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Marketers scramble to overcome the Apple iOS14 update

Social & Digital Technology & Data

Marketers scramble to overcome the Apple iOS14 update


Has reliance on powerful social media algorithms and targeting left digital marketers vulnerable to changes, like the Apple iOS14 update? Dr Brent Coker says it is time to realign the compass towards a truer north – taping into the fundamentals of persuasion to create quality content.

Imagine there was a way to find people who were identical to the people who had bought from you before. Since they would be the same, they would be likely to buy.

That’s basically how Facebook advertising works. Facebook’s sophisticated algorithm monitors what people say about themselves, and how they behave, to find groups of people who share common psychographic profiles. Marketers upload their content and Facebook goes to work showing the ads to people most likely to buy, based on who bought in the past.

This system was working great for marketers until Apple introduced a new privacy feature on their devices that blocks companies like Facebook from tracking people. If Facebook can’t track what people are looking at and what they’re buying, it becomes difficult for Facebook to profile them. If profiling is less accurate, then matching the relevancy of ads to people most likely to buy suffers.

The story so far

The privacy feature started rolling out at the end of 2020. The negative effects on Facebook ads started to bite around mid-April 2021. Sentiments like this became common…

‘Since the iOS 14 update, I’ve had a serious decline in my CTR and conversion rate.’ 

‘It seems the iOS14 is hurting my Facebook ads performance A LOT lately.’

‘Need HELP!’

Even Facebook knew it was in trouble and threatened to start charging people to use the platform if they accepted Apple’s request to block tracking. Somewhat ridiculous, nevertheless.

By May 2021, the Facebook groups where digital marketers congregate to share tips and jokes started to fill with pleas for help and stories of decline. But with the collective wisdom and camaraderie of the groups emerged some interesting insights into how marketing has evolved. It has become painfully obvious that we have become over-reliant on social media’s super targeted advertising algorithms. 

The traditional problem for marketers has always been how to reach the right people with the right message. Facebook solved the problem by targeting ads at people most likely to buy. We became lazy, trusting that Facebook would always find a buyer, no matter how subpar our ad was. In theory, there will always be someone out there who responds favourably to any marketing message. But if you make it harder to find that person, then all you have left is a lackluster message.

Marketers solutions

One common piece of advice in the discussion groups to counter the iOS14 update was to focus on video view tracking on Facebook, since the iOS14 update only impacts tracking people who went to your website to buy, not people who stay on Facebook. One of the options when setting up an ad on Facebook allows you to target people who have viewed your video for a specified period. If people watched your video in its entirety, then it suggests they’re interested in what you sell and therefore more likely to buy. Target your ad to them!

Another often recommended solution is to target Facebook users who have visited your Facebook page. Obviously, if they’re on your page then they have some interest in your brand.

But these bandages are not a good fit. 

People won’t watch your video if it’s not great, nor will they visit your page if you don’t have anything decent to see. It’s an issue of content quality, not targeting people already likely to buy.

Creating ‘quality’ content

So what is ‘quality’ content? Marketers might argue that high quality content persuades. If we create persuasive content, then we don’t need to rely on extremely fine targeting. High quality content shifts peoples’ attitudes and persuades them to buy.

In academia there are several theories of persuasion that underpin modern marketing, yet they all share the common idea that to persuade, you need to change peoples’ attitudes. If someone has a positive attitude towards your ad or product, then they’re more likely to buy.

It sounds deceptively simple, but the reality is that most ads don’t affect people’s attitudes. Or if they do, they annoy, which is not the attitude we want. 

And therein lies the problem. If you blunt the ability to target likely buyers, then you must rely more on your content. We have control over the quality of our content – neither Apple nor Facebook can take that away from us – but apparently, we don’t have control over targeting people to see our content. They can take that away from us whenever they please.

Focus on content

Research in this area has found several ways to change people’s attitudes when creating content. One popular way is to use emotions, since making people feel something can change their attitude. The secret is to use multiple emotions to maximise the effect, like mixing surprise with intrigue, or even opposite feelings like sadness and happiness. Mild emotions don’t cut it. You really need to turn it up for it to work. The stronger the emotion, the more viral the content becomes.

Focussing on affinity in your content is another way to affect people’s attitudes and increase quality. Affinity is a feeling of warmth people get from an idea. Evoking memories from people’s youth can be effective, as is making people think about cherished people in their lives.

Finding true north

Amongst the scramble for workarounds to skirt the iOS14 privacy update have emerged some interesting insights into the state of online advertising that ironically may have realigned the compass towards a truer north. For too long, digital marketers have gotten used to clicking the buttons inside Facebook’s ‘Ad manager’ until something worked. In theory, there is a buyer out there for almost anything and marketers trusted Facebook to find that buyer. But that’s a dangerous way to market – as 2020 taught us, the unthinkable does happen, and the best way to keep a steady keel is to keep control. 

No doubt Facebook will figure out how to steer the ship back in its favour again, but we shouldn’t be complacent, or reliant. We can control the quality of our content, but we can’t control the tools we use to get it shown. It’s time we focused more on quality content over targeting – how to affect people and not annoy – and the fundamentals of persuasion, before optimisation.


Dr Brent Coker is chairman of Wear Cape Influencer Marketing agency and the author of ‘Going Viral’. 

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.


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