How Marketing Targeting is Changing

By Madison Taylor
July 2, 2021
zoomed in focus of a dart in a dart board

Marketing is always a moving target, and digital marketing has been especially volatile over the last few years. New platforms, strategies, and channels rise and fall on a seemingly yearly basis, and marketers are forced to scramble to keep up.

For years, targeted marketing has been a mainstay of digital ad placement, but marketers might not be able to rely on individualized tracking for long. Thanks to new regulations, changing technology, and an increased focus on consumer privacy, the landscape of targeted marketing is changing significantly. Here’s what marketers should know.

Facebook vs. Signal

On May 4, encrypted messaging app Signal published a blog post in which they showed off a series of ads they had apparently tried to publish on Instagram. The ads contained extremely specific information, such as “You got this ad because you’re a GP with a Master’s in art history. Also divorced. This ad used your location to see you’re in London.”

According to Signal, the ads were intended to point out the hyper-detailed (and somewhat creepy) information that Facebook collects — and that their ad account was suspended as a result. Indeed, that’s how the story was reported by dozens of uncritical journalists. According to Facebook, the ads never existed.

Facebook claims that the ads use information that would never be approved by Facebook anyway, including medical information and sexual orientation, and that Signal merely mocked up the ads as a publicity stunt. We can’t know for sure, but there is precedent for companies creating ads that stand no chance of being approved, then claiming the ads were “rejected” for the sake of publicity.

In any case, Signal’s point landed. People found the ads and the information they contained to be extremely unsettling. To think that ads have been using this level of detail under the surface all along makes them more uncomfortable still.

iOS 14 vs. Facebook

Apple’s most recent mobile software update is iOS 14.5. After this update, for the first time, users will have to opt-in for their online activity to be tracked across sites and services. Based on the level of concern that users have expressed about data tracking, most advertisers expect that only around 20 to 25 percent of users will do so, drastically cutting the amount of third-party data that advertisers like Facebook will be able to access.

Apple claims that the change is an effort to afford their users’ additional privacy and data security. Facebook claims that the move will gut the effectiveness of their advertising, causing costs to rise and making the platform inaccessible to small businesses who sorely need it.

Some analysts have even argued that this change is good for both companies. With third-party data out of the picture, first-party data will become more important, and first-party data is something that both Facebook and Apple collect in spades.

Google Chrome’s Third-Party Cookies

The other big story in the ad world in recent months is that Google Chrome will be phasing out third-party cookies in the Chrome web browser “within two years.” Google is actually late to the game in this respect — Firefox and Safari have already taken similar steps — but the effect will be similar. Advertisers who depend on targeted ads will find it more and more difficult to track users’ activity across sites, making their ads less effective.

At the same time, Google is developing new technology that uses pattern recognition to make intelligent predictions about people’s habits and interests, then targets ads to them based on those predictions rather than based on individual habits. Given Google’s prowess in this arena, it’s possible that phasing out third-party cookies won’t affect their ad placement abilities much at all.

How to Adapt

What marketers and brands need to remember is that targeted advertising is only one tool in your toolbox — hopefully, you’re supplementing your paid strategy with a robust content-based and organic strategy. A marketer’s top priority should always be to create useful, informative content to bring in organic search traffic.

Whether these recent changes will completely disrupt the world of digital advertising or just go down as another small change, marketers have been adapting to new methods for as long as marketing has existed. If your branding is consistent, your content is top-notch, and your team is ready to take whatever the world throws at you, you’ll weather this storm without a problem.