First, they came for the banner ads, and advertisers adapted, because that’s the beauty of internet technology. It’s ever-evolving, and stakeholders (including advertisers) evolve right along with it.
However, one of the biggest evolutionary threats to commerce on the web has been the development of the ad-blocking plugin or extension. These bits of code can completely stymie even the most thoughtful brand campaigns, throwing up an impenetrable barrier between you and the people who want to buy the things you sell.
Many publishers, of course, have resorted to forcing users to either accept ad displays by turning off the adblocker or else pay a premium to access their content. The latter option may keep the lights on at the publisher’s offices, but does little to solve the advertiser’s problem.
And now, there’s another potential obstacle to consider, as a browser steps into the privacy fray by targeting the cookies that make retargeting and campaign conversion tracking possible.
What’s an advertiser to do?
Publisher Responses to Ad Blocking Software
Statistics about adblockers and their cost to business indicate that ads haven’t exactly gained in popularity. Adblockers are more popular than ever, and global users show no sign of slowing down their use rate.
Major media companies are still hammering out their strategies to respond to the challenges presented by ad blocking software. Google engineers proposed code changes that would block any extensions that masked or blocked any kind of content on the web page, including ads. Two years ago, Google also released its own built-in Chrome browser ad blocker that shielded users from certain types of ads users find particularly intrusive, including full-page interstitials and ads with auto-playing music; that blocker will be released to all Chrome users worldwide in July 2019.
And while Facebook and adblocker developers continue to butt heads, so to speak, recent Facebook updates have upped the ante. In addition to giving users greater flexibility over the way ads display in their timelines and sidebars, Facebook’s late 2018 update protected Sponsored Posts from adblockers.
But adblocking as we currently understand it is only part of the picture. Additional technologies are also in play that can negatively impact the display and user experience of your digital advertising campaigns.
What is Safari’s ITP2 and How Does It Affect Ad Display?
Intelligent Tracking Prevention is Apple’s Safari-based solution to protect user privacy. Originally released in 2017, ITP prevents cookie tracking. Initially, it prohibited third-party cookies from tracking Safari users (on both mobile and desktop devices). ITP’s first release allowed cookie tracking from third parties for a 24-hour period, after which the cookie expired and the browser it then blocked all access to those cookies. Because so much of the tracking that’s part of advertising and retargeting campaigns utilizes third-party cookies, that’s a real challenge for many players in the digital advertising industry.
The advantage of ITP is that it protects individual user privacy, and that’s no small consideration. In these days of ever-larger hacks and data breaches, putting user information and identity at risk of disclosure and unauthorized use is a fraught proposition. Many technology companies, advertisers and publishers struggle to find the right balance between getting their brand messages in front of the right users and protecting the privacy interests of those same users.
However, recent updates to ITP first expanded coverage to first-party cookies (in addition to the third-party cookies already deactivated) and subsequently have completely removed that 24-hour tracking period as well. This means the cookies that make your retargeting and conversion-tracking efforts possible aren’t working at all for users of Safari browsers.
Who Is Most Affected by ITP2 Changes?
While any advertiser with retargeting campaigns or conversion tracking programs (which is, obviously, virtually all advertisers) is negatively impacted by these developments, companies in niches with especially long purchasing cycles will face the biggest impact.
Think of large-scale, high-priced consumer goods, for which users typically do a lot of online research before deciding on a brand—large kitchen appliances, for example, or computers or cars. Being able to put your ad in front of a user engaged in that kind of research for products of the type you sell is a major goal of most sophisticated ad programs.
Another segment that will be hard hit by this development is the group of advertisers running mobile campaigns. And these days, that’s just about everyone. True, Safari itself doesn’t have a huge slice of the browser market overall. However, Safari currently enjoys over half of the mobile browser market.
Finally, any brand engaged in retargeting will be impacted. Remarketing is a relatively inexpensive and effective way to increase conversions. If a large portion of potential remarketing prospects is suddenly taken out of the tracking mix, then this might have a huge impact on the degree to which retargeting brands can analyze their results and ROI.
What Can You Do About This?
One of the first things you should do if you think ITP2 technology may be causing a significant drop in conversions from your latest campaign is to verify those suspicions. Your CRM or campaign dashboard should show you if there’s a similar pattern in your overall marketing program.
In any case, you’ll need to swap out image pixels with a Google Tag Manager container tag, if you haven’t already. This is a tool that lets you work with site tags externally, instead of directly editing the relevant code. Integrating pixels through the Google Tag Manager automatically transforms your iframe and image DCM pixels into global site tags that are fully compliant with ITP, allowing you to keep tracking conversions and retargeting appropriately for Safari users.
Another recommendation is to invest more in the expansion of in-app traffic by directing your ads to display there. In-app ads are not affected by the ITP2 protocol, so your brand can continue to connect with hot prospects who are ready to buy there.