When Apple CEO Tim Cook put out this tweet in December 2020, there was a collective intake of breath from the digital marketing space. Although Apple were saying ‘Oh, don’t worry. This won’t affect Facebook’s ability to track user data’, it was also making it clear, in mentioning Facebook by name, that this was clearly going to present a barrier to the platform being able to get their hands on user data in the same way.
With the public mood becoming more and more distrustful of big tech (and particularly Facebook), Apple are clearly positioning themselves as a defender of personal data and champion of user rights – whether cynically or not – and setting out their stall in opposition to Facebook.
Up until now, users were happy to hand over their data in exchange for convenience and “free” stuff. They took little notice of what was being collected and for what purpose, allowing platforms like Facebook to use it to create one of the most powerful marketing tools in history.
But that is starting to change. With users taking more of an interest in what data is being collected on them and companies like Apple giving them more visibility and agency into what they share, companies like Facebook need to adapt in order to respond to this new paradigm.
What is changing with iOS14?
iOS14 will give users the option to opt out of some data tracking which was previously automatic. So, what exactly does this include?
- Third-party app data
That means apps that have been collecting data and sharing it with Facebook until now, will require user opt-in for data tracking.
If they decline, the app will not be able to share the data they collect with other parties.
- Device location
Device location is leveraged frequently in Facebook advertising, particularly for physical businesses e.g. Walmart is running an offer and shows you the ad when you are close to the store. Users can opt out of device location sharing under the terms of the new iOS14.
- Information sharing for retargeting purposes
This includes sharing a list of emails, advertising IDs, or other IDs with a third-party advertising network that uses that information to retarget those users in other developers’ apps or to find similar users.
- SDK for user retargeting
This is when a third-party SDK (software development kit) is placed in your app that combines user data from your app with user data from other developers’ apps to target advertising or measure advertising efficiency.
What is the impact on marketing?
All of this kind of data tracking has been a key part of digital marketing campaigns for years, and if users start opting out, advertisers are going to be impacted hugely. But it’s not only advertising revenues which will be affected. The trickle-down effect of this change could be felt throughout the market.
Here are some things to note:
- iOS Marketers will be disproportionately affected
Those who are targeting iOS users will be more affected by these changes (Android haven’t rolled out any similar measures as yet), and should expect less useful marketing data, less complete data and less flexibility. It will take longer to find target audiences, but it’s hard to know exactly how much longer at this point.
- All digital marketing platforms will be affected
The other thing to note is that these changes don’t just affect Facebook, they affect all digital marketing platforms, including Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Snapchat, Amazon, etc. Remember that Facebook already has a huge amount of data about their users, and this historical data will not be affected, so it’s likely that they will still be one of the platforms best positioned to target users.
- Some businesses will be forced to turn to subscriptions and in-app payments
This includes those apps who are monetized by in-app targeted advertising. Many of the gaming apps use this model so that they can offer their app for free, but these changes will limit their ability to do so. The same goes for those apps who rely on user data for personalization features as their business model.
- Mobile-app advertising will be much more affected than web advertising
Those companies who only run on an app and don’t have a website will be even more affected.
- Small businesses relying on marketing will be more affected
By making it more difficult to find user data, marketing campaigns become less effective and efficient and small businesses will be forced to spend more to reach the same revenue. Larger companies will have more options to diversify and target other audiences whilst small businesses will struggle to grow.
In their response to Apple’s announcement, Facebook focussed on the impact on small businesses with the following list of potential impacts. They estimate a 60% drop in sales from website advertising as a result of these changes and a potential 50% drop in revenue as a result of Facebook app-install ads.
What is the impact on Facebook Advertising?
Facebook is already working on statistical models to try and fill the gaps in the data. For this reason, certain reports and windows in your account will have limited reporting and you will find a lot of reporting data is already gone or subject to delays. Other limits have been put on campaigns, ad sets and website tracking that you will need to be aware of.
- The breakdown of information such as age, gender, region and placement is no longer supported for app and web conversions, action and delivery.
- Facebook is reporting fewer conversions by relying on a 7-day click-attribution model. This means that if you buy an item based on an ad you saw 10 days ago, Facebook won’t attribute the conversion to that ad.
- Due to data being aggregated at the campaign level, reporting at the ad and ad sets levels will be modeled.
- The 28-day attribution of any kind of data is no longer supported in the attribution window. Historical data for this is available through the API (and you should definitely retrieve it).
- The 7-day view-through attribution will still exist while the 7-day click-through attribution will be gone.
- Offsite conversion events which are imported will also be affected.
- Delivery vs action breakdowns will no longer be available.
- Conversions will be reported based on when they occurred and not based on when the ad impression happened.
- While advertisers will still be able to target based on geographic and demographic segments, they will no longer be able to see a reporting breakdown of this data.
- You will only be able to have one ad account for your app but the same ad account can be shared with multiple apps.
- Each app is limited to 9 iOS14 campaigns. Each campaign is limited to 5 ad sets for each optimization type.
- Facebook will require advertisers to create separate app-install campaigns for devices running on iOS14.
- In theory, the data that can be tracked by the website pixel is not affected, whether you are using cookies or side-server tracking from iOS14. However, Facebook have introduced which conversion events can be tracked and how many e.g. Purchase events, Add to Cart events, and Custom events.
- For mobile browsers running within an app (i.e. Facebook’s in-app mobile browser), or clicks to an iOS24 website from within the Facebook app, website tracking WILL be affected for those iOS14 users who have opted out, in what Facebook calls Attributed Event Management.
What can you do to prepare?
To be forewarned is to be forearmed, so with all this information, what can you do to start preparing and mitigate the worst of the impact? Your clients will be looking to you for reassurance so here are some things that you can do to demonstrate to them that you have this under control:
1. Verify your domain
This is something Facebook is requiring you do, and if you go into your account, you will see they have instructions on how to do this now.
2. Implement conversions API
You should definitely implement the conversions API to ensure that events are being passed back to Facebook directly from the service, and not just from the pixel. If you don’t know how to do this yourself, get a developer to help you, but the sooner you do it the better.
3. Select your 8 conversion events
With the knowledge that you are going to be limited to 8 conversion events, you can start selecting and prioritizing these now. Decide which of the top events you want to track and put them in order of priority.
4. Use Google Analytics UTM tracking
This allows you to add additional insights to your ad links and understand where traffic is coming from and which traffic sources are creating sign ups, purchases, etc. When this demographic data stops being available from Facebook, you will still be able to obtain it from your Analytics account, so get this set up as soon as you can.
5. Improve your SEO and content
With more restrictions on targeting and reporting, the importance of other elements of your strategy will increase. This means SEO and content will start having more of an impact. At the end of the day, if there are less ads appearing in a user's news feed, you have the opportunity to make even more of an impact with what you are showing them.
6. Diversify your marketing mix
Rather than despairing completely, this is the time to start getting creative and looking at alternative advertising avenues. Particularly if you only work with Facebook advertising, this is definitely the time to diversify (or at least recommend that your clients do so).
Data is already telling us that a user will need to see an ad 17-21 times before they sign up to something, so you will need to use a diverse range of platforms in order to get that kind of exposure.
Start working on your own lead generation as well; relying on third-party platforms for your audience will always carry a certain amount of risk and the more independent you become, the more you will be able to mitigate this risk. Whenever one of these tech companies changes the rules, changes an algorithm or another part of their conditions, this should act as a reminder that we cannot be 100% dependent on them for our business.
Changes always bring with them opportunities, and the main thing to remember is not to panic! Everyone is in the same boat and those who are able to adapt will continue to thrive.