Apple’s iAd 180: From Custom Deals To An Open Programmatic API

AppleProgrammaticiAdApple CEO Tim Cook might have called iAd a “very small part” of the company’s business in the past, but Apple is starting to take programmatic seriously and the partners are piling up.

Following Wednesday’s announcement of Rubicon partnering with iAd on the demand side, seven more names are officially on the list: Tapsense, The Trade Desk, MediaMath, GET IT Mobile, Accordant Media, Adelphic, and AdRoll. L.L. Bean is one of the first to leverage iAd via MediaMath. More partnership announcements will surely follow.

In a public document posted on Apple’s developer site, Apple laid out the details of its nascent programmatic strategy. [Download Apple’s iAd Workbench doc here.] A complete set of APIs will enable developers and mobile advertising companies to create and manage campaigns and run reporting programmatically.

One limitation is that, at least to start, iAd will only provide automated support for banner ads. But that could change. A source with direct knowledge of the matter told AdExchanger that Apple plans to release a “second set” of announcements in Q1 2015.

Although Apple will be facilitating auctions, iAd isn’t on the RTB train just yet. For the moment, it’ll be a bit like a private programmatic marketplace via iAd that’s open to any demand partners who want to join through the API, said AdExchanger’s source. That will bring the scale Apple needs without forcing Apple to expose its sensitive first-party data – including information coming from the app store and iTunes Radio listeners – in the wild.

In other words, Facebook better watch out. Although Apple and Facebook can both be viewed as walled gardens, the Facebook Ads API still requires users to go through an approval process, and advertisers still need to use Facebook’s console to run ads through the Facebook Audience Network (FAN) – possibly to maintain direct relationships with advertisers. But in a very un-Apple-like move – iAd, after all, started life courting brands and agencies and gunning for million dollars deals – Apple will enable automated reporting through its API. Apple looks more transparent than Facebook here.

As Apple’s iAd strategy takes shape, it’s possible that it could take business away from FAN, especially as user acquisition prices continue to rise on Facebook.

"This is a big deal for the mobile advertising industry. It's a step in the right direction and it validates the mobile programmatic space,” Tapsense CEO Ash Kumar told AdExchanger. “Google is programmatic, Facebook is programmatic, Twitter had MoPub and now there's Apple, which will have the best set of publishers out there. This makes a lot of sense for Apple."

If Apple can make a go of it, iAd could become a compelling programmatic sales route for developers, brands and agencies alike – perhaps even for those blue chip brands and agencies it was going after when iAd first launched in 2010.

“Traditionally, iAd has been more of a closed platform for advertisers,” said Adam Foroughi, CEO of AppLovin. “By enabling programmatic, the scale is there to make it a highly relevant marketing channel.”

And as demand rolls in, Apple has a chance to shine – especially on the targeting front.

"Apple has an amazing opportunity to overcome the challenge that emerges when you develop the largest app marketplace in the world: There is tremendous demand for highly relevant, tailored ads," said Jeff Green, CEO of The Trade Desk. "The  only way to solve the user experience dilemma that faces mobile advertising is through programmatic. It’s too personal of an experience for it not to be. Your phone is too personal for the ads you encounter there not to be highly relevant in order to be effective."

 

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