The Limit-Ad-Tracking Apocalypse That Wasn’t

What 2016 taught marketing about do-not-track and the mobile consumer.

When the first stats came through, numbers showing how many mobile users tapped into Apple iOS 10’s limit-ad-tracking option, they posed some challenging news for location-powered mobile marketing. Some 20 percent of consumers opted-in to LAT; about 18 million iPhone and iPad consumers overall.

Not as challenging a scenario, perhaps, as ad-blocking’s ongoing evolution for desktop and mobile web, but with data-tracking so squarely at the center of the industry’s app-focused work, marketers can’t help but pay close attention.

But what if it turns out that what mobile marketing learned in 2016 is that it needs do-not-track tech at the heart of how it approaches consumers?

What if, as an industry, marketing stands to do its best work when it embraces the role of LAT — repositioning the consumer-facing technology so that it’s not an enemy lurking on every smartphone but a constant reminder, a canary in the coal mine, if you will, warning marketers when their data-asks go too far (or deliver too little)?

Big Picture: Do-Not-Track Wasn’t — and Isn’t — the Enemy

Location-powered mobile marketing is riding on the crest of a mobile-culture wave. Success in this industry is, and will continue to be, a product of how far and in what direction that wave carries it. And success will be a product of how skillfully marketers ride that wave in the first place.

Marketing-tech innovators know that the time to bring new focus and new ideas to the usual mobile-creative approaches is now — the usual approaches including baby-banners or context-blind mobile-screen takeovers. Bottom line, if marketers want to see one-fifth of iOS users switch their LAT back off, then they’re going to have to get even smarter about the mobile ads they offer.

What this means is a to return to the consumer’s point of view, expanding the industry’s horizons beyond the static screenshot form, rethinking how mobile marketing approaches even the most familiar units of display. Let users use their fingers. Let them use their minds. Let them make choices. Ultimately, mobile creative must become its own kind of content to consumers, justifying the data for which marketers ask by giving customers something back in the form of meaningful content.

Mobile marketing must also partner with brands that see the future the same way — partners that provide uploads featuring creative and content and value that succeeds in a (rightfully) restrictive data-permissions environment. Then, as mobile technology continues to evolve, marketing will remain in close step with the consumers who turn to mobile as their first screen; it will stay locked-in and aligned with positive narratives and the meaningful moments that smart, contextual, and anticipatory content helps create.

Reality Check: Users Remain Open to Beneficial Data Tracking

As we take new and critical looks at the future of location-powered mobile marketing, there is good news about consumers, too — a positive picture despite the LAT stats of this past autumn.

Recently, for example, among both Apple and Android users, as the Future of Privacy Forum notes, the “use of the limit-ad-tracking setting fell to 16.7 percent of devices in February [2016] from 22 percent in August 2015.” Granted, to some extent this statistic stems from consumers who aren’t yet aware of data-limiting options on their phones or tablets. Additional research, however, also helps us to understand that a more complex scenario is underway. Users are open to data-tracking along lines that marketing can — and should — follow closely.

  • When it comes to data-tracking in the context of brand-loyalty programs, a recent Pew Research Center study shows some 50 percent of mobile users accept their data will be tracked, and even sold to third parties, if they benefit in the context of loyalty-program results.
  • Meanwhile, some 48 percent of consumers polled in the same study said data tracking, including sale of data, would be acceptable when it comes to information specifically about their shopping habits. Furthermore, while 20 percent of respondents didn’t yet accept data-tracking outright, they said it would become acceptable to them given the right conditions. So, in total, 68 percent said they are either on-board with data-tracking or they’re potentially open to it when brands get their data-ask right.
  • Notable as well, 32 percent of the respondents in the Pew study also say they would accept data-sharing if it led to rewards of any kind.

These statistics tell us something significant about the brand–consumer relationship. When data-tracking dovetails with consumer benefits — especially within certain user contexts — we see positive traction on keeping data permissions in place. Can mobile marketing do better? Yes, it can, and it will. But we’re starting from a promising position.

The point is, we want users to be engaged. We want them to be conscious of their data-sharing choices and we want them to opt-in to the best-built apps. If location-powered marketing centers on providing consumers with contextually driven — data-driven — experiences, then the bottom line of the conversation around do-not-track technology is that mobile marketing should always side with empowering users, every data-permissions decision, every step of the way.

Brian Crook is chief product and technology officer of Verve. In this role, he leads the mobile marketing platform’s product, technology and engineering teams. Brian leverages his vast experience spanning marketing and advertising technology, enterprise software, and information systems development to build leading-edge products that deliver results for Verve’s publisher, agency and advertiser clients.

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