The digital advertising industry has been on a path to privacy over the past five years, beginning with GDPR and then spurred on by tech giants Apple and Google setting out further measures that prioritise user control over data.

And it’s not just Apple’s ATT measures or Google’s third-party cookie crackdown that continue to impact the industry. Many adtech and data companies are focusing on cookieless or ID-free targeting, or emphasising the power of first-party data, and Meta recently announced its intention to change the legal basis that it uses to process certain data for behavioural advertising in the EU from ‘legitimate interests’ to ‘consent’.

So, with privacy on the agenda, how are marketers approaching measurement of their social ad campaigns? To gain some insight, we spoke with Chloe McCloskey, global head of social at in-house agency Oliver; and Kat Sale, co-founder of House of Performance.  

Key takeaways

  • As Meta moves to legal basis of consent for ad targeting in the EU, users will decide between personalisation and privacy, which could impact the relevance of their experience in-app.
  • In the continued wake of Apple’s ATT framework, marketers should be looking beyond lower-funnel activity, with a “less compartmentalised” and “more holistic” approach, according to McCloskey. Paid, organic and influencer activity needs to be viewed in light of brand uplift and sales.
  • Industry should focus on tailoring content to audiences, according to Sale. Powerful AI tools must be combined with creativity and sustainable business practices.

Could Meta’s new legal basis for targeting in the EU blunt marketers’ tools?

Follow a series of regulatory rulings, Meta stated in a blog post earlier this month: “We are announcing our intention to change the legal basis that we use to process certain data for behavioural advertising for people in the EU, EEA and Switzerland from ‘legitimate interests’ to ‘consent’.”

Essentially, users in these markets will now have to opt-in to receive personalised and targeted ads rather than opt-out. But what impact might the changes have? Chloe McCloskey, global head of social at OLIVER agency, says that Meta’s rules highlight the fact that social media is at a “really interesting juncture right now.” 

“Personalisation has, in theory, been a defining aspect of social media’s effectiveness. It’s allowed marketers to laser focus on sections of their audience and micro-target them with content that’s relevant. Taking this away threatens to blunt marketers’ tools and could equally provide a less compelling experience for users,” she suggested.

However, McCloskey says that overall user enjoyment (of discovering products relevant to them) means the change could have little impact. “There is a massive likelihood that the masses will click ‘ACCEPT’ as they do with Cookie warnings…. But I do think we will see a greater focus on optimisation – with great insight and ideas at the heart of the work going out.” 

Who wants a feed full of ads that aren’t relevant to you? – Kat Sale, House of Performance

Kat Sale, Co-Founder of House of Performance, told Econsultancy that Meta’s changes could be a potential barrier to its own success, however, with users caught in a dilemma of wanting both personalisation and privacy. “The beauty of advertising on Meta is having highly targeted ads, so anyone that declines to consent will get less relevant adverts. This could be a big problem for the social platform as people will get less relevant content and therefore have a less tailored experience, which could result in a drop in usage. Who wants a feed full of ads that aren’t relevant to you?” she asked. 

But could Twitter be an example of what might go wrong? OLIVER’s McCloskey reminds us that “when advertisers halted or paused activity on Twitter following the uncertainty that came with Musk’s takeover, the on-platform experience worsened.”

“It will be interesting to see what reduced personalisation means for the usership of Meta platforms. But my hunch is that Meta will find a way to combat this as they are so very good at what they do.” 

Low-funnel activity easiest to measure but social campaigns must be viewed in the round

Social platforms are continuing to feel the impact of Apple’s ATT framework, which requires users to confirm whether they want apps to share their data. According to data management company Lotame, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snap lost 12% of revenue in the third and fourth quarters, or $9.9 billion, following the rollout of ATT. 

There’s certainly been some re-growth, with social media advertising increasing 3.6% in 2022, however this was still the slowest level of growth in 10 years – a fact compounded by economic uncertainty coupled with ATT.  

When asked about the post-ATT landscape, Meta’s CFO, Susan Li, said in a Q1 earnings call that the company is “making progress certainly in mitigating the direct impact from ATT’s platform changes.” However, she also highlighted Meta’s alternative areas of growth.  

“This is really just the reality of the online advertising environment that we’re in now,” she said. “I think now we’re focused on improving ad performance in the current signals landscape with our investments, both in increasing the volume of ads with onsite objectives, and then second of all with our AI investments that have really, I think, enhanced the performance of our ads as well as enabled us to introduce new tools and features for advertisers.”

Another change finally afoot for the online ad industry following years of delays and discussions comes from Google, which has announced that – as of early 2024 – it will migrate 1% of Chrome users to Privacy Sandbox and disable third-party cookies, with Google’s plan to completely deprecate third-party cookies in the second half of 2024 remaining on track.  

Social marketing needs to be less compartmentalised and thus reporting needs to become much more holistic. – Chloe McCloskey, Oliver Agency

When it comes to the question of how marketers are adapting to these imminent changes, and more importantly, what marketers need for effective measurement of social ads, “this is a tricky one,” conceded Kat Sale. “You need to use a combination of GA4 and in-platform (e.g in Meta/TikTok) to measure conversion data, and take balanced decisions based on both.” 

“In-platform will always show as having more conversions attributed (50%+) so it’s worth knowing this, but don’t ignore that implied data either,” she added.

Chloe McCloskey says that, looking at the bigger picture, “social marketing needs to be less compartmentalised and thus reporting needs to become much more holistic. The full investment across paid, organic and influencers needs to be looked at in order to paint the whole picture from brand lift over to sales.” 

“Low-funnel activity is always the easiest to measure; it’s a simple question of can we see a rise in sales coming from “x” platform when we ran “y” advertisement? The problem lies in measuring that upper funnel activity and connecting social to offline purchases,” she said. 

Regulation finally catching up – ad industry rightly focusing on audiences, as consumers grow savvy

So how will social advertising strategies evolve from here on out? Kat Sale suggests that the industry will become “more and more about audiences rather than specific, detailed targeting methods.” 

“All platforms are focussed on grouping audiences signals to find conversions rather than just what the user is searching or looking at,” she said.

Despite the move towards privacy, Sale also thinks that personalisation will remain key to the user experience, highlighting a recent social ad by Clarks, targeted to parents, as a good example of this in action. Clarks is also an example of a brand that has pooled investment into retail media networks, which includes off-site channels such as paid social, in order to access and use first-party data for targeting purposes – something we could certainly see more of in future. “It’s been an effective way to use a portion of our wholesale budget to ensure we’re top of mind among our competitive set and have a marketing presence at the key retailers where our consumers are already shopping,” Adriana Talatinian, VP of Marketing for the Americas at Clarks, told Glossy.

Regardless of channel, Sale says marketers should “focus on the audience and tailoring the creative to them. Irrespective of the consent challenge, providing relevant ads to people is more likely to work than not,” she suggested. “Also, make full use of the tools available, for example, the majority of advertisers only scratch the surface with Lookalike audience modelling. This is an incredible bit of tech that can be game changing, so make full use of it.” 

For marketers specifically, it’s still a creative profession at the end of the day. – Chloe McCloskey, Oliver Agency

McCloskey agrees that the push towards privacy is forcing marketers to innovate.  

“Regulation is (finally) catching up to the pace of development on social media platforms, and consumers are becoming better educated about data privacy in general,” she said. “My optimistic hope is that this will drive sustainable business practices that are great for humanity as well as creativity and innovation.” 

“For marketers specifically, it’s still a creative profession at the end of the day. I’m of the belief that in a creative environment having constraints and defined borders is key to finding innovation. It’s impossible to think outside the box if there is no box!” 

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