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Last update: March 2020

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Apps on iPhones Can Now Send Push Notification Ads

In a huge change for the world of mobile engagement, Apple has announced that apps can now send ads in push notifications. Notifications have always been a core element of mobile marketing. However, allowing apps to include marketing in their push notifications could be a real game changer. What does this mean for mobile engagement? And how might it affect how people interact with their mobile devices?

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Push Notification Ads – Shrewd Move, or Intrusion?

Apple has long had more of a hardline treatment of push notifications than Android. (For example, they require users to opt-in to receiving notifications, while while Android requires them to opt-out.) Similarly, Apple has always banned apps from sending advertisements or other forms of marketing content in push notifications. However, on March 4, Apple updated their app store review guidelines to permit apps to send marketing notifications. Stipulations include the user must opt in first, and the app must provide them the option to opt out again if they wish.

As the guidelines state in section 4.5.4:

“Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used to send sensitive personal or confidential information. Push Notifications should not be used for promotions or direct marketing purposes unless customers have explicitly opted in to receive them via consent language displayed in your app’s UI, and you provide a method in your app for a user to opt out from receiving such messages.”

Some may be skeptical of this move. After all, who would opt to receive more marketing in a digital landscape that’s already saturated with advertisements? But others observe having this explicitly stated in the guidelines may help clear up some vagueness, while letting users remain in control of the notifications they receive.

What Are Apple’s Motivations Behind Push Notification Ads?

First of all, why now? And what might this mean for the future direction of mobile engagement?

The Verge has pointed out that Apple has been guilty of bending their own rules in the past by advertising their own products via push notification. In February 2019, they sent promotional push notifications to Apple Music users. It started in December 2018, when Apple started sending iPhone users push notifications promoting their Carpool Karaoke show. In February, they offered a three-month free trial of the service via push notification to lapsed users. Then they offered users a free month of streaming if they referred a friend.

Many Apple users agreed that these unsolicited push notifications fell under the “promotional material” that is prohibited by the guidelines.

This, understandably, engendered a lot of customer anger. Both at being spammed by iOS and at Apple’s refusal to play by their own rules. And with the sale of iPhones dropping steeply in 2019, it makes sense that Apple might want to drum up enthusiasm for their own apps and programs. Tweaking the guidelines to allow promotional push notifications across the board seems like a savvy way for Apple to clear the way for their own advertising while sparing themselves the pushback they received last year.

App developers will enjoy having another avenue for marketing open to them. Plus, iPhone users remain in control thanks to Apple’s opt-in requirement.

Could This Spark a Trend in Push Notification Ads?

Apple is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. This move could likely have repercussions in terms of increased leniency around what content can be sent via push with other operating systems. The benefits to both Apple and to app developers are certainly there: push notifications have been shown to increase click-through rate up to 67% thanks to their use of personal data to target segments of users for interests and convenient time sent. And for users who opt in to marketing notifications, it could mean personalized deals and promotions on products they love.

However, this move to open up push notifications to marketing content may also attract some criticism. Some may accuse Apple of just trying to shill their own products. Others may argue that we live in a world with enough distractions vying for our attention. And this is just going to open the door to more digital advertising. Push notification fatigue has already driven many to switch off notifications, delete apps, or even downgrade to “dumb-phones.” The answer, these people would say, is to minimalize, not try to cram in more content.

Whichever side of the divide you fall on, you can’t deny that this news is huge. And the fact that Apple has begun to give way on their treatment of push notification ads could mean that the entire role of push technology could open up to new avenues. Either way, it’s definitely a space to keep your eye on in the coming months.

Talk to one of our experts to find out how push notifications can help you engage users with targeted, personalized content!

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