How Marketers Can Be More Successful Than Ever After Apple Fixes Its Cookie Glitch

on The Future of Advertising, Programmatic Native

The following piece by Sharethrough's VP of Product Curt Larson was originally published in AdExchanger on July 5, 2017

At Apple’s developer conference in early June, the company unveiled its new “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” initiative. The move will launch on Safari in the fall on desktop and iOS and severely limit how third parties can capture audience data for ad targeting.

Through this new plan, Apple will put the final nail in the coffin it started closing years ago when it disallowed the setting of third-party cookies in Safari, making traditional audience-based targeting nearly impossible. Specifically, it will completely disallow any cookie it deems a tracking cookie and invalidate any other first-party cookie access by a third party after 24 hours.

As dramatic as these latest changes may seem, marketers will not lose their ability to reach high-value Apple audiences or be forced to move away from mobile web advertising. Marketers will, however, need to change how they go about targeting these audiences.

Marketers Can’t Give Up On Targeting Apple Users On The Mobile Web

Although targeting Apple users on the mobile web just got harder, giving up on reaching them on the mobile web isn’t tenable since they are some of the most desirable users. These are high-income, engaged browsers: 45% of smartphones in the US run off iOS, which accounts for more than half of all mobile web traffic. IOS users have a median income that’s 40% higher than Android users, and they also spend nine more hours a month on their phone than their Android counterparts.

While Apple’s new cookie policy won’t impact audience targeting on sites that people mostly use when they’re logged in, such as Facebook and, increasingly, Google, marketers will be restricted in how they deploy most of the tools in their mobile toolbox, such as audience targeting and attribution tracking.

Adapting To Apple’s New Targeting Changes

In light of these changes, marketers will need to find methods of targeting users that are based on contextual signals. This might end up being for the better. Regardless of how marketers target a user, if they’re reaching them out of context to begin, they’ve failed. Targeting by where and what someone is reading can be a better fit than targeting simply by where that user has been online and what they have looked at.

A Peer 39 study found that contextual targeting resulted in higher click-through rates than cookie-based targeting, while other data has pointed to contextual targeting as being more cost-effective. It allows marketers to leverage the power of individual publisher brands to reach users with relevant content. Targeting by context helps marketers regain the third-party endorsement of the site its audience is on.

This means brands are reaching users with content when they’re more likely to be in a better mindset to receive it. Marketers can better reach business travelers with relevant content about airline deals by targeting readers of certain publications that match this demographic, then they can by serving an interruptive message to those same users while they’re doing something completely unrelated.

Existing Targeting Strategies On IOS Weren’t Entirely Working

This new change in Apple’s tracking policy makes user targeting audiences on iOS impossible, but it was only ever sort of possible to begin with. Safari has only ever allowed first-party cookies: A publisher can recognize a user, but a third-party network or data provider can’t. An iPhone has an individual identifier that can be targeted, but this is only effective in the app environment, where advertising needs to both be enabled and relevant. (Many apps don’t have much need for advertising.)

Apple’s “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” creates an unavoidable incentive for marketers to leave behind a messy system and invest in more sustainable marketing techniques. Reaching audiences on the mobile web means finding them in learning mode, reading mode and discovery mode, as opposed to game mode or utility mode.

Contextual targeting will allow marketers to be successful in reaching these users well after Apple’s changes go into effect. Marketers must now evolve and take advantage of less obvious, but possibly more successful, tactics to reach these valuable users. The silver lining will be reaching far more of these desirable users than was possible with the partly broken user-targeting options we’ve had with Apple for the past few years.

Curt Larson

VP Product at Sharethrough. Leading product innovation for a next-generation native advertising platform.

San Francisco, CA