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Expert Q & A

Is Apple's iOS14.5 the End of Paid Social As We Know It?

November 7, 2021
Mae Rice

We asked Nick Shackelford, managing partner at Structured Social, if iOS14.5 has hurt paid social performance data as badly as experts predicted. It's even worse than expected, he said — but the only way out is through.

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As of April 26, iOS14.5 is live.

Not to be confused with iOS14.4, this is The Big Update: It means apps can’t track mobile behavior by default anymore — users have to opt in.

Advertisers have been dreading this.

People are freaking the f*&% out,” Nick Shackelford, a managing partner at Structured Social, told MarketerHire back in February.

But is it really the end of targeted ads? The web as we know it? This week, we asked Shackelford for his first impressions of our new, post-update world.

Don't freak out...

Shackelford has changed his tune. “I'm not freaking out,” he said. “We're all in this.”

Every advertiser’s in trouble — together!

... but the latest opt-in rates are bleak.

Pre-iOS14.5, the vast majority of people allowed behavioral tracking on their iPhones by default.

Now, about 4% of Americans and 12% of global iPhone users opt into tracking daily, according to Flurry.

That’s not great for marketers who’ve been relying on tracking data. It’s also drastically lower than AppsFlyer’s preliminary forecast: a 39% opt-in rate.

Real-time performance data is over.

“Paid social was always the thing that you could do to get instant gratification and instant data return,” Shackelford said.

No longer.

Social media advertisers have lost nearly all context on who’s engaging with their ads at what rate — so it’s hard to refine targeting and iteratively improve campaigns.

The behavioral data advertisers do still get trickles in slooooooowly. It’s coming from fewer than 1 in 10 iOS14.5 users, after all.

But quitting paid social in a huff is silly.

“Because Facebook is such a big player in the advertising world, we can't pull off,” Shackelford said — it would just slow growth even further.

He compared the situation to a loveless marriage, where he’s sticking around for the kids. Except his wife is Facebook, and the kids are reliable ROAS.

Smarter: Building models based on what you know.

That’s what Facebook’s trying to do. The company may use statistical modeling, as well as aggregated event measurement, to make educated guesses about iOS14 users who opt out of tracking.

Brands, too, should use data from past paid social campaigns to help fill in the blanks in newer ones.

Smartest: Act like a “real business.”

“A lot of businesses should not have been built in the last two to three years,” Shackelford said, “but because Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram were so easy to use, relatively, they were built.”

(He’s talking about the faceless companies that drop-ship you Instagram-chic PJs made of asbestos.)

Now, those companies will die off. But companies that used diverse marketing tactics — that built brands, partnered with influencers, invested in content and created communities — will thrive.

And their products are much less likely to give you a weird rash.

Mae Rice
about the author

Mae Rice is editor in chief at MarketerHire. A long-time content marketer, she loves learning about the weird and wonderful feedback loops that connect marketing and culture.

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