Facebook has been long reported to introduce ads in WhatsApp. According to the latest report by The Information, the company is still looking into ways, although it has failed multiple times over the past few months.
WhatsApp is a free to use instant messaging service used by billions of users worldwide. However, it did not start as free since initially, the app had a subscription fee, which was later reduced to $1/year with a free trial for a year. But that begun to change as the company started to cancel subscriptions for random regular users. And at last, it became fully free for all the existing as well as new users in early 2016
Between all this, Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $16 billion. Since then, there have been speculations on how the social giant will monetise the newly acquired platform. It became even more intense when the app went completely free.
Then, a report emerged in late 2018 regarding Facebook to bring ads in the then newly introduced status section in WhatsApp. Followed by that, another report in 2019 suggested ads will come to WhatsApp only after the unification of Facebook’s all messaging platforms including Instagram and Messenger.
But that may not happen anytime soon as the US FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is investigating an antitrust probe into Facebook. So only after passing that hurdle, ads on WhatsApp may become a reality. Until then, the most used instant messaging platform on the planet will remain ad-free.
Judging from the images shared from the event, ads too will take up your entire screen as you click through your friends’ Statuses.
However, instead of showing the name of the contact who shared the Status at the top of your screen, you’ll find the name of company behind the advert.
According to BGR, you can then “swipe up when an ad appears for more information about the product or service being advertised” – if it appeals, of course.
Whether WhatsApp users will take kindly to adverts intruding on their time scrolling through the app remains to be seen; after all, the messaging app’s calling card is its end-to-end message encryption, and if Facebook ends up harvesting data from these ads, WhatsApp may not seem quite as privacy-friendly as it used to.
That perception won’t be helped by the recent WhatsApp hack, which saw users across the world fall victim to a security bug that allowed hackers to remotely install spyware on users’ smartphones
However, according to a report from The Information (paywall), it claims that Facebook has not given up completely and still plan on eventually introducing ads. This was confirmed in a statement made to Engadget in which a Facebook spokesperson confirmed that ads are still a long-term opportunity for WhatsApp that they are still exploring.
The report goes on to claim that one of the reasons why Facebook ditched their plans earlier this year was because they wanted to avoid antagonizing regulators. Given Facebook’s somewhat bad reputation regarding user privacy, the company has come under intense scrutiny and ads would have definitely not helped their situation.
There were also internal concerns amongst company executives who were worried that introducing ads would result in users deleting their accounts. When exactly these ads will start being implemented remains to be seen, so expect that they will eventually show up one day.
The Information also has new details about just how Facebook could implement targeted advertising on the encrypted messaging app. The company would use phone numbers to “match” Facebook and WhatsApp accounts in order to determine which ads to show. The plan has already proven controversial within the company, though, with some executives reportedly worried it could cause WhatsApp users to delete their Facebook accounts. Also of concern: potential regulatory issues given ongoing antitrust investigations into the company.
Regardless, it sounds like ads in WhatsApp won’t be coming any time soon. Facebook has made clear that it will take years to merge its messaging infrastructure across its apps, and WhatsApp will take the longest to integrate, according to The Information.
Few surprised ads are coming. “With users spending more time on mobile, Facebook opening up WhatsApp to advertisers is really no surprise, especially if you look at the success the company has had with ads in Messenger,” said Ben-Itzhak. “As we have seen with other formats that have successfully driven organic engagement, it was clear that WhatsApp would eventually offer ads.”
Both Ryan Kelly, VP of marketing for Nanigans, and Akvile DeFazio, president of social media marketing firm AKvertise, echoed Ben-Itzhak’s comments.
“Over the years, Facebook has expanded advertising opportunities across its ecosystem. Advertisers now have the ability to reach people across Facebook, Instagram, Audience Network and Messenger. It’s safe to assume that WhatsApp is next in line,” said Kelly.
