Apple shook the advertising world when they announced their plans to implement cookie-blocking capabilities in their newest updates to the Safari browser. Cookies are browser-level data packets that are used by websites to compile long term records of individual’s browsing histories. If allowed permission by a user, cookies can also store personal information like name, address, and credit card number. They allow brands to target relevant messages based on the understanding of knowing where someone has been online and what they’ve looked at. The concept of cookie-blocking would have some massive implications for the advertising industry if it were widely adopted.
What this means for advertisers:
From an advertiser’s perspective, this has some severe implications for what they will be able to perform from a media targeting and data collection standpoint. Particularly for direct response or advertisers with long sales cycles, the inability to follow individuals across the web is majorly disruptive to their marketing practices. Without being able to target users contextually or behaviorally across the web, most advertisers become powerless in generating any meaningful frequency amongst a unique audience. Furthermore, with the loss of this browsing data, advertising will lose their ability to optimize targeting and creative with the effectiveness that they have today. This could signal a greater shift in advertising budgets to platforms like Facebook that are rich with user data controlled by the platform and are available for ad targeting.
What this means for creative:
At a creative level, how to approach messaging and various ad formats could shift dramatically from today’s obsession with personalization to crafting for broad target audiences again. The practice of optimizing creative targeted to audiences that get smaller and smaller as they make their way down-funnel (subsequently creating more and more variations of the same creative) becomes less sophisticated. Unable to follow users like before, dynamic creative and programmatic practices that feature real-time and hyper-specific messaging, become obsolete.
What this means for consumers:
The consumer, however, stands to gain in the potential of how the browsing experience might be optimized. Despite concerns from major advertising authorities, including the IAB and 4A’s, stating that it will inhibit companies’ abilities to innovate in their digital content and service offerings, consumer actions are saying otherwise. Nearly 50% of Internet users in the US are using an ad-blocker on their desktop, mobile, or both. Their main motivation for doing so is privacy protection, a key benefit that can be realized by the limiting of what cookies can do within a browser.
What this means for Apple:
Despite the effects of what cookie-blocking tech could bring, the reality in 2017 is that the advertising industry will not be immediately upended by this. Google still controls the ad industry having contributed 55% of overall growth in ad dollars in 2016. Chrome also claims the lion’s share of overall browser usage in the US at 50% compared to Safari’s 9%.
So, what does Apple have to gain with this move? This is a much longer game for them. While Google races to solve personalization at scale, Apple remains focused on what they’ve always been known best for — user experience. A browser with limited cookie capabilities represents a “safer” place to nearly half of all Internet users. The creative possibilities to follow could mean a return to more artful, thought-driven advertising (an aesthetic that conveniently fits Apple’s), versus the message-heavy banner environment prevalent today. As of Q2 2017, the split in mobile operating system usage in the US leans 49% Android vs. 41% iOS. With Safari as the default browser on iOS and the growing shift in time on the web being spent on mobile, the represents a massive point of differentiation that Apple can provide as an alternative browsing experience to their users. After all, they are a product company first.
The reality is in the short term this update would affect a smaller percentage of overall Internet users, but advertisers should always be thinking about how to optimize every interaction with consumers. Their behaviors couples with Apple’s action with Safari tells us to stop being so…creepy.