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Apple iOS 14 and its influence on online marketing

By 3 February 2021 February 12th, 2021 Advertising, Analytics, Cookies, Facebook & Instagram Ads, Tracking
Apple iOS 14 and its influence on online marketing

Good to have you here! Via this blog, we want to inform you about a crucial upcoming shift in the market: the update of Apple’s iOS 14. Maybe you have already heard or read about it, but you’re not sure what is about to happen precisely and how this can influence your online marketing. We are happy to tell you more, and also inform you about the preparations we are taking for your online campaigns.

A changing market

Before we get into the update and its implications, let’s take a step back and outline the situation as we know it. Online marketing is based on user data from websites or apps. To collect this data, we use pixels: pieces of code with which we collect anonymous information about your website visitors and their behavior.

Pixels are very important when running online campaigns, as they make sure we can track conversions and measure the performance of the campaign, for example, as well as for building remarketing audiences. You are probably familiar with the following situation. One minute you are browsing the web in search of your potential new coat or washing machine, the next minute you see precisely that product in an ad. By using a pixel, parties such as Google and Facebook can personalize ads and keep track of the results of these online campaigns.

The introduction of GDPR has ensured that website users can choose to accept or decline certain pixels. The image below probably looks familiar to you. Additionally, browser restrictions affecting tracking by third parties are becoming more and more common. Both developments impact the possible use of marketing pixels.

GDPR-proof cookie notification, giving the user the option to accept or decline different types of cookies
GDPR-proof cookie notification, giving the user the option to accept or decline different types of cookies.

Apple iOS 14: what’s going to happen

Apple is now taking the next step, leading the way when it comes to privacy and security standards. In addition to tracking and cookie restrictions implemented in Apple browser Safari, the latest update of operating system iOS 14 comes with the so-called Tracking Transparency Prompt (TTP). Every app featured in the App Store will soon be required to feature this prompt, asking their users for permission to track them on external websites and apps. And thus to be able to make use of the pixels we discussed earlier. If you own an iPhone, you may have already seen the message below after opening an app.

Apple iOS 14’s new Tracking Transparency Prompt
Apple iOS 14’s new Tracking Transparency Prompt.

When Apple introduced a similar prompt regarding location access in iOS 13, the consent rate (opt-in) dropped from 100% to below 50%. With the new Tracking Transparency Prompt, the vast majority of users is expected to ask their apps not to track – estimates are that only 20% of iOS users will allow tracking. This means that it will soon no longer be possible for apps to collect extensive data from a significant portion of their users. Partial data collection will still be possible, but data will no longer be as real-time and detailed as we know it today. We will explain this in more detail later on.

To illustrate the size of this portion of iOS users in the Dutch market: iOS market share was 43% in 2020*. Almost 3/4 of these iOS devices are currently running on iOS 14. It is likely that this number will increase, as the update was introduced last October and has been on the market for a relatively short amount of time. iOS users are known for keeping their devices up-to-date, so those who haven’t installed the update yet will definitely follow.

*iOS market share across Europe: 31%
Germany and Austria: 36%
The UK: 48%

When will the update take into effect?

The exact date of the update is yet to be announced. The latest information from Apple states that it is expected early spring. The update is currently still in beta, but some apps already feature the Tracking Transparency Prompt.

Which channels will be impacted by the update?

As the Tracking Transparency Prompt will be required for every app, most advertising channels will be impacted. However, it is unclear to what extent. Large tech companies like Google, Snapchat and LinkedIn have so far shared little to none about how they will deal with the update and what their advertisers can expect.

Facebook is the first major firm to publicly provide information about the (possible) impact on advertisers. For this reason, we will now zoom in on Facebook.

What happens after an opt-in or an opt-out?

As indicated, the prompt will be required for every app in the App store. An iOS 14 user will soon have to indicate for each app whether they will (opt-in) or will not (opt-out) allow tracking, also when using the Facebook and / or Instagram app.

