Coping with Apple's mobile move
In May, Apple launched an ad called Privacy on iPhone, in which a young woman called Ellie wanders into a Sotheby’s-style auction of her personal data. She shuts down the auction with a flick of her finger by turning on her phone’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) and Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) features.
While many tech professionals view the ad as a sideswipe at Facebook’s data privacy policies, the campaign is a savvy marketing move. It positions Apple as an ethical company that empowers consumers to safeguard their private data.
Apple introduced these opt-in privacy features with iOS updates in 2021. ATT blocks companies from tracking user activity across third-party platforms and apps, while MPP stops marketers from accessing consumers’ email contacts. Together, both iOS features have changed the rules of the multibillion-dollar mobile marketing game in which Apple is a major player.
It’s not just major platforms like Facebook that must adjust to the new rules. They have also left marketers scrambling to adapt at a time when mobile ad spending is soaring to new heights. Analytics firm Data.ai says it will reach $350 billion by the end of 2022.
In recent years, companies have come to rely on the granular data insights generated by third-party tracking to target mobile ads to individuals. Now they must find new strategies to win over potential customers.
Fingerprinting and finger-pointing
One strategy that won’t fly is fingerprinting. An easily exploitable loophole in Apple’s ATT feature lets marketers identify a mobile device’s unique properties (such as its serial number and geolocation) to stealthily track activity on a device. Apple’s privacy policies ban fingerprinting – and the practice itself violates Europe’s GDPR data rules – but a March 2021 investigation by the Washington Post in conjunction with security company Lockdown suggested that the company has been lax in its enforcement.
Things changed at Apple’s 2022 Worldwide Developers Conference. It threw down the gauntlet in a session titled “Fingerprinting Is Never Allowed,” which strongly suggested that it would no longer tolerate the sneaky workaround. It’s time for marketers to play by Apple’s new rules, the company signaled.
Not everyone has reacted positively to those rules, notably Facebook’s parent company, Meta. In February, Meta reported on an earnings call that it has lost $10 billion in Facebook ad revenue since Apple rolled out its privacy features, causing its stock to plunge 23% in one day.
The social media giant has accused Apple of boosting its own advertising haul at its competitors’ expense – a claim currently under investigation by German authorities. In April, Apple rebutted the accusation by citing the findings of an Apple-funded study by a Columbia Business School professor.
Amid the sniping, Meta has been quietly adjusting to the new features by rebuilding its iOS ad infrastructure on Facebook. And many small companies are reporting that their Facebook ads are performing better than usual despite Apple’s new privacy features. Although the reasons for the uptick are murky at this time, the improvement may signal that some marketing professionals are finding novel ways to thrive in the new landscape.
New strategies for mobile marketing success
What strategies should marketers and advertising professionals adopt to cope with Apple’s new privacy features?
Here are four to consider:
Embrace the SKADnetwork.
In the past, marketers could bid on ad placement using data generated by the identifier for advertisers (IDFA), a code used to identify individual phones. Apple has created an anonymized framework for data analytics called the Software Kit for Ad Networks (SKADnetwork) that will protect consumers’ identities when they opt out of IDFA tracking. Savvy marketers will master the SKADnetwork to use less granular, macroscopic insights in their spending.
Sharing is caring.
Relying on first-party data might call for strength in numbers. Data co-ops are emerging as a viable alternative for organizations wanting to enhance their own data with information from elsewhere. These co-ops allow them to share the data that they have gathered with their peers, assuming that they have the data subjects’ proper consent.
Another potential data sharing tool is Unique ID (UID) 2.0, an identification technology that uses anonymous identifiers based on hashed emails rather than cookies. Publishers, which must run an email gate to create these UIDs, can then share them with each other.
Less data means more modeling.
The shift from third-party to first-party data insights has left marketers with less data to analyze. Over time, marketers have relied more on algorithms to analyze their data for them and direct their bidding on targeted ad space. They should wean themselves from outside data sources and connect the internal first-party data sources they already have, using AI for improved messaging at the right moment in the right place. They should invest more time and money in data analytics such as conversion value modeling and media mix modeling to assess which campaigns will win over consumers.
Get more creative on mobile platforms.
Without the crutch of granular data to help them target individual users, marketers will have to roll up their sleeves and get creative. They need more engaging creative approaches on mobile platforms, including more innovative advertising technologies and the ability to serve the right messages at opportune moments. Marketers will need to test which creative approaches work well and which do not over a period of time.