Facebook Messenger ads are going global, whether we like it or not. After tests back in January proved promising in Australia and Thailand, the beta is now being expanded further, with businesses around the world now being offered a way to use Facebook targeting to extend their reach via Messenger. I'm in two minds about this. On one hand, I certainly see the appeal for marketers, given the fact that, whilst as-blocking through browsers has become almost the standard in recent years, segregated apps, such as Facebook Messenger and Twitter, have remained isolated from the trend. As such, using Facebook Messenger (which is used by over 1.2 billion people every month) as an ad space almost guarantees eyeballs on ads for marketers, dramatically expanding the reach of their campaigns. On the other hand, however, it could seem invasive to many user, and whilst Facebook have stated that users will be able to temporarily hide specific ads, they will not be able to stop them in their entirety.
As someone who uses the app to converse with friends on a daily basis, I find this a little disconcerting, though, admittedly, I won't be able to comment on exactly how intrusive the ads are until they actually start rolling out. But how will they actually work? According to Facebook, People will see Messenger ads in the home tab of their Messenger mobile app. When they tap on an ad, they will be sent either to the advertiser's website or to a new chat window where they can interact with the brand.
Looking at it from the perspective of the marketers, it seems like a win-win situation. Michiel Tops, General Manager of Marketing and Communications for the Australian department store David Jones, who has been using the beta service since the start of the year, said: “Messenger ads have been a powerful addition to our digital advertising campaigns, helping us reach our customers where they are already active and engaged. And thanks to placement optimisation across Facebook, Instagram, Audience Network and now Messenger, we're able to continue to optimise our advertising spend and further drive business results.” Sounds good right? But how actual Messenger users react to having ads thrust into their home screens when they're trying to plan a night out or bitch about work remains to be seen.
Sarah Vizard, content editor of Marketing Week, feels like people might see it as an intrusive gimmick. She explains: “When Facebook first spoke about trying to monetise Messenger, the whole idea was that it would be a big kind of customer service tool with people able to speak directly to brands to sort out problems. The pitch was that companies could save money by setting up AI chatbots to do this. There are some brands that are using chatbots on Messenger, but it's still seen as a bit of a gimmick. So, Facebook has been looking around for different ways to make money from Messenger and has obviously shifted its strategy a bit to think people will accept ads within it.”
Honestly, it seems to me like an obvious step in Facebook's ongoing plans to monetise users across its increasingly diverse and segregated platforms, which also include the main Facebook app, Instagram and WhatsApp. Of the four, WhatsApp is the only one remaining that doesn't not contain ads. But for how much longer? Facebook gets about 85% of its ad revenue from mobile, but advertising revenue through the main Facebook app and desktop platform is expected to cool this year, meaning multiple revenue streams from it's numerous separate platforms are becoming more important to the social network behemoth. Spreading the ads out over more platforms also means there's less chance of users feeling 'overloaded' with ads on the core Facebook platforms. As such, I'd be very surprised indeed is advertising didn't come to WhatsApp in some form in the foreseeable future, especially if it proves a success in Messenger.
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from Kidderminster in the UK.