It’s deja vu for marketers as Apple’s ATT causes consent headache


There’s a whiff of deja vu in waking up to a headache caused by consent notifications.

Marketers are again in limbo as gaining people’s consent to be tracked via pop-up rears its head around Apple’s latest privacy push — just as it did for the General Data Protection Regulation three years ago. Back then, there was a lot more wriggle room for marketers to make their case. Apple, on the other hand, has made things a lot harder. 

“There are parallels between preparation for the GDPR prompts and what’s happening now with App Tracking Transparency (ATT),” said Mark Kellogg, head of technical partnerships at mobile analytics company Kochava. “A key difference is if someone doesn’t consent to an app sharing their data the ATT framework’s prevention mechanisms are technical ones and it cannot happen whereas with the GDPR, though irresponsible, is possible even if the permission to do so wasn’t granted.”

When someone sees the ATT notification on their device they will essentially see a message with subtle variations depending on the app. First, there’s the obligatory prompt every app owner has to show: “Allow ‘app x’ to track your activity across other companies and websites.” Second, there’s a prompt just below this message where app owners are allowed a bit more leeway in what they say.

In just a few lines, app owners must be clear about why someone should share their data but have to avoid sounding too desperate for it.

Then there’s the matter of where to place the notification. Place the prompt too early in the app and it could annoy people who haven’t yet sampled its content  let alone decided they want it to share their data with other apps and sites.

Needless to say, there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to ATT prompts. 

“Marketers should value pre-permission messaging just as highly as ad creative itself,” said Bruce Tissington, paid social lead at media agency Space & Time. “It could prove possibly one of the strongest calls-to-action that advertisers can manufacture at the moment, because of the knock-on effects of having very low opt-in rates for advertisers, from reduced audience sizes to less informed optimization strategies.”

Some app owners like that of retailer Asos have put a more sanguine spin on their ATT prompts. The latter half of the company’s notification reads: “We’ll use your data to give you a more personalized ASOS experience and to make our app even more amazing.”

Where possible, some app developers are testing out different prompt messages across their portfolio of apps in an attempt to expedite the search for messages that work best. 

Take game publisher Tilting Point. It has different prompt strategies for different games and naturally has seen opt-in rates vary. 

“The speed at which our non-IDFA users increases inside our games varies depending on the policy taken for the ATT notification,” said Jean-Sebastien Laverge, SVP of Growth at mobile game publisher Tilting Point. “For some games, we’ve been running these prompts for months, others started around two months ago and then there are the ones that are only seen by those iOS 14.5 users.”

For all this testing, sometimes simple is better.

“The more straightforward the messaging the more we’re seeing people say ‘I understand the value exchange here that if I didn’t buy the product then I am the product and I want that relationship to remain viable’,” said Kellogg.

And on the occasions where the ATT prompt isn’t enough, there’s always the pre-prompt. Companies can use a pre-prompt message to try and convince users to share their data from the app as long as they don’t threaten to withhold services and content if they don’t.

Before someone sees the main ATT prompt in either the Facebook or Instagram apps, for example, they’re presented with a pre-prompt that explains the list of benefits they get if they allow the apps to share their data, one of those being keeping them free. The implication being that if they don’t agree then they may have to pay to use Facebook or Instagram someday.

“The multiple approaches we’re seeing to the ATT prompts were to be expected as Apple did not work with app developers in the almost one year leading up to roll out,” said Offer Yehudai, president at app monetization firm Fyber. “While some publishers are taking a more risk-averse approach, others push the boundaries to save as much revenue as possible — and because this is still very open to interpretation, these boundaries are unclear.”

In fact, Apple just recently updated guidelines around dos and don’ts regarding ATT prompts, which will likely continue to update as we move forward.

“There will be a lot of trial and error around how these notifications drive opt-ins because, despite knowing about ATT for months, many companies have been slow to prepare for it,” said Rob Webster, chief strategy officer at media consultancy Canton.

From opt-in rates so far many marketers have a lot to learn.

A little more than a third (36%) of people are opting in to share their data at the ATT pop-up prompt while the other 64% of users who see the notification either opt-out or are using other apps that have not been updated to support Apple’s privacy plan, according to Blis’ analysis on day seven of its arrival. 

As ever, these early numbers are only part of the story. 

Yes, there seem to be many apps that aren’t even triggering an ATT notification so those rates are likely to rise notably. But the real issue will be whether there’s enough overlap between the app the ad appears in and the one it links to for granular targeting and measurement to work.

Effective attribution and user-level targeting only work if the person who sees it has agreed to be tracked not just from the app where they saw the ad, but also the one it promotes. Otherwise, there’s no way to link what happens in one app to another. That’s an issue when every time someone sees that ATT prompt there could be a dropoff in terms of whether they say “yes” or “no” to sharing their data. 

“Effectively tracking at scale won’t be possible,” said Yehudai. “The solution is not trying to find creative workarounds and optimizing opt-in rates — but to adopt the new framework and adopt alternative privacy-friendly advertising capabilities.”

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