WhatsApp ads are coming: Will advertisers start buying?
Social media marketing agencies and platforms weigh in on Facebook's plan to further monetize its encrypted messaging app.
In August, Facebook introduced News Feed ads that launch a chat in WhatsApp, making it possible for consumers to start a chat with a business or brand in the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging app via their Facebook timelines. At the time, Facebook also launched its WhatsApp Business API and told the New York Times it would begin showing ads directly in the WhatsApp Status feature next year.
All these moves to monetize WhatsApp — an app that has mostly remained independent from Facebook since its acquisition more than four years ago — are evidence Facebook is ready to open up WhatsApp as its next ad channel.
With the first installment of ads coming to the platform next year, Marketing Land reached out to multiple social marketing agencies and management platforms to ask their thoughts on the coming WhatsApp ads.
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.