TABLE OF CONTENTS
Partner Benchmarks: A Closer Look
Take a behind-the-scenes look at what a typical user acquisition lineup looks like for businesses, developers, and marketers in the mobile advertising industry across the world.
Discover which networks are best for your buying strategy, how to build your perfect channel mix, and where you can find your next set of high-quality users. We examine how the mobile app economy is expanding worldwide, take a deep dive into growth trends in gaming, e-commerce and short-form video, and we analyze how the pandemic impacted food delivery apps.
The Partner Benchmarks report is based on data from the first half of 2021, where Adjust tracked more than 6 billion paid installs and 160 billion sessions from 5,460 apps across 272 networks. Adjust’s customers are operating in 246 countries, with a strong presence in North America, EMEA and APAC. Within our key findings, we highlight industry-wide trends and draw comparisons to industry reports as well as Adjust’s Mobile App Trends Report 2021.
Aimed at providing the industry with a closer look at what a popular channel mix looks like for the typical Adjust advertiser, the Partner Benchmarks report allows the user to select a combination of regions, verticals and platforms. An e-commerce company or app in LATAM, for example, can apply the relevant vertical and region filters to learn about the most popular channels in their market — according to what other Adjust powered advertisers are spending on.
By its nature, the data used is biased toward the channel mix specific to Adjust customers. As this includes all Adjust customers, this naturally also includes the apps in the AppLovin gaming portfolio that use Adjust. In certain scenarios, to determine the final ranking, we compiled industry knowledge to determine some of the exact positions.
January - June 2021
KEY FINDING 1
The app economy is growing worldwide, but factors influencing growth differ across regions
The app economy and ecosystem is always growing and reaching new audiences worldwide — and this was never more true than over the last 18 months. Global app spending neared $65 billion in the first half of 2021, an increase of 24% YoY. From established markets to those where widespread access to mobile internet is a newer phenomenon, users are turning to apps for productivity, daily tasks and entertainment more than ever. The verticals that drive this growth, however, often differ significantly between markets and regions.
APAC continues as the uncontested world leader in mobile gaming. This is especially notable in Japan, where revenue in Q1 of 2021 alone reached $5.1 billion. Conversely, Turkey, which has become one of the world’s largest markets in terms of total app downloads/mobile penetration, is seeing this growth being driven by non-gaming verticals.
Apple App Store and Google Play downloads in Turkey hit 1.2 billion in Q1 of 2021, and are expected to increase to 5.6 billion by 2025 — a 44% increase over 2020. This makes Turkey the second-biggest market in Europe by downloads and one that has become pivotal to app publishers and advertisers globally. As this market continues to grow and mature, increases in engagement and ad revenue are also expected — App Store and Google Play consumer spend is projected to reach $1.6 billion by 2025, a 194% increase from 2020. The platform split is also significant in Turkey, with Google Play far outweighing the App Store, accounting for 85% of downloads.
The Turkish app market is very diverse, and publishers are more focused on non-gaming apps than gaming ones. Currently, 71% of apps released by Turkish publishers on the Play Store are non-gaming. The most predominant and fastest-growing verticals are health and fitness, business and education.
For health and fitness, sessions in 2021 so far are up 120% compared to the 2020 average. For the education vertical, this increase in sessions sits at 10%.
HEALTH & FITNESS
Publishers and advertisers that take advantage of this huge growth opportunity in the Turkish market will benefit from the app usage and spend increases predicted as the market continues to mature. Facebook, Google, AppLovin and Unity are the top networks across all verticals in Turkey. Other notable top networks for user acquisition (UA) managers to incorporate into their spend distribution are Headway and App Samurai, which are performing particularly well in the e-commerce and business verticals, respectively.
App economy growth in APAC tells another story, with gaming still the key focus for developers in the region. Looking at Japan, for example, mobile consumer spend reached $20 billion in 2020 (a +20% YoY growth) and the size of the mobile games market reached $13.9 billion.
Adjust data shows that gaming installs have increased by 41% in 2021 (compared to 2020) and that hyper casual installs are also up 31% — following an impressive 45% boost from 2019 to 2020. Sessions are also growing consistently, with the games vertical up 23% so far in 2021, and hyper casual up 12%. These follow increases of 42% and 99% from 2019 - 2020, respectively.
Facebook and Google Ads top the charts in terms of ad spend across most verticals and markets in APAC, but branching out is a key factor for a holistic buying strategy. Networks like Apple Search Ads, Line and TikTok all perform well in the region, and regional networks, such as Line, Skyfall and nend, are more capable of reaching different niches and gaining traction with different sets of potential users. In this sense, they demonstrate the importance of local expertise and make a strong case for UA managers looking to gain an edge in the region.
KEY FINDING 2
Gaming remains the largest user acquisition-driven category
Gaming has long been the top vertical on mobile and is continuing to solidify its place by constantly evolving and innovating.
- From 5,460 apps across all regions and verticals, Adjust global data shows that gaming makes up 50% of total UA ad spend across all verticals.
