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Apple’s iOS 14 update and what it means for Facebook marketing

By Asher Gordon |

Tug Agency


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February 22, 2021 | 7 min read

Rarely a day goes by where Apple or Facebook – or both – don’t face the scrutiny of the media. The tech titans are often at odds against one another and it’s no secret that their respective chief executives have a less than amicable relationship. This month’s hot topic is the “looming showdown” over data tracking and privacy. Here’s why it matters for marketers.

Apple iOS 14

Apple iOS 14

iOS 14 and third-party data

Apple’s development and release of iOS 14 has introduced a new feature designed to give users more control around data collection by third parties. While the controls were previously available, they required users to manually check for them. This update means Apple users will be prompted by their device to opt into or out of data collection for each app they use. If permission is denied, apps will have reduced ability to track site and app behaviour via their pixels.

This will impact social platforms like Facebook Snapchat, TikTok and Pinterest, as well as traditional publishers such as Buzzfeed and ad tech companies. But the hardest-hit platform will undoubtedly be Facebook. In response, Facebook is making changes to pixel implementation and event tracking in order to minimise the amount of data that will be lost. This is referred to as ‘Aggregated Event Management’ and it will affect all marketers who use the platform.

Why has Apple made this change?

The change builds on Apple’s continued approach of reducing automated tracking. In 2017, Apple made changes to its Safari browser to reduce tracking of third-party cookies via ‘Intelligent Tracking Prevention‘. Apple’s goal appears to be to give users more control over their data in line with the App Tracking Transparency Framework.

While Apple couches the move as being consumer-focused, the cynic among us can’t help but wonder if there is an ulterior motive that benefits Apple, whether that’s improving customer loyalty or improving the bargaining position and power dynamics between Apple and Facebook.

Recent press coverage plays into Apple’s hands and helps position the company as one of privacy-first. As well as the favourable PR, it could be seen another step towards Apple building its own search engine. Apple’s first-party data will be more valuable to marketers, especially if it can’t be found on any other platforms.

How will this affect Facebook marketing?

This change will affect all advertisers across Facebook, regardless of whether the audience is using Apple, Android, or Windows to access Facebook and the web in general.

To make up for this data loss, Facebook must change how its pixel collects information and, in some cases, build statistical models in the backend to fill in some gaps of user behaviour. It calls this change ‘Aggregated Event Measurement’ and is a big factor in why pixel events will now be restricted.

Only eight conversion events can be associated with each pixel, which may impact advertising strategies. Attribution windows are also being reduced from 28 days to seven days, which may lead to fewer conversions and less data from which to optimise.

Insights from non-Facebook websites

To a degree, Facebook will lose out on valuable insights gained from non-Facebook websites where pixels were previously installed. With the network of Facebook pixels installed across the web, Facebook was able to understand which user (or which category of user) was interested in anything from running shoes to financial software. This data gathering fed into Facebook’s machine learning to get ads in front of the right people. With less information being passed back, audience targeting may be less precise as there will be fewer signals to categorise and segment users. This could lead to lower CPMs due to broader audiences but higher CPCs due to the audience being less relevant.

Reduced segmentation

Additionally, there will be reduced support for viewing performance breakdowns, such as segmenting by age or by gender. These breakdowns enabled some key optimisations and data analysis, so their loss makes having a strong understanding of your target customer even more important.

Remarketing lists

Remarketing lists as well as custom audience lists (and lookalikes off the back of these), have been powerful tools to improve the quality of audience targeting. However, we should be prepared for possible reductions in the population of these lists due to the changes to tracking. Remarketing lists of website visitors are frequently the top performing campaigns as the audience has already shown interest in the product. Losing them, or at least, having a smaller audience pool, will likely make them less efficient and could result in lower conversion rates.

The rise of Facebook shopping?

We may also see a growth in the importance of Facebook Shops and Instagram Checkout as Facebook moves to keep people on platform where possible.

How will this impact social advertising in future?

It’s highly likely that marketers will increase spend across other social channels as a result. With a decrease in their granular data, marketers will no longer be as tied to Facebook and this will lead to more spend in other platforms, such as TikTok, in order to find more value.

This isn’t the last we’re going to hear about less data being passed through to advertising platforms. It’s going to be a recurring theme in 2021 and beyond, as Google is set to remove third-party cookie data from Chrome later in the year. This combined with Apple’s restrictions means brands need to ensure they have rich first party data, because they can no longer completely rely on other platforms to share rich data moving forward.

Now is the time to make sure you are building your own first-party data lists, so you can communicate directly with your current and potential customers through channels such as email. It’s going to get harder to do it using advertising platforms in future.

What should advertisers do now?

With the knowledge of these changes there are several actions that you should be taking in order to prepare and adapt:

  • Verify your Domain within the Facebook Ads platform as soon as possible.

  • Ensure the correct pixel implementation on your website, depending on the domain structure:

    • and .fr could have a pixel each

    • .com/uk and .com/fr must share a pixel

  • Evaluate current event tracking and prioritise events in importance from one to eight. Where necessary, consolidate events into one.

  • Ensure any additional tracking and attribution (eg Google Analytics or Campaign Manager) that you have in place is up to date and implemented accurately.

  • Explore opportunities on other social platforms.

Asher Gordon, head of paid media at Tug.

Marketing Marketing Services Technology

Content by The Drum Network member:

Tug Agency

Tug is a performance driven, global digital marketing agency, optimised to grow ambitious brands, through the smart combination of data, media, content and technology.

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