DeFazio said she doesn’t have any clients currently considering WhatsApp ads, but expected Facebook would continue to monetize its encrypted messaging app.
“It doesn’t come as a surprise that Facebook is offering ad space within WhatsApp given that they are looking for additional inventory, opportunities to drive ad revenue and further expand their reach — especially with younger demographics,” said DeFazio.
She foresees, in due time, advertisers will gravitate towards WhatsApp and test campaigns once they have a better understanding of how advertising in the messaging platform works.
Shifting ad budgets to WhatsApp. Like DeFazio, Socialbakers CEO said brands will first need to test ad opportunities and evaluate results before making major shifts within their ad budgets to invest in WhatsApp ads.
“For brands, the key to successful engagement on WhatsApp will be timely, relevant and personalized content — very much like chatting with a friend or colleague. It will be interesting to see which ad format performs best on the platform, once brands start to experiment with different ad types. With an audience of over 1.5 billion users, WhatsApp definitely presents a significant opportunity for brands to have authentic conversations with their customers,” said Yuval Ben-Itzhak.
Instead of choosing to move ad dollars manually, Nanigans’ VP thinks most advertisers will rely on Facebook to automatically place WhatsApp ads based his agency’s Q3 client activity. Last quarter, Kelly said 54 percent of the time Nanigans’ U.S. clients leveraged automatic placement of their ads within the Facebook “family” of ad options — a 69 percent increase in automatic placement usage over Q2.
“Many sophisticated advertisers do not view their Facebook News Feed budget as separate from their Instagram News Feed budget,” said Kelly, “When WhatsApp opens up to advertisers as a placement source, advertisers are likely to trust Facebook to dynamically serve ads across the Facebook ecosystem and optimize performance based on an advertiser’s objective.”
Making sure WhatsApp ads are effective. Jasmine Pickel, former VP of social media at North 6th Agency (N6A), said she had concerns users may find WhatsApp ads intrusive — and she wasn’t the only one. David Simon, CMO for digital marketing platform SteelHouse, also noted how ads showing up on WhatsApp could backfire if brands do not understand the app’s highly private environment.
“WhatsApp is a highly personal, and very private communication tool, which many users feel brands should have no part of,” said Simon, “The key for brands that do eventually decide to advertiser on WhatsApp will be to strike a delicate balance with users. They will need to make sure they don’t contaminate the experience with ads that maker users feel like someone uninvited has invaded their private conversations.”
Simon said programmatic “push” advertising resembling display ads would be a total miss on the platform. “WhatsApp is very different from a platform like Snapchat, which has been successful in setting up branded interactions. Snapchat ads are appropriate, but not personal. The ads are in places on the platform where users expect on-way communication from brands and others. WhatsApp ads will likely be personally cued and highly interactive, probably AI-driven communications conveyed on behalf of the brands.”
While it’s hard to speculate how users will respond to the coming WhatsApp ads, Simon does believe they could deliver results for brands wanting to connect with audiences.
“Without specifics, it’s hard to tell how consumers will react to ads in the WhatsApp’s Status feature,” he said, “but if they’re highly personalized, they could offer a new, communication element to a brand’s overall social advertising plan.”
Why it matters. WhatsApp’s has roughly 1.5 billion users, 450 million of which use the app daily. Now that Facebook has already cut its teeth on developing ads for messaging platforms (it launched Messenger ads in 2017), the company’s real challenge will be centered on showing brands the value of WhatsApp’s platform.
As every other social platform continues to feel more cluttered with brands competing for audience engagement, WhatsApp ads may be the solution for marketers looking to stake out new territory.
In the same way that Instagram ad growth has skyrocketed as Facebook’s has slowed, WhatsApp could play a significant role in driving growth for the company overall. As long as the company is able to demonstrate WhatsApp ads can result in meaningful consumer connections for brands, there’s little reason to doubt brands won’t eventually open up their ad budgets to WhatsApp ads.