- Companies in APAC are spending the most — 64% of spend on game UA comes from this region.
- The top global sub-vertical is puzzle (16%) but that swaps to role-playing in APAC (23%).
Gaming app downloads in 2021
Gaming is still the biggest mobile vertical in 2021, making up a quarter of all iOS downloads and 21% of all Android downloads. This is supported by Adjust’s Global App Trends Report, which showed that sessions, installs, time spent in-app and number of sessions per day all boomed. By 2023, player spending is expected to reach $117 billion across Android and iOS, as reported by GamesIndustry.biz. By the end of 2030, mobile gaming is projected to hit an industry value of $272 billion, having already reached $98 billion in 2020.
Benchmarking of Adjust data found that gaming accounts for 50% of total industry ad spend. To put this into perspective, the second-place vertical (e-commerce) makes up just 16%. This is especially pronounced in the APAC region, where ad spend distribution for gaming apps measured by Adjust reaches as high as 64% (followed by publications at 11%). In North America, that number reaches 57% (followed by fintech at 14%) and in EMEA it sits at 39% (followed by e-commerce at 27%).
AppLovin and IronSource are the standout performers in this vertical, while Facebook, Google Ads, TikTok, Unity and Mintegral also come out on top.
Looking at install costs across these networks globally, Apple leads the pack with $3.86. An install from Facebook costs $1.02, while Google Ads comes in at $0.91. AppLovin, ironSource and Mintegral follow at $0.58, $0.39 and $0.19, respectively.
Hyper casual remains a major contributor to gaming’s overall UA growth
Hyper casual games, characterized by their lightweight, instantly playable and infinitely replayable gameplay models, are expanding the traditional definition of a gamer and have solidified their position as a driver of gaming growth in recent years. Adjust’s Global App Trends Report cited install and session increases of 43% and 36% for hyper casual in 2020, which is up another 44% in the first three quarters of 2021. Hyper casual sessions jumped as high as 72% above the 2020 average in mid-March as lockdowns started across the globe. Even after this huge jump in 2020, sessions have still managed to grow by another 2% this year — growth that would be 25% if the aforementioned peak would be excluded.
APAC was no exception. In 2020, Adjust data reported a sharp increase in the number of sessions across all APAC markets, with Japan’s YoY increase as high as 99%. That growth trajectory has continued to increase in 2021 by another 10%.
The cost to acquire users has been decreasing across all regions, but U.S. users still come with a significantly higher price tag ($0.55) when compared to those in EMEA ($0.15). Globally, the average CPI hovers around $0.25.
The mobile gaming industry, which grew exponentially in 2020, continues to grow in 2021. With a myriad of factors including AAA gaming experiences on the rise, subscription models rolling out and more Chinese developers entering the market, the industry continues to diversify to reach new demographics and types of gamers. As the highest growth vertical on mobile, gaming is continuing to challenge, disrupt and pioneer in the world of apps.
If you’re a game developer, Facebook, Google Ads, AppLovin, Unity, Apple Search Ads, ironSource and Mintegral are all great places to do UA. If you’re not, gaming presents solid learning opportunities for other verticals on mobile. What gaming UA typically incorporates is extensive automation and A/B testing, which can help in any vertical, and gamification is becoming a common thread outside of gaming apps.
Key finding 3
South East Asia leads heavy growth in the m-commerce vertical, bringing new partner growth into the fold
As a mobile-first, and often mobile-only market, recent reporting shows South East Asia (SEA) outpacing China and India in digital retail share. An estimated 70 million online users were acquired to the m-commerce sector during the pandemic (to platforms like Shopee, Lazada, Tiki and Tokopedia) and this upward tick is likely to be maintained, with SEA consumers expected to continue shopping online. Approximately 75% of the online shopping we see currently is expected to continue post-COVID and by the end of 2021, there will be 350 million digital consumers in SEA — a figure representing 80% of total consumers in the region. Sales are estimated to double over the next five years to reach US$254 billion by 2026.
Adjust data reflects and confirms these growth trends and predictions, showing that e-commerce installs in SEA have grown 18% so far in 2021 compared to 2020 (a year that already saw impressive growth).
Advertisers rely predominantly on a blend of social media and e-commerce across the region, and social commerce sales are estimated to currently make up 44% of the $109 billion market. One of the key trends driving social commerce in APAC is live streaming by e-commerce apps and brands, with leading players implementing advanced social media integrations and digital payment options to attract customers via live-selling, micro-interaction strategies, mini-games and celebrity-driven influencer marketing programs. These methods are extremely successful in creating high-quality shopping experiences that drive conversions. According to Charlotte Wright, Chief Growth Officer, Asia Pacific at Wavemaker, “Social media is an integral part of building a brilliant e-commerce platform” in the region.
While Google and Facebook are still the most dominant marketing channels for user acquisition (UA) managers in e-commerce looking to spend in the region, networks such as TikTok, Affle, Naver, Kakao, Inmobi, Appier, Appnext and Pokkt are gaining and could be great choices for your buying strategies. By branching out from the top networks and investing budget in some of the new or smaller partners driving growth, UA managers can potentially unlock new channels for high quality installs and extend their ability to reach online users and shoppers in SEA.
