The Death of Performance Marketing: The Secret Interview

Mobile apps and games in particular rely heavily and critically on mobile app measurement data to optimize and budget user acquisition campaigns. The use of user and device level data with advanced machine learning algorithms have provided incredible value since Facebook first introduced highly targeted and optimized advertising campaigns. Examples include Facebook’s App Event Optimization and Value Optimization campaign types.

When executing ad campaigns on Facebook and Google, those platforms pass back user level data that allows marketers to understand the value of the money they spend. In particular, marketers are most interested in understanding how to analyze LTV (life time value) and ROAS (return on ad spend).

For high LTV mobile games, these types of campaigns have been critical to help drive monetization and find whales that monetize in those games.

However, in January Facebook quietly updated its terms of service for its Advanced Mobile App Measurement program prohibiting advertisers from receiving device-level (or view-through) data.

More recently, just this past week Facebook forced advertisers to accept an updated terms of service for Advanced Mobile App Measurement.

Here is a link to the new policy: Facebook’s Updated Data Use Terms for Advanced Mobile App Measurement

Amongst other things the new terms restrict:

  • Collection of device level data
  • No retargeting
  • No targeting or optimization
  • No ad targeting
  • No fingerprinting
  • No ability to use data to improve your products

We believe virtually all mobile game advertisers will breach these terms of service leaving Facebook to turn into a kind of data police if they want to enforce these terms.

Further, there are 3 big implications from the general trend we are seeing:

#1. Death of Performance Marketing within Games Studios: Facebook and Google suck up all of the performance marketing jobs as only they will be able to optimize your games’ user and device level data.

Over the past few years, as Google — and increasingly Facebook — turn their buy-side advertising platforms into black boxes, they have been increasingly taking more functionality from the UA teams of game companies and sucking up that functionality into their platforms.

The latest move now also blocks user level data (instead passing only aggregate data) back to the UA teams and places massive restrictions on the use of data.

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UA teams generally optimize via 1. Bid & budget, 2. Targeting, and 3. Ad Creatives.

Increasingly, Google and Facebook have been shifting more and more functionality into their platforms. We’re now at a point where 1. Bid & Budget and 2. Targeting are largely shifted into their black boxes. These shifts in addition to the reduction of data back to the game studios increasingly cuts off the ability for UA teams to optimize. Further, this focuses the UA teams job function to increasingly shift to just optimizing 3. Ad Creatives instead.

These changes reduce the scope of responsibility (by pushing optimization into the platform) and the need for sophistication (by reducing what UA teams can do with data and also reducing the data actually passed back) of UA teams. Therefore, we should see UA teams dramatically reduced as Facebook and Google eliminate those jobs.

#2. Performance to Brand Shift: The mobile game marketing department shifts from performance marketing to brand marketing.

Given all of the changes discussed, the mobile marketing team increasingly shifts from a performance marketing function to brand marketing.

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Unlike depicted in the diagram above, many mobile studios actually have closer to 0% brand marketing today. However, given the recent trends we should see brand driving an ever increasing role and don’t be surprised to see mobile marketing teams increasingly led by brand marketers in the future.

#3. Customer Adversarial Relationship: Game studios are going to have to “trust” Facebook and Google. Tim Sweeney is famous for raising major issues in our industry with respect to customer adversarial relationships. What happens when a marketing platform owns all of your user’s data and you have to trust them?

A bit more on this last point. When you advertise on Facebook, you trust that they are spending money on your behalf in a fair way. So if the LTV of your game is $10 and you are able to buy users on Facebook for $2, that could be a fantastic business for you.

But hold on! What you may not realize is that Facebook knows how much money your players are spending. Therefore you have to trust that they are charging you back in a fair, auction based way and not stealing margin from you. Back to the conceptual example, potentially by increasing your bids from $2 to $3 or say to $8. They could in theory increase their margins and you would never know.

Confidential Interview:

To get more perspective on these issues, we spoke to two of the industry’s leading user acquisition experts with two separate views on this issue:

  • Positive OutlookMatej Lancaric who heads UA for SuperScale to get a more positive outlook
  • Negative Outlook: To get an honest perspective and to keep this expert’s identity safe we are keeping this person’s identity confidential

ggD: Do you agree with the implications in this post?

