Anyone who’s advertising on Facebook Ads has been seeing plenty of updates about the feud that’s going on between Apple and Facebook over the past few months. In this post, we will try to walk you through what they are quarreling about, why you should care, and what can you do to keep your campaigns performing well.

What’s been happening

This recent conflict stems a long while back, to the days Apple released their first iPhone. From the get-go, Apple’s native browser enforced more robust privacy measures on the device, to maintain its user’s privacy. These limitations included a stricter capping of cookie duration and other methods that historically made Apple users harder to target, despite being a highly desired audience.

As Apple’s devices grew in popularity, additional measures were added to Apple devices’ App and Web ecosystems. This continued to limit measurement and blocked shady tracking techniques (e.g. fingerprinting and cookie matching).

However, the recent changes that are expected to be introduced in iOS 14.5 and macOS 11 are nothing short of a revolution.

Apple’s new protocols (ATT – App Tracking Transparency, that focus on mobile apps & PCM – Private Click Measurement that focus on websites), though slightly different when applied to Web or Apps, state that there shouldn’t be a direct linkage between a user and the ad click event, blocking the ads platforms (like Facebook) to identify a specific user. 

They claim that an advertiser should only know that some user clicked an ad and that some user converted on their site. While this seems relatively trivial, the underlying concept here is that the advertiser will report only on the campaign level metrics, i.e. Campaign A had 100 clicks and five conversions. Any granular reporting beyond that, e.g. which ad set, or specific ad converted, or which user demographic converted, will not be shown.

While the ATT protocol requires that users actively opt-in to be tracked (with limitations described above), the PCM protocol will default on the Safari browser.

This change will impact all advertising platforms, not just Facebook, but they have been loudest about it. 

Their response was two-fold: First, they lashed out publicly at Apple, saying they will ruin SMB marketing that got hit during COVID.

Screenshot from on Facebook ads against Apple

Second, they introduced their protocol, Aggregated Event Measurement (AEM), similar to Apple’s, while still retaining some critical capabilities required to optimize ad serving, hoping that the industry would adopt it as its standard.

How will it impact you?

While both protocols are still in the works, and it remains unclear which of them will prevail, the general direction of both is quite similar:

  1. Limited event tracking
  2. Limited attribution windows
  3. Delayed campaign reporting (up to 72 hours)
  4. Campaign reporting will be modeled to the ad set/ad group level only
  5. User attribute breakdowns (demographics, interests, etc.) will be deprecated
  6. Remarketing audiences’ sizes will reduce 

Let’s break it down:

Limited event reporting

Apple’s protocol, and accordingly, Facebook’s, suggest that advertisers can report only 8 types of conversion events. These include any user interaction on the site, e.g. Purchase, Lead, Add to Cart, etc., unlike today where there is no such limit.

In Apple’s protocol, these events will also be unable to capture event parameters, such as the name and value of the item purchased. This, in practice, will remove the option for ROAS optimization in campaigns.

Limited attribution windows

The campaign data stored by Apple devices (using the browser and device’s storage, not cookies) will be limited to 7 days. This will restrict campaign attribution to a 7-day click window. View-through conversion attribution is still under consideration, but for the time being, Facebook has decided to use statistical modeling to bridge this gap, offering a limited 1-day view-through conversion window.

Delayed campaign reporting

To keep the ad platforms from manipulating the protocols, the reporting will be delayed randomly by 24-48 hours. Additionally, Facebook plans to add 24 hours for data processing due to the heavy statistical modeling happening in the background. This means that campaign reports might lag almost three days and measuring the impact of your ads’ changes will become painfully slow.

Campaign reporting will be modeled to the ad set/ad group level only

As described above, both Apple and Facebook’s protocols report only on campaign level conversions. Since campaigns have in practice multiple levels, i.e. Campaign – Ad group/Ad set – Ad, Facebook will use, again, statistical modeling to extrapolate the data to the ad set level. This will give some limited granularity to the campaign and be very far from the detailed reports we’re used to seeing.

User attribute breakdowns will be deprecated from reporting

With reporting detached from the user, no breakdowns will be available in campaign reporting. So, while you can still target a specific demographic (as that data is known to the ad platform for serving the ad), you will probably only have information on which ad clicked the most and won’t be able to pair that with an actual demographic group. For example, you can target female shoppers of ages 25-45 from California but won’t be able to break down your conversion reports to identify if you’ve received more conversions in Los Angeles than in Sacramento.

Say goodbye to campaigns breakdown.

