Apple’s iOS 14 is already running on 72% of all Apple devices and 81% of its devices released in the last four years. The latest operating system update comes with privacy updates that change how Apple’s customer data is collected and used. 

Unfortunately, this has come with a host of obstacles for digital advertisers. These updates make it more difficult to collect data. Understand users. Retarget and create custom audiences.

The new iOS has tightened rules about businesses collecting users’ location, data sharing, and tracking. This has been an increasing trend with Apple giving users more control over their online privacy. It also reflects the growing trend of offering greater privacy protection for consumers.

What are these iOS 14 updates exactly and how are they affecting digital marketers? This article addresses these updates and their challenges.

Use the table of contents to scroll directly to a specific section you’d like to learn more about.

iOS 14 has fundamentally changed the set up of digital advertising

One of the first major changes iOS 14 resulted in was that Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) will require explicit permission from users. 

IDFA was initially launched in 2012. It creates an individual user ID that supports cross-device data tracking for advertisers. Brands could use IDFA from the moment someone installed their app. No permissions required. 

With iOS 14, users are asked if they wish to share their IDFA with businesses. Before the latest operating system update, about 70% of iOS users shared their IDFA with brands. This is estimated to drop to as low as 10-15%. 

Digital advertisers will struggle to track users across different devices and deeply understand their behavior. They will have a smaller pool of users that opt-in and require new strategies to increase how many do.

Percentage of users that share their IDFA with advertisers.

iOS 14 means marketers will have fewer conversion events to leverage

With iOS 14, advertisers can only track 1 event for users that have opted out of IDFA, meaning brand trust, recognition, and loyalty will become increasingly important. This is because there will be strong reliability on the initial user opt-in.

While these changes will affect a wide range of advertising platforms, brands that target iOS devices through Facebook Ads, in particular, will be limited to 8 conversion events per domain (an entire website) through Facebook’s event management. These include pixel events or custom conversion events. Marketers will have to prioritize which events they find the most important. 

The same change applies to website campaigns. Advertisers can only use one of the 8 selected events to optimize for. If changed, it can take up to 72 hours before it can be used. These must be prioritized to reach business goals and ensure teams can track their individual performance. 

For e-commerce brands, these events will most likely be:

  • Purchase
  • InititateCheckout
  • AddToCart
  • ViewContent
  • Value Optimisation events (pre-defined by Facebook)

The amount of variations for app install campaigns is limited to 8 campaigns per app with a maximum of 5 ad sets.

Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) that have built their measurement around Apple’s IDFA will see a reduction in the ability to track performance across mobile campaigns.

iOS 14 will make attribution windows shorter and less accurate

iOS 14 will impact how marketers are able to attribute conversions, events, and advertising performance. Traditionally, deterministic attribution was the most accurate form of attribution as it uses device IDs to identify users across different devices and platforms. Not being able to collect IDFA from Apple users limits this.

Deterministic attribution uses a device's ID to identify the same user across different channels, apps, and devices with 100% accuracy.

To resolve this, Apple launched the SKAdNetwork in 2018. The SKAdnetwork is a system level attribution framework. However, with the latest iOS update, it will not share any user or device-level data with advertisers.

SKAdNetwork facilitates attribution at the operating system level of Apple devices. This allows them to control consumer privacy and the data passed onto advertisers.

This article is not intended to deep dive into deterministic and system level attribution, but instead educate you about how they relate to iOS 14’s impact on digital advertising. Learn more about these attribution frameworks here. 

Apple will control attribution passed back to registered ad networks. It will only allow for click-based attribution and provides conversion in batches with a latency of 24-48 hours. Campaign IDs are limited to 100 per ad network.

App install conversions will be reported based on the time they are reported to Facebook by Apple’s SDK Ad Network API. Not the time they occur. Conversion data will become aggregated. There are no delivery or action breakdowns such as age, gender, region, or placement. Digital advertisers will need to leverage other channels that allow them to accurately attribute conversion and demographic data. 

