#CookieGate: What iOS 14 means for digital advertisers
If 2020 taught us anything at all, it’s to expect the unexpected, be ready to pivot, and that nimble brands come out on top. And with 2021 serving up a slew of historic events already – looking at you: the storming of the US Capitol, Redditors screwing Wall Street with GameStop, and Scotty from Marketing saying the folks on the First Fleet had it rough *eye roll* – we’re bracing ourselves for another wild ride.
So it should come as no surprise that we’re looking at a pretty major shake up in the digital advertising space thanks to some hefty privacy measures that Apple are putting in place with their iOS 14 update. Namely, making it explicitly clear what data apps are collecting and giving users the ability to opt out of data collection.
Given that precision targeting and detailed optimisation is what we all love so much about digital advertising, it’s clear that this update is going to change the way we approach online marketing — from strategy to measurement.
Following the increasing frequency of data breaches, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and some pretty ugly evidence of how apps and social media platforms manipulate data to influence user behaviour, we at Young Folks are here for increased control over our data and how it’s used. Having said that, this does mean that the ways in which we manage digital advertising campaigns are going to evolve.
The good news is, our team has been in the marketing industry for long enough to know that there’s always something changing in digital and you just gotta be ready to learn and adapt.
So what exactly is changing with iOS 14?
Okay, so Apple has given fair warning that changes are coming. And on 28 January they released a report called A Day In The Life Of Your Data which shows just how much data is collected. Now, data collection in and of itself isn’t Apple’s main concern. Rather, it’s the transparency around what data is being collected, when it’s collected, what happens after it’s collected (it being sold via data brokers, and individuals being identified through their data — aka: de-anonymisation).
Apple’s been big on privacy since the beginning. Remember when they refused to create a backdoor for the FBI to access the phone data of accused shooter Syed Farook as part of the San Bernardino case in 2016?
Yeah, they’re still big on privacy which is why they’re giving users more control over what data apps are collecting and the ability to opt out of data collection with the App Tracking Transparency policy (known as ATT).
It’s important to remember this only affects iOS 14 devices (meaning iPhones and iPads) tracking on Android devices and desktop, as well as for iOS users who do not opt out. However, given that Apple holds around 54 percent of the smartphone market in Australia this is not an update to be overlooked.
Are we concerned? Yep (mainly because Facebook showing concerns). Are we freaking out? No.
So why is this a big deal?
Presently, the majority of digital advertising relies on tracking code to be implemented on websites which then marries up to apps and web browsers connecting the dots and allowing advertisers and marketers to determine what activities and campaigns are driving results.
This tracking is commonly referred to as cookies. Why? Well, because it’s kinda like the user has a cookie that leaves a trail of crumbs showing the website, app, or social media platform where they’ve been and what actions they’ve taken all over the free and open web.
Tracking on Apple devices also includes something called IDFA (identifier for advertisers) which is a random device identifier assigned by Apple to a user’s device. Digital advertising platforms use IDFA to track data so they can deliver customised advertising (although it should be noted that while it identifies a user it doesn’t reveal personal information).
Thing is, some of these cookies are tracking a lot of information — more than people realise. And Apple isn’t about that life.
The soon-to-be-rolled-out changes will limit the ability to track and attribute the performance of online marketing and digital advertising campaigns.
Why? Because digital advertising relies heavily on cookies and IDFA to track the behaviours of users in order to report on actions or purchases from ads, create remarketing audiences, and even determine if people have visited a physical location. Whilst it’s already possible to opt-out of sharing this data, the settings which control data and privacy are pretty hard to find and change on each of the social media platforms and search networks.
Equally, Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Snap Ads, TikTok Ads and even Pinterest Ads will be affected by these changes. Google have already announced that they’re making changes to the way they track things (although they have bigger problems with the Australian government’s proposed media code right now) and we’re yet to see official updates from these advertising platforms.
And what does this mean for digital advertisers?
When Apple’s ATT policy goes into effect, digital advertising platforms will only be able to track the behaviours of those users who have not opted out. Equally, Google has announced that they will remove IDFA and other tracking functionality from its iOS apps — and thus not be required to show an opt out prompt.
Oooft. This is a lot. Still with us?
So what areas will be impacted?
Digital advertising platforms leverage tracking data to monitor the interests and behaviours of users. Which means targeting abilities will be impacted by these changes. Put simply, as more people opt out of tracking on iOS 14 devices, the size of your customer audiences will reduce.
This will directly impact the size of retargeting audiences which relies on the ability to track people who have visited your website in order to show them ads. Expect to see some performance drop off in dynamic ad campaigns as more devices update to iOS 14 and the size of your retargeting audiences decreases.
Fear comes from the unknown, right? So, to make things a little less overwhelming, I’ve done some calculations to try and determine just how much of a big deal this is for digital advertisers on Facebook and Instagram specifically.
Using Facebook Audience Insights, I was able to identify the total number of adults using iPhones and iPads that can be reached via Facebook and Instagram Advertising. In Australia, this is 2.4 million accounts. Which sounds like a lot (and it is) but it’s actually only 14 percent of a total 17 million adults on Facebook and Instagram.
