Memo: Linear Commerce and Content Fortresses

Apple’s intentions appear straightforward at first glance. The company wanted to improve the privacy of its end users. This virtuous effort came with a few additional outcomes.

By upgrading its privacy practices, Apple will impair large ad networks that have grown with the help of those end users. This could potentially cripple Facebook’s current model with its new privacy demands. Apple has also opened the door to an unintentional adjustment to its privacy mandate. In doing so, the Mark Zuckerberg-led advertising company (and social network) will adopt a new way to accomplish its most critical objectives: revenue growth and user utility. Facebook will become an eCommerce company instead.

The idea for the law of linear commerce was envisioned as a relationship between brands selling physical products and digital media. The first paragraph of the very first member brief read:

Linear commerce is a core tenet of 2PM’s understanding of an evolving commerce ecosystem. It is the prioritization of audience. Product manufacturers often outsource demand generation. Brands that are ahead of the curve emphasize their audience’s growth as much as they do their physical product’s manufacturing. Likewise, digital media publishers that follow these principles will prioritize organic and loyal audience growth over SEO or PPC-driven commodity clicks. [2PM, 1]

If you’ve built a great product, you’ll need a captive audience as a market for the goods. And if you’ve built a captive audience, you’ll need a great product to sell them. This can now be applied to software-driven audiences and the first-party products that monetize them. Mobile apps have, until now, been able to rely on valuable data derived from a tracking system called “Identifiers for Advertisers” or IFDA. As of the recent release of Apple’s iOS 14.5, this data source has been shut off.

Apple forced the advertising industry’s hand with its decision to implement new privacy policies. At the June 2020 WWDC event, Apple announced a new way that the mobile ecosystem’s IFDA would be accessible for advertisers. In the simplest terms, users would need to explicitly opt-in to allow an advertiser access to the IFDA, a $189 billion international industry. The App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework is a detriment to advertisers who were dependent on this market for iOS customer acquisition.

Flurry Analytics, a Verizon Media company, tracks over 1 million mobile applications, aggregating data and insights from 2 billion mobile devices monthly. According to this data, worldwide opt-in rates are hovering around 11% for iOS 14.5 users. Shockingly, that number degrades further in the United States. It hovers around 4%.

Content Fortresses and “Other”

First-party data is this decade’s digital distillation column, the process that refines crude oil into a globally useful asset. In this analogy, crude oil is content. As I recently wrote on the reimagining of content’s value, it is now the core of all first-party data strategies. I explained:

First-party data will define the next wave of advertising and sales. American businesses are now in a race: They’ll build, acquire, or market to the audiences that have it. The independent media industry is quick to discuss outcomes but rarely do we dissect the early steps. As more pursue first-party data, audience development will become one of the most coveted skills on the market.

To acquire targeted customers, first-party audiences are replacing third-party collections. An early indicator of things to come: Over the past six months, two major newsletters were acquired by much larger companies. [2PM, 4]

Apple’s decision accelerated the adoption of linear commerce (media meets commerce) by years. Look no further than Facebook’s strategy to rely less on Apple’s ecosystem. With the iOS 14.5 update, Facebook’s ability to track view through conversions has been impaired.

That’s where these eCommerce products come in. If Facebook can sell more products through its own apps, it’s not so dependent on cross-site user tracking. [2]

While Facebook will emerge as an eCommerce company, they aren’t necessarily in it to compete with Amazon. They are likely to make a relatively small margin on the sale of goods. But the advertising of those products will move brand marketers to continue investing in running ads for their goods across Facebook-owned apps, including Instagram and its native shop.

When you make a sale, we deduct a fee from your payout automatically. We call this a selling fee. The selling fee is 5% per shipment, or a flat fee of $0.40 for shipments of $8.00 or less. You keep the rest of your earnings. [3]

When the intended target is reached, Facebook’s efficacy as an advertiser can be tracked no differently than it was before IFDA was impacted by the 14.5 upgrade. Facebook CFO David Wehner shared his optimism with analysts: “The impact on our own business, we think, will be manageable.” Facebook has long held a valuable audience and a recent commitment to native commerce; Apple’s privacy push has steered the Menlo Park company to prioritize its walled garden, a page taken from Amazon’s growth as a walled-garden advertiser.

Ad sales, which the company breaks out as “other,” rose 77% year-over-year to $6.9 billion, Amazon said in its Q1 earnings call on Thursday.

Amazon now encompasses 10.3% of the digital advertising market (up from 7.9%) in the United States with a projected 13% market share by 2023. Amazon’s walled-garden approach ranks them third in an advertising market that is currently dominated by Google and Facebook (one that Apple wants a piece of). Facebook’s walled garden approach is intended to help them climb to the No. 1 position. They are better positioned than Google in this respect.

The phrase “content fortress” was coined by Eric Benjamin Seufert, an analyst at Mobile Dev Memo. The walled-garden approach is indicative of a larger trend to acquire and monetize first-party data.

In early February, Applovin, the mobile ad network, acquired Adjust, a mobile attribution company. Beyond financial engineering (given that Applovin is approaching an IPO), there’s no strategic justification for this acquisition other than that Applovin is building a self-sufficient advertising ecosystem to connect its first-party properties. [5]

First-party data was well on its way to becoming the key asset for advertisers; Apple’s decision further moved advertisers to prioritize its collection, refinement, and monetization. Apple will eventually eliminate data sharing across vendors, a long-time complaint of many of its users. In doing so, walled gardens will take the place of the open web funded by this data practice. Media companies and commerce companies will become indistinguishable, in many ways. The law of linear commerce is no longer just about brands and their content strategies or publishers and their eCommerce development.

Facebook is an advertiser using commerce to sell more first-party ads. Amazon is an eCommerce retailer using first-party advertising to sell more goods. Apple may help the two companies accomplish both, all while bolstering its own privacy practices, which were a solution to an expiring era of advertising.

By Web Smith | Editor: Hilary Milnes

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