Anonymous UA Expert: Generally yes, I agree. The changes coming up and the shift in the industry is a major game changer. People don’t realize how big of a change is coming up. There is a consolidation of viable UA channels with clear winners in the large social companies and losers the traditional DSPs. Given the duopoly and automation will keep happening, I’m considering transitioning out of UA.

Matej: Growing privacy concerns and the potential for misused data is driving Facebook to keep sensitive user data under wraps — and this is yet another example. Mobile app advertisers will not be able to use device ID data that once informed campaign initiatives across Facebook-owned app properties. Advertisers can still use the data anonymously and on an aggregated basis to gauge overall campaign performance. I believe the change is coming, but we are living in a very dynamic industry which evolves almost every year. But I also believe it’s not going to be that catastrophic as you think. We faced a huge change when IDFA’s were introduced and many of us thought this could be the end of the performance marketing as we know it. Yet, performance marketing’s growth has not slowed, and in fact has actually grown at a seemingly unstoppable rate.

ggD: How do you think mobile UA teams will change in the near future?

Anonymous UA Expert: Teams are gonna get a lot smaller. You don’t need 20 people optimizing all these levers because the levers are not available anymore. We will have more focus on creatives, messaging and brand building and on the other hand less control and visibility on what actually works. Most of the heavy lifting will happen by the algorithms developed by Facebook and Google. It’s common these days to make changes and hurt your campaigns because changing the signal can throw the algorithm off. Moreover, some of these algorithms penalize constant change. Whenever the algorithm goes into learning mode you are wasting impressions that could have gone to qualified audiences. Therefore you will be able to spend larger budget with much smaller team that combine technical and creative backgrounds.

Matej: I think we all agree the change will happen here. It seems almost inevitable that this change will take root across mobile, as fewer and fewer people are needed in a company to scale marketing spend on the most important channels. The reality is that, for Facebook, event-based bid strategies like VO and AEO have replaced the onerous process of audience targeting with it’s CBO (campaign budget optimisation). Google’s UAC campaigns function in the same way, so basically a marketing team spending millions of dollars per month might only have one or two people dedicated to each of these channels. I think the need for campaign managers / media buyers will likely decrease going forward, the mechanics of these algorithmic campaigns creates demand for data analysts or creative artists/managers in a way that didn’t formerly exist. All in all, I think mobile user acquisition teams will shrink.

ggD: Will Mobile Marketing teams be led by brand marketers now instead of performance marketers?

Anonymous UA Expert: Higher level, brand was still winning in the marketing space. Even in tech you have Twitter showing ads in the subway and Facebook running TV ads, etc. Brand marketing folks still have a better chance to get these jobs because most of what they are doing is not as measurable. UA delivers and is held against hard results. It’s hard to run away from poor performance. On the other hand Brand can always claim impact that is impossible to fully measure.

Matej: I think this is not going to happen any time soon. You are going to be able to evaluate the campaigns, ad sets and creatives, analyzing player segments, creative lookalikes as before . Well, not exactly in the same way but still not that differently to think brand marketing will be all over the place and replace performance marketing.

ggD: Is there a career in UA any more?

Anonymous UA ExpertUA is getting really bad. I don’t plan to stay for long. It comes down to 3 reasons: 1. Automation, 2. Facebook/Google extracting most value, and 3. The transition to a privacy focused data handling where tracking and optimization will become much harder and inaccurate.

Matej: Oh. Come ooon! Of course there is a career in UA. I hear this in the last 5 years — Performance marketing is dead, UA is dead.. Well, of course the UA job evolves in time. I am definitely a different UA manager than I was 5 years ago, but that is also part of the job. Learning and improving skills, adapting to the current situation on the market and looking into the future what’s next. I think we will still have our jobs, but it will require new skill set.

ggD: How much do you think we can trust Facebook and Google to not cheat?

Anonymous UA Expert: There’s really nothing we can do and no way to figure out if that’s happening or not. We sort of don’t have any way to fight this. It’s important to remember that like any business they optimize their auction to maximize their revenue not your performance, but you rely on their algorithm for both.

Matej: Given the Facebook breaches and Cambridge Analytica scandals, it’s (going to be) very hard to trust anything they say or report in your ads manager dashboard. Google is also not the most trustworthy company in the universe. But the real questions, is there anything we can do about it?

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