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All Posts By

Anthony Kowalczyk

Attribution vs. Contribution

By Marketing, Media, Search, Social, Technology, Thought Leadership

The Impact of Platform Over-Attribution on Marketing

Attribution vs. contribution is a significant issue that isn’t confined to just one industry. The epidemic of platform over-attribution affects multiple categories, creating a widespread problem for marketers. Without a single-source of truth to assess campaign success and results the marketer must decide how much they choose to “believe” the conversion reporting coming from the ad platforms.

For mobile performance marketers, especially app developers, the big three—Apple, Google, and Meta—operate with nontransparent systems. These platforms reach billions and often claim credit for conversions linked to ads that were barely seen, sometimes stretching back weeks. Even developers with declining sales might find platform reports boasting of increasing success, a situation highlighted by two frustrated mobile game developers.

Grocery brands face even harsher realities. The rise of retailer-owned media networks, which function like walled gardens, has led to a scramble for attribution. Retail networks are eager to take credit for every sale, often leading to marketing data that seems completely detached from actual business performance.

Google, Meta, Amazon, Walmart, Target, Kroger, and numerous smaller retail networks are frequently self-attributing conversions without a logical connection to a brand’s seasonal or monthly business trends. For instance, a brand might consistently see a sales dip in April or a spike just before Valentine’s Day. Ideally, ad platform attribution should reflect these patterns. However, reports often show rising ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) as platforms either enhance their targeting or claim full credit for sales they only minimally influenced.

This misalignment directly impacts a brand’s profit margins. Brands end up paying more for sales attributed to ad campaigns compared to organic conversions. The discrepancy between actual sales data and platform attribution can distort marketing strategies and budgets, leading to inefficiencies and increased costs.

In summary, the over-attribution by ad platforms creates a significant challenge for both mobile app developers and grocery brands, emphasizing the need for more transparency and accuracy in reporting and attribution models.