There’s a common saying that goes, “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” While the quote predates the rise of social media, the phrase has become a rallying cry of the platforms’ naysayers and a growing movement towards greater digital advertising privacy.
Thanks to technology like pixels and cookies, advertisers have been tracking our actions across the internet for ages. They can see what sites you’ve visited, what you looked at, what you bought and even show you ads on the other websites and apps you visit.
Having access to this kind of data has been a massive boon for online marketers. Thanks to all the information they collect from their users, platforms like Facebook and Google give advertisers the power to serve hyper-specific ads to super-niche audiences – and more focused audiences equal more efficient ad spend. One marketing pro was even able to target his roommate using Facebook’s Custom Audiences back in 2014.
Today, Google and Facebook completely dominate the digital ad market. Together, they make up more than half (54.1%) of the U.S. market and 80% of all digital ad spend in Canada. And despite an initial dip at the beginning of last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new Interactive Advertising Bureau report found that digital advertising spending still grew 12.2% year over year in 2020.
Of course, all this hyper-personalization comes at a pretty steep cost: user privacy. In the past, we might’ve been okay with checking that “I agree to the terms and conditions” box without batting an eye. But today’s internet users are becoming much savvier about how tech companies and website owners have been collecting and using their data – and they’re not happy about it.
From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to The Social Dilemma, concerns over data privacy have been making headlines for years, and the demand for increased transparency is reaching a fever pitch. In 2018, the EU passed the landmark General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect in 2020. These two major legislative moves pushed companies to be more transparent about what information they’re gathering and gave individuals more control over their data.
Many digital platforms are now following suit. Google plans to join Safari and Firefox in blocking third-party cookies in its Chrome web browser within two years. The Apple iOS 14 update has given iPhone users the ability to opt-out of cross-app tracking. Millions of people are switching to encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Telegram in the wake of privacy concerns around Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
We’ll likely see more shifts towards greater data privacy over the coming months and years, leaving many digital marketers scratching their heads over the same questions:
The answer: have the best ad creative.
Hyper-targeted and retargeted ads are a numbers game. We know that it takes multiple interactions for customers to convert, so these ads take that idea to the extreme. It’s the digital equivalent of a pushy salesperson who doesn’t just follow you around the store but also tags along as you check out other places.
Effective? Sure. A little creepy and invasive? Absolutely. So in a digital world of basic product images that follow you around the internet, good creative really cuts through. You shouldn’t have to overwhelm your customers with ads to get them to buy from you – good creative will help you cut through the first time.
“In this post-iOS 14.5 world, your creative will start to become so much more important. If there's anything you need to invest in (not just with money, but with thought), it's your photos and images,” said Facebook Ads strategist Sarah-Jane Gwira in a recent Instagram post.
You know those TV commercials you watched as a kid? The ones that you can still see in your head and recite word for word? I’m going to take a wild guess and say that they weren’t memorable because it was shown on one specific TV, to a particular user, at the right time.
They stood out because they were clever or funny or touched a nerve. Because they were creative and different. Because something about them made you look up from whatever you were doing and pay attention. Great campaigns become almost synonymous with the companies that produced them. Audience targeting certainly plays a factor, but it’s the creative that really seals the deal.
If your advertising performance is based almost solely on digital ad targeting features, you’re working on borrowed time. Sure, there are actions you can take in the short term to prepare your ad accounts. Still, the truth is that you will likely continue to lose more targeting functionality as these social platforms are either forced to become more transparent about their data collection or make the changes on their own.
“As a marketer, you always have to adapt to your environment. The Ads Manager changes almost every month, sometimes multiple times a month, and we adapt. We learn,” says Ads and Automation Specialist Aashima Verma.
She adds: “Increasing online privacy is just going to be a new norm. It’s nothing to be scared of. We can play well within these new guidelines too. In the beginning, it might be a little rough with all of the set-up, but once we’re used to the new environment, it’s just going to be a norm.”
The best advertisements, regardless of their medium (video, photo, illustration, animation, you name it), tell some sort of story. They connect with the viewer in a way that is simply not possible without great creative.
Now, great creative doesn’t have to be immaculately polished and perfect. In fact, too-polished creative can actually work against (unless you’re a household name brand like Nike or Doritos where a certain professional look is expected). It does, however, have to be tailored specifically for your audience, and entertain, engage, or inspire them in some way. Give them a reason to give you their time and attention, and do it quickly.
Storytelling also makes things more memorable. Just make sure that your brand comes through with clarity, as we’ve all seen those ads where we could easily recall the scene or even the script, but the company behind it was lost.
We marketers pride ourselves on our ability to adapt and experiment. We live by the mantra of ‘always be testing’ – constantly trying out new ideas and checking to see how they perform – and this mindset will only become more valuable in the coming years.
These digital and online privacy changes may seem intimidating right now, but it’s just one of the many shifts that marketers have to contend with on a near-monthly basis. So, don’t panic. I’m sure as a user, you’re thankful that these updates are rolling out.
You already have all of the tools you need to ride out this wave and the many that will come right after. But if you need some extra support with your ad creative, you know who to call. We work with top brands like Facebook, PUMA, Shopify and Amazon to bring their designs to life. We’re currently working through these changes with our very own digital marketing strategy, and we’re excited to lend a creative hand to companies who are ready and excited to harness the power of great creative advertising.
Hint: great creative is will be the name of the game. The Apple iOS 14 update doesn't need to be all doom and gloom for advertisers—we've got tips for success!