By Adam Fraser
The growth of messaging apps in parallel with (and arguably, in some cases, at the expense of) social networks has been pronounced in recent years.
Whatsapp has hit a billion users and Facebook Messenger has surpassed 800m. Wechat has over 650m members and is growing rapidly in Asia. If you count Snapchat as a messaging app at its core, the trend to private messaging is undeniable.
I have previously written that marketers need to tread carefully in this more intimate setting. Chatting 1:1 or 1:a few is a very different experience to publicly discussing something on Twitter or publicly publishing on Facebook or LinkedIn. The user psychology and mindset is significantly different.
The private messaging setting feels closer to a private phone call or private text message than a public media arena.
Hence it was extremely interesting (albeit not hugely surprising) to see Facebook’s plans to allow direct messaging ads on its Facebook messenger platform. At this stage it is only a leaked story but the details revealed indicate that brands will be able to advertise only to individuals who have previously messaged them.
Big toe in the bath…but we can all see where this could lead. Many users may feel advertising within messaging apps is spammy, irrespective of whether they have previously contacted a brand (how the regulatory environment – such as the Spam act – deals with this area will also be very interesting to see). Knowing that messaging a brand open the doors to future “promotional messages of interest” could even act as a deterrent to users reaching out to a brand via Messenger in the first place. This would be a hugely unfortunate consequence, given the strategic importance of social media as a customer service channel.
The strength of any user pushback when first launched will have a big influence on the extent to which Facebook continues down this path. WhatsApp could also be in the medium term thinking. How any advertising strategy fits with Mark Zuckerberg’s quote around the time of the WhatsApp acquisition “I don’t personally think ads are the way to monetise messaging” will be interesting to see.
When we turn on the TV, open a newspaper or switch on the radio we have been accustomed to expect the interruptive experience that is advertising. However the growth in ad blockers makes it pretty clear how the typical consumer feels about these.
If you picked up the phone and were forced to listen to a 15 second ad before being allowed to call how would you feel? Not quite the same thing, but brands need to be extremely careful in the privacy and intimacy of private messaging apps.