Website conversions will be attributed to the date when they happen instead of when the user clicked on or viewed an ad. These changes will make it very difficult for advertisers to achieve the same granularity in their reporting due to shorter attribution windows, reporting delays, and reporting based on when a conversion occurs instead of when users engaged with or saw the ad.

Brands will have fewer retargeting opportunities due to iOS 14

One of the most powerful ways to drive sales and drive engagement is through retargeting. For example, the click-through rate for retargeted users on display networks is 180.6% higher than the original advertisement. However, effective retargeting requires marketers to be able to track users on and off apps or websites.  

iOS 14 creates a limitation on the number of trackable website conversion events, leading to smaller and less relevant retargeting audiences. Broader targeting results in fewer optimization and personalization options. Less effective conversion-focused prospecting and remarketing campaigns. It’s harder to identify the exact marketing funnel stage for each audience member and deliver the right ad at the right time. This may also reduce the return on ad spend (ROAS) and increase customer acquisition costs (CAC).

Any device-level retargeting will no longer work for users that have opted out of sharing their IDFA. While Google and Facebook offer other deterministic traits such as email or phone numbers, programmatic platforms will experience the largest reduction in retargeting capabilities. Retargeting heavily relies on IDFA, so advertisers will be limited to people who give consent.

Custom audiences will remain relatively unaffected by iOS 14 changes

Over 4.8 billion websites use Facebook’s custom audiences to improve targeting, return on ad spend, and conversion rates. Custom audiences can be built through the Facebook Pixel and other data sources. This helps brands create highly segmented groups of consumers to deliver personalized experiences and targeted offers at scale.

Custom audiences on Facebook’s platform will remain relatively unaffected by iOS 14. Brands may continue building custom audiences with data collected from users that opt-in or from other sources. However, digital advertisers may experience a decrease in how quickly and efficiently they build custom audiences if they heavily relied on the IDFA to do so. 

Marketers will also not be able to create lookalike audiences based on Mobile App Custom Audiences when targeting users with iOS 14. Only specific apps, SKAd reported events, and their audiences will be accessible.

Wrapping up iOS 14 and its impact on digital advertising

iOS 14 is already running on a majority of Apple devices. The new operating system creates many different challenges for digital advertisers. One of the biggest hurdles is that users must now consent to have their information and data tracked. While nearly all users previously consented to share their IDFA automatically, it may significantly decrease when it becomes opt-in.

The iOS 14 update offers fewer conversion events to measure. Advertisers are limited to tracking 8 conversion events per domain and 1 for users that have opted out of IDFA. Brand loyalty and recognition are more important than ever to hedge this and increase the chances of new users opting in after downloading an app. 

Attribution windows are also shorter. It will be harder for advertisers to identify exactly when conversions are occurring and why. They must prioritize events over others.  Limited tracking website conversion events result in lower quality retargeting audiences. Less personalization opportunities. Potentially higher CAC and lower ROAS. Custom audiences will remain relatively unaffected unless a brand relies heavily on IDFA to build them.

Brands can adapt to iOS 14’s impact on digital advertising by carefully rethinking their tracking and attribution set-up and investing in other marketing channels. 

For example, conversational marketing can solve many of the obstacles caused by the latest iOS updates. Marketers can collect valuable information—declared data—about who their audience members are. What they need and desire. This enables marketers to segment their audience and personalize content in real-time chat. 

All of this declared data is volunteered when you engage with them through conversational marketing chatbots. These chatbots integrate with platforms customers are already active on. Build brand loyalty, deliver personalized experiences, and nurture deeper relationships with customers. Learn more about conversational marketing chatbots and how they can help your brand drive growth despite changes in the digital advertising landscape.

How Messenger Enables 1st Party Data Personalization for Brands Post iOS 14

Download this guide if you need to know the impact of Apple’s iOS 14 updates on your Facebook campaigns and digital marketing strategy. See how you can scale one to one personalized marketing in a cookieless and post iOS 14 world. 

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