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iOS 14 Increases Transparency in Advertising (But at What Cost?)

In the Summer 2020, Apple introduced iOS 14. Among many other things, this update contains a new policy that we expect to alter the digital advertising industry as we know it. This new policy pits the two dueling sides of the consumer privacy debate against each other. On the one hand, iOS 14’s new policy aims to increase transparency in advertising for Apple users amidst increased concerns over invasive data collection practices. However, this update could spell disaster for advertisers and marketers who utilize the robust targeting and measurement options available in digital advertising to deliver a personalized experience to consumers.

While the policy has yet to be rolled out, and the full ramifications are yet to be seen, the basic fact is that common tactics that have become synonymous with digital advertising – including data targeting, tracking, measurement and attribution – will all be dramatically altered.

Apple’s Two Cents on Increasing Transparency in Advertising

Historically, all Apple users have by default been opted into Apple’s Advertising Identifier (IFDA), which gives advertisers the ability to track user behavior across apps and websites for ad targeting and measurement purposes. iOS 14’s AppTrackingTransparency framework enables all Apple users to opt out of all tracking for apps installed on their devices by requiring all apps to ask permission to track them across apps and websites owned by other businesses.

With IFDA giving way to the AppTrackingTransparency policy, users will have full control over how their data is or isn’t shared with apps, with no tracking available at the device level. While these changes will only affect Apple devices, this will have far-reaching effects on the digital landscape as a whole.

A Digital Advertising Shakeup

Apple owns approximately 50% of the smartphone market. This means that no dataset will be able to avoid being severely impacted by this policy. For advertisers, retargeting audiences will shrink, behavioral target segments will be more difficult to tap into and measuring the full impact of digital advertising for your brand will become much more difficult.

Perhaps no platform will endure these ramifications as much as Facebook, whose suite of ad products include Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Facebook’s ad platform thrives on the data generated by cross-app and cross-device user activity. It should come as no surprise that Facebook has spoken out strongly against Apple’s upcoming changes, accusing Apple of “playing by their own rules” and not working with the industry as a whole to find a common solution that fairly addresses issues related to transparency in advertising.

Although Facebook strongly disagrees with the changes, they have no choice but to comply with digital advertising’s new reality. This means some dramatic platform changes are coming to Facebook Ads, some of which have already been announced:

  • No more than 8 conversion events allowed per domain.

  • A domain verification process has been introduced to claim a domain for event tracking.

  • Events must be ranked in order of importance.

  • 28-day attribution (click and view) is no longer supported.

  • 7-day view-through attribution is no longer supported.

  • All remaining view-based tracking is now severely limited.

  • Real-time reporting for iOS devices is no longer supported.

  • Now, there is a 3-day reporting delay.

  • Reporting breakdowns by segments (geographic, demographic, etc) are no longer supported.

  • 3 days are now required for new events to be activated.

The above changes are just some of the shakeups already announced by Facebook, with others due to follow. The changes brought by iOS 14 are sure to hit any digital advertising platform reliant on apps for any data collection for targeting and/or measurement purposes. Other major ad platforms we know and love, such as Google for example, will have similar responses to Facebook’s that have yet to be announced.

Looking ToWard the Future

As advertisers and marketers, we are no stranger to changes taking place in the rapidly-evolving media landscape, and this new AppTrackingTransparency policy (along with the phasing out of third-party cookies in 2021) provides an opportunity to quickly adapt and get an edge on competitors. After all, every advertiser will have to learn to comply with these changes.

"iOS 14 and the tracking prompt will dramatically alter the methods of targeting, tracking and reporting we've all grown accustomed to, but we also know that constant change is inevitable in digital media,” explains James Pruitt, digital media specialist at The Ward Group. “We view the changes as an opportunity to adapt quickly and develop new best practices for our clients."

In thinking about what this means for our clients going forward, it is important we establish new ways of thinking and new methods of measuring the success of digital advertising. It will be imperative that we learn to evaluate long-term trends and the impact of advertising on overall business objectives, rather than focusing too heavily on campaign metrics that are no longer going to be completely accurate or supported.

These iOS 14 changes will roll out this month (January 2021), and will affect all digital advertising platforms in some form or another. The Ward Group will remain steadfast in adapting to changing times in the digital sphere, communicating to our clients about what it means for their brands, and staying on top of new best practices and new platform changes that emerge as a result.

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