KEY FINDING 4
Food delivery apps continue to thrive following huge COVID-19-driven growth
By providing consumers with safe, socially distanced and convenient services, food and drink is one of the key verticals that has performed exceptionally well globally throughout lockdown periods. Both food and drink and food delivery apps have gained an impressive number of new users as interest in cooking has increased and food delivery has boomed. In March of 2020, 75% of American consumers stated that they would likely purchase grocery store items online if they were in lockdown, which was confirmed when grocery service Instacart reported that it had achieved its 2022 goals by just the third week of lockdown in the U.S.
The food-app industry’s immense growth in 2020 was often dismissed as the result of artificial demand, with the 122% sales increase YoY smashing the pre-COVID projection of 38%.
Habits have remained in place throughout 2021, however, and despite relaxed restrictions in some regions, growth has continued and food delivery app revenue is projected to reach new heights in markets globally. In the U.S., revenue is slated to hit $28 billion this year, up from $26 billion in 2020, and it is projected to be as high as $42 billion by 2025.
Food delivery app revenue growth projection
It’s a similar story in the UK, with growth forecasted to reach $6.5 billion in 2021, up from $5.9 billion in 2020. In Europe, that figure is expected to reach $20.5 billion this year, outpacing last year’s $18.9 billion. If we look at the entire global industry, Business of Apps projects that the value of delivery apps will grow to $120 billion by the end of 2021 and hit $300 billion by 2027. Pandemic or no pandemic, food delivery app growth is not slowing down.
Food delivery is also diversifying, with key players like Gopuff, Gorillas, Flink and other “10 minute,” on-demand, dark-store grocery delivery services becoming more prominent over the past 18 months. Founded in 2020, Gorillas currently operates in 55 cities and nine countries and is valued at $1 billion, making it the fastest-ever startup in Germany to achieve unicorn status.
The App Store drove the majority of growth seen over the last months in the U.S., with 73% of new installs coming from the platform. In Europe, the Play Store accounted for most new installs, at 58% of total downloads. And in the first two months of 2021, downloads for food and drink in Europe were at 74 million, already accounting for 82% of 2020’s total downloads. If lockdowns kicked off the supercharged growth for this vertical, users definitely haven’t lost their taste for it.
Adjust data also indicates that growth for food and drink has been a consistent upward trend, with no signs of stopping. Global installs in 2020 increased 19% compared to 2019, and they have increased by another 20% so far in 2021. Sessions growth is even more impressive, with 2020 up 71% compared to 2019, and 2021 up by another 34% so far.
Of the networks driving this growth, Google Ads, Facebook and Apple Search Ads make up the biggest piece of the pie, but Snap and TikTok also make their way into the top five, followed by AppLovin, Headway and Digital Turbine. If you’re wanting to diversify your spend outside of social platforms, the latter three are top choices.
KEY FINDING 5
Social media has a new growth driver: short-form video
Short-form video has emerged as a new driving force for social media, with TikTok, Instagram Reels and numerous other players (Snapchat Spotlight, YouTube Shorts, etc.) dominating in the ever-evolving space. As the user base and overall time spent on short-form video increases, so does the power of the format, which has also developed into a large social commerce player. Looking specifically at the U.S., TikTok is the undisputed leader, but Instagram, YouTube and standalone platforms including Triller and Dubsmash are finding their place in the market.
TikTok, with 1 billion active users and 1.5 billion downloads worldwide, is the go-to for marketers looking to enter the short-form space. Like all social media platforms, TikTok presents active opportunities to incorporate shopping into its overall user experience. With users spending an average of 52 minutes per day on the app, and recently overtaking YouTube for average watch time in the U.S. and UK, there’s ample opportunity to drive engagement — but it’s also extremely competitive.
In October of 2020, TikTok integrated with Shopify, allowing Shopify merchants with a TikTok for Business account to add a shopping tab to their TikTok profiles and sync product catalogs to create mini-storefronts directly linked to checkout.
The platform also ran a shoppable live streaming test with Walmart, an event that brought 10 creators together. When anyone viewing the stream saw something they wanted to buy, they could click through to purchase.
5W Public Relations’ recent consumer culture report showed that 28% of users had bought something advertised to them on TikTok at least once.
Providing similar functionality, Instagram Reels allows creators to tag products featured on Reels, and it lets users save or directly buy items via the “View Products” button.
With 84% of people saying they’ve been convinced to buy a product or service by watching a brand’s video, viewers claiming to retain 95% of messaging delivered via short videos, and 93% of brands reporting they’ve acquired new users via video on social media —the power of this format makes it vital to incorporate into a user acquisition (UA) strategy.
To no surprise, it’s Google Ads, TikTok, Snap, Apple Search Ads and Facebook that dominate the rankings across all verticals and on both iOS and Android in the social media vertical.