Remarketing audiences’ size will reduce for Safari users

With the absence of data about user actions taken on your site and app, remarketing audiences are expected to shrink for Safari users. While it’s still unclear whether there will be a mechanism to track users that aren’t originating from campaigns (e.g. Organic traffic), we expect the audience to be smaller for Safari users. 

According to Apple, there will be no change to Chrome or In-App browsers (like Facebook’s browser)

What can you do about it?

To be honest, as a campaign manager, all the above sound quite terrible. In a separate post in this series, I’ll touch on the specific campaign-related tactics you can use to overcome some of these challenges.

In this post, I wanted to suggest some general concepts I believe you should adopt.

Follow Facebook’s best practices

While this might sound trivial, these will give you the most value in an immediate way.

Implement Facebook’s Conversion API (server to server tracking). There are plenty of good plugins out there for a code-free implementation of this, and even an in-house development of this feature isn’t too much of a hassle for a decent developer. 

I also recommend using their Offline Conversions API which allows you to report on delayed conversions, e.g. a Lead converting after an in-person meeting. The offline conversions are mainly based on PII (Personal Identifiable Information) from your CRM/eCommerce platform like email or phone numbers, and we do not expect them to be impacted by Apple’s changes. Note that you can use them for reporting but not as an optimization event.

Both are recommended best practices regardless of the new protocols, as they improve reporting accuracy.

Another important action is verifying your domain and business. This can be done in your Business Manager admin area under Business settings – Brand safety – Domain. Once your domain has been verified, you can select and prioritize the eight events Facebook will use for optimizing campaigns. These will also be selected automatically by Facebook for your business if you don’t select them yourself.

Diversify spend

With limitations coming to all platforms, now is as good a time as ever to experiment with new ad platforms. If Facebook enforces these strict measures, maybe Pinterest will make up for some of it, and maybe Taboola or Outbrain will be more lucrative channels now.

This too is a recommended practice regardless of the new protocols, but with these limitations, it becomes critical you spread your risk across several platforms. 

Measure elsewhere

With campaign reporting limited, we expect web analytics tools to be on the rise. These include the platforms’ built-in solutions, e.g. Shopify’s internal dashboard, along with other 3rd party solutions (relying on your 1st party data, of course).

The flip side is that most of these tools use simpler attribution models, primarily last touch attribution. 

To prepare best for this, try analyzing past performance by comparing conversions measured in Facebook Ads versus ones measured in Google Analytics. The reporting in Facebook Ads is likely to be higher, and with sufficient data, you will get an estimate of your “hidden multiplier”, i.e. how many conversions were impacted by Facebook as compared to direct conversions from Facebook. This number will help in giving credit to the ad platform that goes beyond just the direct conversions measured.

Future outlook

This change is yet to happen. While there has been a lot of fussing about it, it hasn’t yet been released, and Apple has reportedly said it would happen in “early spring”. I do believe that there will be some changes to all protocols before this goes live.

One change we can already expect is Facebook’s response to Apple’s Beta release of iOS 14.5 on February 1st. The release featured a surprisingly more relaxed version of the PCM protocol (the privacy protocol for websites), which now offers App to Web tracking and a larger cap of 16 conversion events. We expect Facebook to respond to these changes and relax the limitations on their AEM protocol.

As a result of these protocols, we also expect several major changes in the industry are going forward.

Rise of the Walled Gardens campaigns

What happens on Facebook, well, stays on Facebook. And Facebook has quite a sophisticated set of tools they can offer marketers to engage their users within Facebook and even complete the actual conversion.

Solutions such as Lead Forms and Canvas have been around for a while now. Facebook is now heavily pushing its eCommerce solutions like Facebook Shops, Instagram Shopping and WhatsApp Business solution that already started in India. Those solutions will enable a complete checkout flow from within the platform from the impressions level until the purchase. 

Similar solutions are being offered by Google, including the recent release of Shop with Google and the expected shopping experience within YouTube, so we can expect them to promote these heavily too.

Keeping the users within the walled gardens gives the ad platforms full visibility to the campaign and conversion data, which can then be used to optimize and report.

Moving away from ROAS

As campaign reporting becomes limited, brands will need to shift their measurement from down funnel metrics such as ROAS. Suppose sophisticated brands were previously moving the discussion to lift measurement (a movement that will continue despite these changes). In that case, they will now also have to consider more “classic” marketing metrics such as Share of Voice and Share of Wallet. This can be a positive outcome, widening the focus from strictly tactical metrics to more strategic ones.