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“How can digital advertisers survive iOS 14?”

Digital advertising channels are aflutter with worry, penning articles with sky-is-falling stories about pending changes to user privacy controls in Apple’s iOS environment. So, is this change actually a big deal? How will both consumers and marketers alike be affected? That’s what we are here to do. We’ll get to the bottom of the issue with a few of our digital campaign experts at ThomasArts (TA). Let’s dive in.

Privacy changes in iOS 14.5

The upcoming iOS 14.5 rollout contains new app-based privacy prompts from Apple. There are tons of technical details, but to put it simply: Users will be proactively prompted to allow or deny consent before apps can track their behavior. This is a significant change toward more consent-based control for users, and it’s likely to spotlight just how many apps might be tracking our data. (Note that iOS users can already turn off app-specific tracking data, but only by drilling down through settings manually. The new change puts the choice front and center.)

From Apple’s statement: “Privacy is a fundamental human right. At Apple, it’s also one of our core values. Your devices are important to so many parts of your life. What you share from those experiences, and who you share it with, should be up to you.

Privacy in the digital age is not a bad thing whatsoever. Kuulei Hanamaikai (associate media director, search engine marketing) agrees, saying, “TA has shared Apple’s point of view where privacy is concerned.” She further notes how we’ve been doing campaigns in a way that connects with the right people all along: “We understand the importance of connecting with the person behind the ad impression and click. Our long-standing approach to targeting respects searcher privacy.”

Slone Vail-Jensen (digital marketing manager) agrees, saying, “We think advertising should be useful and relevant. We also think that privacy should be at the forefront of any marketing strategy.”

How does this change affect agencies like TA and our clients?

Privacy is important, but this is indeed a change that will shake up the way in which agencies and advertisers market to their audience. Our associate director of digital media, Cash Meyerhoffer, says, “Agencies could take an initial hit from these changes, as we are the go-between for brands and users. Much of our digital work is predicated on cookie data, so we need to pivot — after we analyze performance data.”

It’s important to note that increased privacy means a different experience for users, which they might not find ideal after the initial days and weeks. Cash notes, “In the short term, users will feel empowered by the change, but this might not last. We must remember that just because the data isn’t shared doesn’t mean ads go away.” For example, if you allow an app to track your behavior, an advertiser can have enough information (called first-party data) to successfully recommend a product to help with what you need, even if that item wasn’t what you were searching for. When a user is nearly anonymous to the app or the click-through website, the advertisements they will see could be wildly inaccurate and even annoying.

We’ve all had the eerie (or wonderful) experience of an online advertisement showing us exactly the thing we wanted, even though we did not do anything we thought would guide the advertising. With privacy controls turned on, instead of the perfect dog collar being shown to a new puppy owner, they might instead see a random advertisement for cat food and feel annoyed. Personalized advertising could be something that users start to miss after it’s gone. Cash says, “At some point, there will be a happy medium where people will choose to share their information with brands they like and trust, and in those cases, the experience will be better.”

How can advertisers respond and take action?

According to Cash, “We’ve been heavily reliant on cookies for tracking user interests and types of content they’re ingesting. Agencies like TA could be in a tough spot if users opt out of sharing their data.” Luckily, there are some best practices around data gathering that will help anyone in digital marketing still reach the right audience, on the audience’s terms. Slone says, “As digital marketers, we all know that good data leads to good marketing, so we will need to leverage strong data that can be based on things other than cookies and shared site data.”

At TA we’re already making strategic decisions, using our in-house team of experts to guide our research. TA has been invested in the potential of Universal ID 2.0 for over two years, because we already have clients who deal with very sensitive customer-centric data; we have made it our goal to find ways to reach customers effectively within those boundaries.

And we’re looking to change how we target future customers, according to Slone, “using things like StackAdapt’s Context AI, an algorithm that can guess what users are interested in based on what they are reading. It allows individual user privacy but still can send targeted ads to the right audience.”

TA will keep working with first-party data (the data we can collect about user behavior when they have agreed to share that information). But to ensure an even more personalized and consent-based conversation, there’s also the option of using zero-party data. This is when the user is providing info, on purpose and in real-time, that they know will be used to enhance the client-consumer relationship. Zero-party data includes filling out a form letting a clothing retailer know your size and style preference or creating a user account on a website for direct control over your information. How do you get users to provide this kind of information? By being trustworthy and clear about how you will use it. It’s having integrity that matters.

Looking forward with art + science

So, what is TA doing to ensure that consumer privacy is maintained, while still delivering the connections that clients seek? We will need to make some changes, of course, but Kuulei reminds us, “Because of TA’s focus on quality targeting for our clients and their prospective customers, the change with the Apple iOS update won’t impact TA as much as it may impact other agencies in the digital space.”

TA will continue to watch the developments on the technical side, as well as monitor actual adoptions from the user side (after all, if most users opt in to the data sharing, not much will change for advertisers at all).

We need to hit strong marketing goals and the way that we can do that is to continue to look for ways to show ads that are useful and relevant. Technology and the way we interact with it are always changing, and so should your marketing strategy.


Here at TA we love to work in the digital marketing world, creating magic for our clients by merging art + science. We need to appeal to two groups of people: our clients and the people that consume ads.

We’ve been around for a long time, adapting to industry changes every step of the way. What doesn’t change is our focus on what is really important: fostering meaningful connections that spark curiosity and create value.

What we know: marketing has existed long before algorithms and cookies. Advertisers that have done well know that the most important thing is focusing on people.

You don’t “win” at marketing without a people-focused service mindset. At TA, this is what we do. Join us, and we’ll up-level your marketing strategy, too.


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April 23, 2021by Cash Meyerhoffer, Kuulei Hanamaikai, Slone Jensen-Vail, and Andrea Feucht


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