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Despite Apple’s privacy updates last year, Meta is still a top channel for user acquisition, according to a report by mobile experts Adjust and Zoomd Technologies.

The report also found that budgets for user acquisition (UA) — the advertising that mobile game and app companies do to find paying users — are rising. It also found video and display ads are dominant, and marketers are relying on influencers for user acquisition too.

The State of User Acquisition 2022 research showed how dominant Meta’s platforms are for user acquisition managers. That’s so even though Meta’s stock declined in early 2022, driven by the company’s disappointing user growth on Facebook in the fourth quarter and lower than expected revenue for Q1 2022. Meta largely attributed the slowdown to Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy changes and the App Tracking Transparency framework, saying it would cost the company $10 billion in lost revenues in 2022.

In spite of the angst around user acquisition, mobile games accounted for $93 billion in sales in 2021, more than half of the total $180 billion game business, according to market researcher Newzoo.

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Despite these headwinds, the results of a survey conducted jointly by mobile user acquisition platform Zoomd and mobile marketing analytics platform Adjust show that user acquisition (UA) managers globally are still spending their budgets on Facebook and Instagram.

Specifically, when global user acquisition managers were asked:

  • Which was your primary media source for 2021 — Facebook was No. 1 followed by Google.
  • Which of the following mobile media sources did you use — only Google (No. 1) was ahead of Facebook (No. 2) and then Instagram (No. 3).
  • Which media source performed best for your Q4 2021 holiday campaigns — only Google (No. 1) beat Facebook (No. 2).
  • Which media source benefitted the most from any budget shift made after Apple’s ATT (iOS 14.5) privacy changes — Facebook and Google tied for No. 1.

This survey was conducted in the first quarter, querying global mobile user acquisition managers working with Zoomd and Adjust, a division of AppLovin. The results represent the answers from user acquisition managers working in a range of verticals including e-commerce, gaming, entertainment, fintech, health & fitness, lifestyle, and utilities.

User acquisition rising

During the holidays, Google stood out as a mobile media source.

Among the UA managers surveyed, 72% said that their budget is increasing in 2022. Specifically for iOS, 60% of respondents said that they would increase their UA budgets for Apple’s mobile devices.

But it’s not necessarily out of love for Apple. Staying with iOS, “difficulty in finding Lifetime Value (LTV) with limited SKAN insights” (33%), and “lacking time to research and understand iOS changes and best practices” (25%) were the two biggest challenges in maximizing insights from iOS campaigns.

When asked how they’re gauging success in their iOS campaigns, 40% of the surveyed UA managers said they’re “using a single data type model focused on either purchase, ad revenue or engagement,” while 21% said they’re “using custom CV models to track multiple revenue types or events at the same time” or “using data from probabilistic matching.”

Probabilistic refers to the likelihood of a certain outcome based on past data patterns and models. For example, the likelihood of hardcore gamers being interested in a certain genre of gaming based on historical playing data.

DSPs, ad and affiliate networks, and Apple Search Ads

User acquisition views of TikTok

Despite the growth TikTok and Snapchat are experiencing in terms of media budgets, demand-side platforms (DSPs), ad and affiliate networks, and Apple Search Ads outperformed them and all other platforms not owned by Meta or Google in most categories.

A demand-side platform (DSP) is software which enables advertisers and agencies to bid on and buy advertising on multiple exchanges automatically through one interface. An ad network aggregates online ads from a range of publishers, serving as an intermediary between a publisher’s ad availability and advertiser’s needs/demand. And an affiliate network connects publishers interested in serving ads selling products or services where the publisher earns a commission on the sale if a sale occurs.

Specifically, when mobile UA managers were queried “What was your primary mobile media source for user acquisition in 2021” and “After Apple ATT privacy changes, which media source benefited the most from any budget shift you made” only Google and Facebook beat DSPs, ad and affiliate networks, and Apple Search Ads. When the UA managers were asked “In the last Q4 holiday/Christmas campaigns (2021), which mobile media source performed best for you?” only TikTok beat Ad and Affiliate Networks (but not DSPs and Apple Search Ads). This result is in-line with the 184% revenue growth eMarketer just predicted for TikTok in the U.S. in 2022.

TikTok, Snapchat lead among the rest of the platforms

Besides Google, Facebook, and Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat performed the best. When the mobile user acquisition managers were queried which media sources they used in 2021, 41% said that they used TikTok or Snapchat, ahead of Twitter (26%), Reddit (13%) and Pinterest (7%) though below those that used Google (77%), Facebook (72%) and Instagram (67%). For the question regarding Q4 2021 holiday/Christmas campaign performance, TikTok came in 6th behind only Google, Facebook, and a three-way tie between Instagram, Apple Search Ads, and affiliate networks.

“Given the privacy-driven changes in 2021, it’s important to understand how they are impacting mobile marketing by asking the people dealing with user acquisition daily,” said Ozan Can Sisman, general manager for MENA at Adjust, in a statement. “The number of surprising results, including the growth of CTV, and the strength of DSPs and Ad and Affiliate Networks, highlight the importance of qualitative research alongside the quantitative analytics and insights Adjust provides our clients and the industry.”

Omri Argaman, chief growth officer at Zoomd, said in an email to GamesBeat that google grew its budget last year but not just because of its ability to target advertising toward users.

“Android is also growing because iOS is getting more expensive,” Argaman said. “But now that Google is copying the privacy changes implemented by Apple, I’m expecting some budgets to return to iOS. And in the user acquisition battle between Meta and Google, Google was hurt less by than Facebook and Instagram.”

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