Apple privacy changes prompt some advertisers to turn toward shoppable TV ads

Privacy changes and the newfound ubiquity of QR codes are helping push the format forward—but there’s no agreed-upon way to reduce friction for shoppers.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

No, you’re not imagining it: There are lots of ways you can purchase products onscreen. Whether streaming a show on Roku, watching a video on YouTube, or thumbing through TikTok, shoppable ads are seemingly everywhere—even on traditional TV.

While shoppable content isn’t new—QVC has been around since the ’80s, after all—ad buyers are continuing to eye platforms that offer the features and said they expect more interest in shoppable ads on TV platforms this holiday season, especially as some advertisers continue to grapple with the effects of Apple’s iOS privacy changes.

“For the 2022 holiday season, there’s a lot of testing and learning and adapting as it relates to shoppable ads,” said Christa Carone, president of the digital advertising firm Infillion, which enables shoppable ad formats across platforms.

One and done

Shoppable ads are part of a growing trend. In the US, sales from social commerce are expected to grow to nearly $80 billion in 2025, up from about $45 million this year, according to eMarketer.

There’s a simple reason why shoppable ads on social media have grown as popular as they have in recent years, media buyers said: Consumers can discover a product, like it, and buy it in one fell swoop.

“These ads are collapsing the marketing funnel, if you will,” said Meagen Johnson, EVP, managing director of commerce at Havas Media. “You can drive awareness, consideration, and purchase now all at once.”

In the wake of iOS privacy changes that affected ad performance on Meta platforms like Instagram and Facebook, brands interested in shoppable advertising are looking outside of social channels as well.

“It’s a favorable moment for shoppable ads, and the reason for that is over the last couple of years, the tried-and-true stuff isn’t working anymore,” Johnson told us. “If marketing people are being real with what’s happening, it’s not performing anymore, and they have to get more innovative in what’s happening.”

One potential way to get innovative is to explore alternative ad formats that aren’t affected by mobile privacy changes. Roku’s head of television commerce, Peter Hamilton, told us that advertisers are expressing interest in Roku’s shoppable ad pilot, which rolled out in June and enables viewers to buy items available at Walmart from their Roku devices.

“Brands are looking for more endemic shopping experiences that can be utilized, and so there’s been a lot of brand interest and support and excitement around this kind of first-party purchase experience on a new device,” Hamilton said.

QR so beautiful

Others in the industry credited another technological development for the growth of shoppable TV ads: The popularity of QR codes in restaurants at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“When you went to a restaurant, they weren’t giving you a paper menu, and you had to QR code it,” Carone said. “Now everybody has figured out the magic of the QR code, and it really accelerated adoption of a technology that has been around for a long time.”

In recent years, companies including NBCUniversal and Hulu have both embraced the QR code to quickly take an onscreen offer to a mobile device, where the purchase can be completed. But not every streamer is looking at QR codes as the future of shoppable TV.

Roku’s shoppable ad pilot with Walmart is possible through a TV-remote button, since Roku often has credit card and billing information on file thanks to Roku Pay, its payments platform. Hamilton said the focus on the remote as the ultimate point of sale is because QR codes have not historically performed well on the platform.

“Early on, we tested with QR codes so that you could just bounce out your phone from a QR code and make a purchase,” Hamilton said. “But that meant you had to pick up your second screen to interact with the television, and that performed 10x worse than someone just pressing OK on the remote.”

Slow to grow

No matter the approach, media buyers and platforms are bracing for growing pains. Because the formats are so new, “there has not been a lot of standardization and one-size-fits-all to make it easier for the brand and the advertiser,” Carone said, adding that different platforms require different creative and report different metrics.

Plus, consumers will need to become more familiar and comfortable with the idea of transacting on the television devices in their homes—something that may be a drag on overall investment in the format until the industry reaches a tipping point.

“We need more advertisers to lean into this new shoppable format on TV so that consumers will adapt to doing it,” Johnson said. “Consumers will adapt to doing it if advertisers will continue to do it. So it’s a little bit of that chicken-and-egg.”

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