iOS 14.5: Apple versus Facebook leaves marketers with hard choices

With the release of iOS 14.5, Mutiny managing partner Henry Innis explores what it means for privacy versus marketing measurement. 

If you were told a drone followed you around each day, reporting what you did to marketers so they could better advertise to you, most people would be horrified. Most would probably go to the police. There would probably be op-eds, articles, people railing against the power of big corporations. You get the picture.

Yet if we just put things online and call it ‘targeting’, the same intrusive tracking we rail against is hailed as being consumer-centric. It’s endorsed as helping advertisers be more relevant.

Before I go on, this isn’t a suggestion that marketers shouldn’t be collecting data to improve consumer experiences. Far from it. There are many ways in which marketers can do this — first-party, opted-in third party. The fundamental point is it shouldn’t be done in subversive ways.

Most of the digital advertising ecosystem, however, has been built on this subversive data collection. There are a few reasons why.

Firstly, marketing is complex and marketers have long wanted to know what every consumer does on the path to purchase. The thought process is we could use this incredibly complex and often mangled dataset to draw genuine insights. In reality, that data has proven immensely complex for us to realise and use in meaningful ways.

Secondly, we’ve long thought more data means more relevant advertising, which in turn means more sales. Data — actual, verified data — challenges this. Data to drive relevance very often lifts ad recall, response rates and performance. But it’s a fine line.

You don’t need to know when Bob mows his lawn, for example, to sell him his next beer. Too often we stray from ‘be more relevant’ to ‘be so personal it’s intrusive and irrelevant to do anything at scale’. But in our quest to move from relevant to personalised, we’ve sought to try to find ways to know everything about our consumers, in ways they may not know about.

Thirdly, the responsibility for data collection and organisation doesn’t come naturally to lots of organisations. Practically, that means a reliance on third party vendors (think ad-tech) to organise consumer data, make it available in easy to use platforms and accessible for advertisers to target. Most businesses wouldn’t know, for example, the provenance of audience data that ad-tech providers were giving — because they wouldn’t know to naturally ask the question.

Which brings us to our current digital advertising ecosystem: an ecosystem that is largely built around subversive data collection practices to target and measure consumer responses.

There was never a world in which those practices wouldn’t be exposed, either through data breach or something similar. Cambridge Analytica was the first, and it spurred anti-tech sentiment as people realised how much data was being collected without their knowledge. As most marketers know, perception can define reality, and the perception was data and Big Tech weren’t playing fairly with the consumer.

And therein lies the Facebook versus Apple debate around iOS 14.5: measurement versus privacy

Apple, who is primarily paid by the consumer in its business model, is trying to make tracking opt-in. Functionally that removes many of the subversive practices that have been used to collect consumer data over the past 15 years. Facebook argues that it is a fundamental abuse of position.

But to win, Facebook basically needs regulators to step in and constrain Apple. I can’t see that happening anytime soon, because of the underlying principle at play. For regulators and consumers to support Facebook’s position (alongside other ad-tech) they basically have to support consumer tracking and targeting over consumer privacy.

I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

So where does that then leave the marketer? Well, the marketer basically is left with a few hard choices they’re going to have to make in both digital and the wider advertising ecosystem.

The first is they’re going to have to find new methods of measurement. The great advantage of 1:1 tracking and similar systems wasn’t their accuracy (rife with collinearity and other issues), but their speed to report results. I suspect marketers are going to have to find measurement systems around media (and we’ve built Mutiny around this kind of solution — shameless plug) — that operate without PII, accurately and at the speed of digital. That will become more critical in the latter half of 2021.

The second is targeting is going to get harder. I suspect most marketers are going to have to abandon the ‘personalisation’ holy grail that they’ve chased for so long. Instead, the real answer is to chase relevance. We don’t need to be collecting everything and having these insanely targeted segments. Instead, it’ll be about picking the broad data points that might improve the consumer experience and don’t need to be collected by following them everywhere.

The third is first-party data and opt-in data will be more critical. There’s going to be more onus on brands to get their own houses in order to collect data, through customer data platforms and other technologies, to enable their own targeting themselves. That means less reliance on ad-tech vendors to create segments and data structures, and more focus on the internal data capability in marketing and media teams.

That’s a lot of change in 2021 across measurement, tracking and strategy. But if it plays out like I suspect, I think we’re going to end up with a better marketing ecosystem and an ecosystem less reliant on subverting consumer expectations. And that, in the long run, will be a very good thing.

Henry Innis is co-founder and partner at Mutiny.


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