Event tracking and measurement
Digital advertisers use event tracking to measure and optimise campaign performance. On Facebook this is commonly referred to as the Facebook Pixel, you might have also heard the terms tracking tags, event tracking, and conversion tracking bandied about.
Facebook has announced that the number of conversion events that you can track per website domain will be restricted to eight. Conversion events are things like “purchases” “add to cart” “initiate checkout” “view product” and “subscribe to newsletter”.
Brands that currently track more than eight conversion events per domain will need to make a plan to scale back how many events they’re tracking for Facebook Ads. Unless you manually configure your eight conversion events, Facebook will automatically configure the events most relevant based on our activity.
Google is handling this on their side. And we’re keeping our eyes peeled for information on how this will be handled by the other digital advertising platforms.
With performance data underreported due to people opting out of tracking, the ability to optimise the performance of digital advertising campaigns will be affected.
Under the new changes, real-time reporting for iOS devices will not be supported, and data may be delayed up to three days.
We’ll also lose a bit of analytical capability to refine targeting based on age, gener, region, and placement where iOS users have opted out of sharing their data — though there will still be data there for non-iOS devices. This just means we won’t have the complete picture from an optimisation point of view.
This update is also impacting the attribution by limiting the windows in which conversions will be attributed to marketing activity. Going forward, 28-day click-through, 28-day view-through, and 7-day view-through attribution windows will not be supported for active campaigns.
How to prepare for iOS 14
We know this is a pretty major shake up. But there’s plenty that we can all do to ensure we’re prepared and our digital marketing efforts don’t bottom out.
Preparation for Facebook Advertisers
Given that there is a limitation on the number of events tracked per domain, it’s a good idea to get your website domain verified within Facebook Business Manager.
Review the number of conversion events you’re tracking and make some calls on which ones to keep and which ones to cut.
Take time to understand how many purchases (or other events tracked) are coming from iOS devices (you can use the breakdowns report to do this). Then, you can see how your reporting might be impacted by these changes and even create your own data models to manually optimise performance.
And finally, download historic data into a spreadsheet so that you can keep that on file should some metrics and dimensions disappear as these changes are rolled out.
Preparation for Google Advertisers
Google has announced that they’re removing IDFA tracking and switching to a different Apple tracking tool called SKAdNetwork. This means there’s little action digital advertisers need to take right now.
Again, we recommend taking stock of how many paid search clicks are coming from iOS devices (this can be done in Google Analytics) and downloading historical data.
Preparation for other digital advertising platforms
And we’re still waiting for detailed updates from the other digital advertising platforms but will pop them here as we received them.
Multi-channel marketing for the win
Whenever something major changes in online marketing, it’s a stark reminder that we all need to have well-considered multi-channel marketing strategies in place. That way we’re mitigating the risk to our brands when things are being shaken up on one particular channel.
Right now, at Young Folks, we’re seeing more success than ever before with content marketing and digital advertising. This is because we’re using digital advertising to amplify already successful content marketing activity — rather than relying on digital advertising to do the heavy lifting alone.
So what can you do to strengthen your integrated digital marketing approach?
- Make sure your SEO is in good shape
- Commit to regular blogging
- Amplify the reach of those blogs across social media and email
- Use Facebook Ads leads function to grow your email list
- Build out or optimise your email marketing flows
- Revamp your email newsletter strategy
- Commit to regular PR pitching
- Focus on user generated content
- Plan some standout multi-channel campaigns
- Use UTM tracking to pass click data to Google Analytics
- Invest time in building community and loyalty (think: email subscribers)
And finally, it’s time for brands to commit to a holistic attribution strategy that looks at the influence of digital marketing across the customer journey to purchase. This can be achieved with tools like Google Analytics, Google Big Query, or MixPanel.
What happens next?
With the rise of anti-trust and increased focus on the impact of surveillance capitalism, we’re going to see more changes when it comes to data collection, ownership of data, and controls over privacy settings. So as marketers, we need to be ready to adapt our strategies and roll with the changes.
New approaches to attribution will emerge (Google is already pioneering cookie-less tracking) and this might mean that finally we have more holistic and consolidated approaches to data attribution.
Meaning that instead of looking at the performance of marketing activity in the individual platforms (where this is no visibility over the multi-channel path to conversion) brands instead tailor their own attribution models that stitch together multi-channel marketing and attribute conversions more equally across the journey — rather than last click only.
And even if tracking and targeting get a major shake up, perhaps this will spur brands and marketers alike to rely less on technology to do the heavy lifting. Instead, investing more deeply in building brand awareness and driving conversions and loyalty by creating memorable experiences and unforgettable campaign creative.
After all, that’s how they used to sell things in the good old days when tracking didn’t exist. Mad Men vibes. Let’s get back to compelling integrated marketing campaigns, shall we?
Diversifying your marketing
Need help to create a multi-channel marketing strategy? Our marketing specialists can assist you with search engine optimisation (SEO), email marketing, and digital advertising and marketing measurement. Contact us today to talk about how we can help achieve your marketing goals.
Image credit: Vitaly Vlasov via Pexels.