If a Facebook or Instagram app user chooses to allow tracking (opt-in), his or her behavior on external websites and apps can be measured. After an opt-in, on first glance little will change, however, the number of events that can be tracked will be limited in the new situation. As it is now, an infinite number of events can be tracked. In the near future there will be an 8 event maximum per website domain.

If a Facebook or Instagram app user chooses not to allow tracking (opt-out), the following happens:

  • The user clicks a shared link on his or her news feed (e.g. an ad);
  • In the current situation, we can proceed to track the user’s website behavior. After the update, this will no longer be possible, meaning that the user’s website behavior can no longer be used for targeting and conversion tracking.
  • What we can still measure is 1 (conversion) event: the highest priority event in the ad account. For example, when a visitor clicks to go to a website, then goes to a product page, adds a product to the cart and completes a purchase, the actual purchase will be the only event measured, as this event has the highest priority.

How the choice made in the prompt will affect Facebook tracking
How the choice made in the prompt will affect Facebook tracking.

How is data affected?

The affected data is data that Facebook collects on external websites and apps. What’s good to mention here is that user tracking on the Facebook platform will not change. Optimizing for platform campaign objectives such as brand awareness, reach or video views will therefore not be affected. Campaign objectives that will be affected are:

  • Traffic
  • App Installs
  • Conversions
  • Catalog sales

As mentioned earlier, the majority of iOS 14 users (min. 80%) is expected to not allow tracking. We have also explained that in the case of an opt-out Facebook can only collect limited tracking and conversion data.

If a user does allow tracking, a maximum of 8 (conversion) events per website domain can be measured. In both cases, Facebook will be able to track far fewer events than possible in the current situation, meaning that less data will be collected overall.

Facebook can collect less data after Apple's update
Facebook can collect less data after Apple’s update.

Finally, data will be less real-time and less detailed. As we have seen, the data that can be collected is considerably limited. Moreover, data will be aggregated. For example, the system will measure the conversion event that has taken place, but the profile of the converter will not be included. As a result, insight into results per age bracket, region, gender, etc. will disappear. Data sharing will also be delayed; Facebook can only report (conversion) events after they have received data from Apple (after 24 – 48 hours).

Which targeting is affected?

As more people opt out of tracking on iOS 14, the size of custom and remarketing audiences may decrease. This has traditionally been an important targeting method. It is therefore crucial to close this gap, for example by supplying your own data.

Furthermore, Facebook can no longer use behavioral signals across websites and apps to map user interests and purchase intentions into strong user profiles. This will make certain targeting methods less powerful, Lookalikes and Dynamic Prospecting in particular.

Little is still disclosed about the impact on Dynamic Remarketing, but as this type of targeting heavily relies on user data it will probably also be affected by the lack of it. 

What about Android?

What will happen to campaigns targeting Android is still to be seen. For now, it seems that Android data will continue to be collected by Facebook as it is today. However, Facebook is very clear that their advertising platform is 1 holistic system. The changes they will make to their tools (e.g. the 8 event limit) will apply to every campaign targeting every operating system. Every single advertiser will therefore see an impact on their way of working.

What’s next?

The impact of the update on online marketing is still very unclear. Nobody knows for sure what will happen, not even Facebook. That is why the coming weeks our focus will be on preparing as much as we can.

Facebook has drawn up a checklist with actions to take now. In the weeks to come we will implement these actions for all of our customers. This way we ensure that your campaigns are ready as soon as the changes take into effect. Your account manager will inform you about this in more detail. 

Not a Facebook or Instagram advertiser? We will share more information about the update’s impact on other advertising channels as soon as more information becomes available.

Final note

A lot is still unclear and how future (Facebook) campaigns will be affected by the changes remains to be seen. We will continue to share any new information with you as a customer and include everything we learn in our decision-making regarding your online campaigns.

We understand that all of this can raise questions. Please do not hesitate to contact your account manager or send us a message via our contact page. Despite the fact that there are still a lot of uncertainties in the market, we will answer your questions to the best of our ability. 

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