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Google and Facebook still dominate the mobile ad networks, but TikTok and Apple Search Ads are rising stars, according to measurement Singular‘s 2021 ROI Index.

Singular measures the return-on-investment for mobile ad networks. Singular’s 2021 ROI Index analyzes data from almost $10 billion in ad spend for 3 billion installs via over 500 ad networks to highlight the most effective mobile marketing platforms.

Seven new ad networks show up on the Singular ROI Index for the first time, and three hit the global list. Plus, five new platforms emerged to challenge traditional leaders, Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv said in a statement.

TikTok grew super-fast, with over 600 million downloads in 2019. The company extended its advertising platform mid-year and is still working on improvements. That should drive more advertisers to TikTok, Eliashiv said.


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The big five platforms that generate much of their own ad supply (users and traffic) and feed it with demand include Apple Search Ads, BlueStacks, Snap, Twitter, and TikTok.

All told, these platforms occupy 78 out of 322 possible placements on 27 different top lists in the 2021 ROI Index.

Google and Facebook are still on every single top list, but Google has slid in the rankings. That’s not due to performance, necessarily; it’s mostly because search is going darker. The short story is that Google is providing less granular visibility into performance.

TikTok goes global

Above: Singular’s ranking of the ad networks that generate the best returns.

Image Credit: Singular

Last year TikTok was a big emerging story among ad networks. For the 2021 ROI Index, TikTok is on 3.5 times as many top lists as last year and sees strong performance in the key regions of North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific.

Facebook has always provided good mobile advertising performance. But Snap broke out in 2020, placing on no fewer than 24 out of 27 possible top lists. And Twitter matched Snap stride for stride, also placing on 24 top lists. Influencer marketing company JetFuel debuted for the first time ever on three separate lists, showing that influencer marketing is not as opaque a channel as it might once have been.

Pre-installed software and pre-positioned ad networks might not have worked well in the past, but on-device platforms such as Digital Turbine, IronSource Aura, and AppNext have figured it out and are performing extremely well. Digital Turbine and IronSource Aura together account for eight top list finishes.

IDFA challenges

Apple is making things tougher shortly with its focus on user privacy over targeted advertising.

The mobile advertising world that so many game and app developers depend on is seeing a massive shake-up, Singular said. Google and Facebook are still on top, but search advertising is getting harder as Google can’t return as much data from iOS web traffic. Facebook is dealing with its own Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) and iOS 14 issues as well.

But other platforms are growing fast. Apple’s own Search Ads ranks right at the top of nearly every list of ad networks with the highest return on investment that it qualifies for, Eliashiv said. (Obviously, that doesn’t include Android top lists.)

Bluestacks, a web-based platform for Android mobile app gameplay with over 400 million users, is seeing huge returns on its user acquisition campaigns for game publishers. TikTok is a growth giant, of course, but both Snap and Twitter have figured out their ad capabilities and are delivering top-notch results for mobile marketers.

Singular has seen playable ads for games for a long time. But now the company is also seeing the emergence of gamified ad networks. Mistplay, for instance, which makes the Singular ROI Index for the first time in 2021, is a game discovery platform that is itself a game, in a sense. You can earn rewards in the company’s loyalty program by playing games in your personalized game library, and parlay those into gift cards for Amazon, Google, and more. Mistplay has given out almost $12.5 million to gamers already, and every mission you complete helps gamers get more.

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