Why Apple’s New Tracker Blocker Won’t Threaten Advertisers

07/05/2017 01:39 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2017

By Patrick Mckenna, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, Strike Social

Apple recently announced a new Safari web browser that will curb the number of times a brand can follow people around the internet with retargeting ads. This is an admirable effort to protect consumer privacy online — and really isn’t as bad as many advertisers might think.

Currently, any site you visit has dozens of tracking cookies, which enable brands to tailor ads to you from site to site. Apple’s new Safari feature will use machine-learning technology to power tracker blocking that will allow ads to follow consumers for only 24 hours and then automatically delete cookies after 30 days.

So, let’s say you just browsed Black & Decker’s website for a hammer. You might receive retargeting ads on other sites for Black & Decker tools for the next 24 hours, but the same ad would not reappear after 30 days (unless you interacted with the site again after that initial 24-hour window). Previously, these ads could last forever, even after you made a purchase, which is irksome to the consumer and, frankly, just lazy of the advertiser.

Hence why Apple’s new feature is smart. It should be obvious that people don’t want to see the same ad repeatedly for more than just a few days after searching for a product. After a while, it feels overdone and can even turn some people off entirely. In fact, according to one study, while 53 percent of people say they find retargeting ads useful initially, 30 percent said if they see the same ad more than 10 times, they will actually grow angry.

Think about it: You might find ads for the Black & Decker hammer you just researched helpful for a few days, because you have a pressing need for that particular tool. Retargeting could give you a reminder or even offer you a discount to push you to purchase. But after you buy that hammer, its ads become irrelevant. Even worse, continuing to see these ads could actually do damage to the brand long term. In fact, seeing ads for a recently purchased item makes customers four times less likely to buy from that brand in the future.

People would rather see strategic, personalized ads for products and services they’re currently interested in — and at a frequency that doesn’t feel annoying. Fewer than four times seems to be the sweet spot.

Advertisers who rely on cookies, on the other hand, fear that limiting this access will hurt their ability to drive conversions through retargeting. But this shouldn’t be a concern for a number of reasons:

  • Advertisers should already be thinking about frequency caps. It’s up to advertisers to limit frequency and create custom targeting lists so that they can choose not to serve ads to people who have been overexposed to a certain message or who have already purchased a product. Advertisers should set frequency caps at the user level and across devices, following a person from mobile to desktop to tablet, to provide a seamless stream of communications.
  • Cookies within Apple’s new browser exist for 30 days. This 30-day window is more than enough time to drive conversions via retargeting if you’re following best practices, such as setting frequency caps, avoiding one-size-fits-all messaging and segmenting your audiences. And advertisers shouldn’t be retargeting after 30 days anyway. If a consumer doesn’t convert from your retargeting ads within a month, he or she probably never will, and you should rethink your strategy and messaging.
  • Advertisers should consider alternative options. Smart advertisers don’t rely on cookies alone. They use cookie data as a starting point and then refine the audience targeting through machine-learning technology and their own manually built affinities. Google already relies less on cookie data than other browsers do, which adds another layer of protection for advertisers.
  • This feature applies to Safari desktop only. Apple’s new tracker blocker only affects browsing sessions on Safari desktop, which is just one of many browser options. Others include Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. In fact, Safari is responsible for fewer than 30 percent of all online browsing sessions. So advertisements on other browsers won’t be affected by Apple’s latest change.

While advertisers need not worry, the new Safari feature might have an impact on smaller publishers that are not associated with big names like Facebook and Google. These publishers rely on that ad revenue to support their content, but if they can’t charge and get paid for cookies across other sites, they might miss out on some revenue opportunities. That’s a valid concern.

For most of us in the advertising industry, however, it will be business as usual. And by actually listening to consumers and understanding where certain technological restraints are coming from, we will be just as well served as the ads we deliver every day.

About the Author

Patrick McKenna is Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Strike Social, a global company that harnesses the power of AI to help agencies and brands succeed in paid social. With offices in Chicago, Kraków and Manila, Patrick's company manages 15,000+ campaigns each day for the world’s leading agencies and brands, including Beats, Xbox, Honda, Mattel and KFC. A lifelong entrepreneur as well as a consultant and manager with Microsoft for 12 years, Patrick holds a BA from Washington State University.

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