Updated: May 27, 2021
As far as the public’s attitude to the business of digital marketing is concerned, the news only seems to get worse. In fact, we probably can’t call it news anymore, but just one more confirmation that consumers aren’t happy and real change had better be on the way.
The latest indictment of the old ways of digital came with the first reports from Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, which revealed that just 4% of frequent US app users had opted in to be tracked through Apple’s IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) – as they now must do before app developers are allowed to monitor their online activity.
There were some slightly kinder numbers in there too – the 4% rose to 6% after a couple of weeks; the worldwide figures are higher (15%) and there was also evidence that more will agree to tracking when prompted – but that tiny 4% was easily interpreted as a memo to digital marketers: 96% of people hate you.
Now, we don’t think that’s actually true, but on one level there is also no arguing with this kind of consensus. Clearly, tracking – whether via cookies or IDFAs – is unwelcome. Consumers have spoken, the industry has listened, from Google and Apple on downwards, and it will be doing things a different way in the future.
As a company whose role is to deliver impactful digital ad formats, we are not here to condemn the tracking methods of ad tech, but we can offer heart to the brands and marketers now scrambling to find a new formula for digital effectiveness. The end of intrusive tracking doesn’t mean the end of targeting, and the demise of cookie-driven micro-targeting doesn’t mean brands have delivered their last effective ad.
For one thing, despite what many believe, not all digital advertising is dependent on the kind of tracking people tend to agree is intrusive. The basis of our approach, and that of others in the high-impact space, is to balance creativity, context and data based on the client’s goals and requirements, prioritising impactful ads in relevant locations.
Across the broader digital advertising estate, however, there has been a slackening of creative pace during the boom data years. Big networks will tell you the same. Group M’s programmatic arm Xaxis last year launched its own creative studio, XCS, to help brands maximise their creative assets for digital formats, and to feed new forms of insight into the process.
The persistent problem we all address is that without effective creative and formats that cut through, brands simply don’t get noticed. That has never really changed, and with or without the ongoing deprecation of data, it remains at least as true as it has ever been.
The reality of digital media is that viewability rates are low, and even ads that are visible aren’t necessarily seen. Research from Lumen in 2018 found that fewer than 4% of ads are looked at for more than a second. But if brands can succeed in capturing attention, the evidence is that conversions follow in direct proportion.
How to do it? With better creative than most digital ads are typically treated to. With ads that skilfully walk the line between getting-your-attention and getting-in-your-face. With high-impact, non-standard formats that generate 15x more attention than standard display units.
This is the future of digital advertising: arresting creative designed specifically for the purpose; clean, honest forms of targeting using context and first party-data signals; and formats that stand a chance of cutting through.
No-one should be pleased to witness the ad-tech chaos arising from the recalibrations of players such as Google and Apple. But we also shouldn’t imagine that without third-party cookies and IDFAs, we have no tools at our disposal. We’ll go on capturing consumers’ attention the way we already do, and collectively we’ll become a better digital advertising business in the process.