Beware my friends, the end of advertising is near

I just finished reading a book about Tim Cook, Apple CEO. I can safely say that he is now my new (book) mentor. I didn’t know about him or his leadership much until I read this book. My initial perception of Tim was that he is an operation guy who helped shape Apple’s logistics. He wouldn’t have much to do with marketing. As it turns out, I couldn’t be more wrong. He not only knows about marketing, but he is also changing the marketing landscape. 

Tim Cook’s Mission

Tim has many interesting and admirable missions as Apple’s CEO. But, the one mission that stands out and relates to this post is about respect to customer’s privacy. Tim shares his passion and belief about customer privacy with Steve Jobs. They both strongly believe that customers should know when and how companies use customer data. Based on this belief, Apple is changing the way we will do marketing in the future. 


If you use Apple’s devices, you likely upgraded to iOS14 already. There are a bunch of new privacy features introduced in this upgrade. Two examples are:

  1. Every time an app accesses your camera or microphone, a dot appears above the signal strength meter. A green dot is for when the camera is accessed, and an orange dot is for microphone access. Apple wants you to know which apps are accessing your personal space. 
  2. Now you have the option to allow apps access to your general location, but not your precise location. It’s nice to have the choice to use location data without giving a pinpoint location. We agree that letting people know our exact location could be dangerous. 

These are only a few examples that Tim and his team added to Apple’s products. The one feature that would have impacted the marketing area the most is the ad-tracking feature. 

Is it the end of the advertisement? 

No not yet, or at least until next year. Before the release of iOS14, Apple announced that the suite of new iOS 14 privacy features would include a mandatory opt-out warning. How it is expected to work is the iOS users must now be prompted for permission to share their unique advertising ID with apps and websites, with the widespread expectation that most users will choose not to share this information (of course!).  

While Apple does not appear to be backing down on any of its iOS 14 privacy features, it has relented somewhat in the face of pressure from targeted ad giants such as Facebook. Developers will now have a grace period of at least some number of months as Apple has committed to holding off on the ad tracking change until an iOS 14 update at some unspecified point in 2021.

I can tell you that Tim Cook will not back down on the ad-tracking feature. It will come one day. And that will change everything. 

Attention-based marketing VS Subscription-based marketing

The move that Tim and Apple are taking triggers of the two broad concepts of how we do marketing to customers. 

  1. Attention-based marketing: It is driven by tech giants like Google and Facebook. The model is simple. Companies offer something to customers for free (or with small fees) in exchange for customer’s information. Then, those companies use customer information to sell targeted ads to them. As an example, we use Facebook for free, and we also tell Facebook a lot about our lives. Facebook uses our data to create one of the best advertising platforms for marketers. I have to say Facebook’s ad platform is heaven for marketers, myself included.  
  2. Subscription-based marketing: Apple doesn’t like attention-based marketing much. They think the model violates customer’s privacy, which is true. Many customers don’t even know how their information is used. Apple tries to push the other model that companies need to get customers to subscribe to their services. It’s no doubt that the subscription model is much harder, and companies cannot expect quick results. Marketers need to spend more times and efforts to offer something of value to customers, so they want to get it consistently. 

As we still have time before the end of the ad era, we should look into how we can shift our marketing efforts toward this trend. One strategy is to invest in content marketing. 

Using storytelling as an incentive

The gist behind content marketing is companies offer content as an incentive to gain customer’s permission to engage with them. It’s an unwelcome concept for many executives, especially those who want quick results. It’s much faster, and it requires less brainpower to give cash, gift cards, or any financial incentives away to get leads.  

It’s very typical for companies to use financial incentive to collect customer’s consent. Many use contests or competitions to collect “leads” because they want to reduce cost. From my experience, doing business this way is more costly because you basically put the pressure on the sales team. What you (marketers) do is sending strangers to the sales team to do a marketing job for you. It means you (marketers) are not doing marketing at all. You are a lead generator. 

Using content or stories as an incentive to gain a customer’s attention is different. It’s more difficult and requires more brainpower. You will not get the same quantity as you do with the other approach. But, if it’s done right, you will get only people who are interested in your product. To offer stories as an incentive, we need to incorporate the below factors into the process:

  • We need to have a clear idea of who we talk to. If we want to stop sending strangers to the sales team, we have to stop creating stories for strangers in the first place.
  • What are their pain points? Ask this question and explain how your product could help them. 

Empathy is your best friend. The difference between regular sales copy and the kind of sales copy that moves thousands of people to take immediate action is empathy.

Buying ads on Facebook is a popular area of marketing now. I don’t believe it’s sustainable. Many (not all) marketers use it as a shortcut to do mediocre jobs. Once the technology changes again, your job will be at risk. 

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