Political Advertising in the Post-iOS 14.5 Ecosystem

Earlier this year, Apple announced changes with iOS 14 that impacted how iPhone apps, like Facebook and Instagram, receive and process conversion events, like landing page views, email sign-ups, and donations, from tracking tools like the Facebook pixel. This is part of their App Tracking Transparency framework.

Now, Apple requires all iOS apps to show a prompt via a notification to iOS 14 users asking if they consent to their online activity and actions being tracked by the app they are using.

This new Apple policy prohibits certain data collection and sharing unless users consent and opt into tracking on iOS 14 devices via the aforementioned prompt. As more users opt out of tracking on iOS 14 devices, ads personalization and performance reporting will be limited for both app and web conversion events. 

With the change, advertisers can no longer optimize ad campaigns that use data provided by pixels on domains they do not own. This means campaigns and organizations that raise money online can no longer place and leverage pixels placed on ActBlue pages that live within ActBlue’s domain for optimization.

The change abruptly impacted campaigns, advocacy organizations, and nonprofits that run digital ads programs that optimize, target, and report on web conversion events. You may have noticed changes as they were forced to adjust how they media plan, manage digital ad campaigns, develop targeting strategy, and report on the performance of their program. 

How does this impact you and your team? If you run a large-scale direct response campaign or are planning to just run ads in the last few months before an election, you’ll need to make technical and strategic changes to spend your ad dollars efficiently and run an optimal online program.

The Problem

The two core components of direct response ad programs, direct-to-donate and list building,  are impacted in substantially different ways. That means that the adjustments advertisers need to make depends on what kind of direct response ads you run. 

Direct-to-donate ads typically target current donors (via first-party targeting) and likely/potential donors (via first party, lookalike, and/or demographic targeting) with ads that ask for a donation. As an advertiser accumulates more donations (conversions), Facebook becomes more and more efficient with its targeting and its spending. 

List building ads typically target potential email subscribers via lookalike and/or demographic targeting) with ads that ask for a user’s contact information. As an advertiser accumulates more email sign-ups (conversions), Facebook adapts and becomes more efficient at targeting users that are most likely to support you and sign up for your email list. 

Targeting efficiency in direct response programs will inevitably drop as users opt out of tracking and can no longer be matched online via first-party data with the purpose of targeting or excluding them from your ad campaigns.  

When election season comes around, campaigns will need to adjust their media planning strategies to account for lower match and find rates. 

Campaigns will need to increase the size of their first party lists and diversify targeting via lookalike and demographic targeting as well as incorporate a greater variety of digital vendors in media plans from the get-go like Google/YouTube, Hulu, Roku, Pandora, and more. 

If you run or are interested in running ads on Facebook, here is what to expect:

  • Decreased match rates for first party data segments 
    • Lower reach for target audiences 
    • Less efficient exclusions which could result in existing email subscribers to see list building ads and for current donors to see ads intended for prospective donors only 
  • Inaccurate in-platform reporting 
    • FB has taken steps to address this, but metrics like reach, frequency, clicks, email sign ups, donations, amount raised, and return on ad spend will at times not be completely accurate 
  • Higher costs-per-acquisition and costs-per-donation (when applicable)

The Solution  

The arrival of iOS 14 has permanently altered the online fundraising landscape and forced campaigns and organizations to implement technical fixes that can be burdensome and confusing. 

Fortunately, for campaigns using ActBlue, we have the necessary tools to adapt and succeed in this new environment.

The Facebook Conversions API allows you to share web events, or customer actions, directly from your server to Facebook’s server. Conversions API works in conjunction with your Facebook tracking pixels to help improve the performance and measurement of your ad campaigns. The Conversions API can help improve the accuracy of information your ad campaigns need and use for targeting, measurement, and optimization when used in addition to the Facebook tracking pixel.

You can install the Facebook Conversions API through manal code implementation or a partner integration through a partner like Zapier or WordPress. When possible, A+G recommends using a partner integration as it offers faster setup and requires minimal developmental resources. 

If you run or are interesting in running direct response ads that leverage the Facebook Conversions API in addition to the Facebook tracking pixel, here is what you need to do:

  1. Open your Facebook Business Manager 
  2. Go to your Facebook Events Manager 
  3. Go to the Data Sources tab
  4. Select Settings
  5. Scroll down and select Choose a Partner
  6. Select your partner and follow the setup instructions

Since the ActBlue.com domain can no longer support advertiser’s purchase conversion events on ActBlue contribution forms, ActBlue has developed a workaround that enables advertisers to point a subdomain (i.e. thankyou.yourCandidatesDomain.com) to an ActBlue service that fires a Facebook conversion event on that subdomain’s behalf.

If you run or are interesting in running direct-to-donate ads that redirect to ActBlue, here is what you need to do:

  1. Verify your candidate’s domain with Facebook via DNS TXT record
  2. Configure your subdomain to point to ActBlue by adding a CNAME entry for thankyou to your DNS record that points to thankyou.actblue.com
  3. Notify your ActBlue rep that you have configured your CNAME record
  4. Set up your Facebook tracking pixel on your contribution forms
  5. Verify setup in your Facebook Events Manager

The Future

If we told you that no more changes are coming down the pipeline and that the online political advertising ecosystem has finally stabilized after a few tumultuous years, we’d be lying. 

Many of the privacy and policy changes that Apple, Facebook, Google, and other online platforms have introduced typically come with little-to-no warning and this will likely continue to be the case as we navigate the 2021 and 2022 cycles. 

If you’re worried your campaign or organization might not be ready for the future of political ads or could just really use a hand with setting up the Conversions API and ActBlue subdomain workaround, drop us a note at contact@agdigital.us.