signals to build a better picture of growth,” said Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv in a communicated. “The companies and ad networks that figure out how to make this work are the ones that will win.”
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