The iOS update that sparked a war between tech giants is shaping up to be of tremendous consequence for advertisers.
Last year, Apple announced sweeping new measures to protect user privacy in iOS 14.
The changes, which ask users to opt-in for app-based tracking rather than forcing them to opt-out, were officially released with iOS 14.5 in April.
While the update includes a number of bells and whistles, marketers are nervous about the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature, which will require all apps to get permission from users to track their data across other apps and platforms.
When users open an app on their iPhones, a pop-up asks whether they want the app to be able to track and share their data using their unique device ID.
Apps that don’t comply with the ATT changes could be removed from the App Store.
This shift has created quite a bit of anxiety and fear for marketers (and advertising platforms).
If people refuse to let apps use their unique device identifier for tracking, it could undermine the wealth of tracking data advertisers rely on to craft and hone their messages.
And for agency partners who act as stewards of clients’ budgets, the challenge becomes spending media dollars effectively without one of the sharpest tools available.
What does this mean for consumers? What are the ripple effects?
Potentially, it could turn back the clock on the personalized experiences consumers have come to expect and demand from brands.
As for the tactics marketers can use to fill the gap in data, that is difficult to determine given that we don’t know how any of this looks in practice. But gathering as much first-party data as possible will be key.
It will help advertisers patch holes in the information they use for targeting and messaging.
They should also leverage the recommendations set forth by Facebook (and others) detailing how these changes will affect users.
Facebook alerted users to expect several changes, including attribution settings no longer including iOS 14.5 opted-out events, action and demographic breakdowns deprecating for off-site events, and the attribution methodology shifting from impression time to conversion time.
Bracing for the Storm With Imperfect Alternatives
In preparation for this iOS-fueled change, agencies will likely continue to reassess the media partners we’ve worked with for years—including Facebook.
Facebook has been extremely vocal in its opposition to these data and privacy changes because the update will make it harder for advertisers to track attribution for ads on its platform.
As Facebook loses its ability to track view-through conversions, for instance, advertisers will have a harder time measuring the effectiveness of their ads.
Agencies may continue to identify new vendors that offer ways to target users without cookies or opt-ins to ensure clients’ websites are optimized for success.
While many vendors have been pushing contextual targeting as a solution to these tracking issues, it isn’t a perfect alternative.
Instead of targeting a specific person based on her history, you’re targeting a website, article, or video based on the content and the type of person who might be consuming it.
AI and natural language technology are not yet accurate enough to scale this technology effectively.
Say a headline reads, “LeBron James Shoots All the Shots He Can Take.”
Humans understand that the article refers to LeBron James making shots in basketball, but AI might mistakenly flag it as violent content.
These misinterpretations will become less problematic as technology improves, but it’s an issue we’ll undoubtedly encounter in the short term.
Ultimately, speak directly with your partners to understand their targeting methodologies and how they’re addressing iOS privacy standards.
At the moment, everyone is attempting to address these changes in a variety of ways—it’s important to figure out what your partners are doing and how they are proactively finding solutions to these new limitations.
Businesses tend to avoid partners who have no solution to overcome these hurdles; by understanding how your partners are responding, you can better assess what those changes mean for you.
More Privacy, Less Personalization
Apple is capitalizing on a circumstance in which its business interests align with consumer interests.
According to Facebook’s Dan Levy, the update could boost Apple’s bottom line by increasing subscription revenue from the App Store and giving their ad platform a leg up.
Facebook knows the Cambridge Analytica scandal left a bad taste in consumers’ mouths, but Apple’s actions signal a massive swing away from personalization in favor of privacy.
At the same time, Google is ending support for third-party cookies and has pledged to stop tracking users around the web.
Privacy is hugely important, but an end to tracking and third-party cookies creates an imbalance between the privacy consumers say they want and their preference for personalization.
Although 86% of consumers are concerned about data privacy, 90% are willing to share their data for discounts, alerts, or personalized recommendations.
We may not be doomed to relive the “Mad Men” period of advertising that relied on reach and frequency, but we will likely experience an advertising renaissance of sorts.
Someday we’ll be able to target ads effectively with anonymized data, but advertisers will at least temporarily struggle to provide the personalized experience consumers have come to expect without the data they’ve come to rely on.
Just as the past has thrown hurdles at advertisers, the future will provide them with opportunities to move forward in whatever the “new world” might bring.
All you have to do is think of GDPR, decreased visibility in syndication across partner inventory, and fluctuating match type control within Google paid search, to name a few.
Advertising will live on.
Products will still be sold.
Awareness will still be had.
Brands will still communicate with consumers.
In the end, we’ll see a marriage between privacy and personalization that bridges the divide rather than deepens it.