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WhatsApp ads to test targeted marketing, user readiness and data security

Being an encrypted and more personal space, WhatsApp can be a tricky domain to place ads

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MUMBAI: Ever since Facebook acquired WhatsApp, people have been expecting the popular chatting app to move towards an ad-based model. Recently, a tweet from an attendee at the Facebook Marketing Summit Rotterdam confirmed that WhatsApp intends to launch ads soon in the status/stories section and will also be connected to its sister sites like Instagram and Facebook.

This started a fresh conversation around two major topics; are the users ready and what about data security on an ‘encrypted platform’? Indiantelevision.com interacted with some marketing and digital experts and sought answers to these two very pressing questions.

While users on all social media platforms have become used to seeing ads, a similar pattern on WhatsApp is difficult to follow. As it is a more personalised platform used for chats with close peers, unlike the Facebooks and Instagrams of the world, which people use to follow a global base of users who might not be directly related to them, introducing ads will seem like an intrusion in the personal space.

ADOHM chief executive officer Kuldeep Chaudhary says, “While the content consuming pattern in the audience is evolving and they are getting used to seeing ads on multiple platforms, having ads on WhatsApp may not be welcomed easily. The reason being WhatsApp has a very large user base in the masses, for whom ads will be an intrusion. This step will see a similar reaction like how it was during the initial days of YouTube ads. While platforms need to take this step from a revenue perspective, audiences are not yet ready for the move as from consumer point of view it is another bombardment from advertisers.”

Vertoz founder and CEO Ashish Shah also advises brands to be cautious. “Ads showing up on WhatsApp might be looked upon as an intrusion into the users’ private space, considering the highly personal and very private environment of this communication tool. It is imperative for brands to ensure that the ads are non-intrusive in nature and do not irk off the users or disturb their privacy.”

Though feature ads are going to be a new addition to the chatting platform, WhatsApp has already been active in giving some brands a chance to interact directly with the consumers. Be it delivering e-tickets like MakeMyTrip and BookMyShow do, or sharing timely updates of order deliveries like Ajio does, many brands are active on the platform to offer their customers a more personalised and seamless experience.

Havas managing director Mohit Joshi notes, “Currently WhatsApp is a great space for two-way communication between the consumer and the brand. Marketers are creating WhatsApp brand profiles and then integrating them with their product/service offering across verticals. Many brands like MakeMyTrip, Ixigo and Milap have already started using this platform as a substitute/addition to email/SMS to connect with consumers once they have interacted with their platform. Currently, there is merit in using the platform more from an ‘owned media’ standpoint.”

However, any of these activities do not rely directly on the data from the app. But with advertisements from sources that are not connected to the users coming in place, a huge pile of data and information will be required by the advertisers to create a targeted reach. Users, in the past, have moved away from platforms like parent Facebook after cases of data breaches came to light.

NeoNiche Integrated Solutions Pvt Ltd MD and CEO Prateek Kumar mentions, “WhatsApp has always tried to ensure security between users for their conversations with end-to-end encryption being introduced in 2016. The announcement of ads on the platform seemed inevitable but the true extent of targeted marketing will only be realised after the full release. However, the extent of data shared with companies is probably the most contentious issue in this scenario.”

Also, getting data out of an encrypted platform seems quite impossible. Carat SVP Mayank Bhatnagar says, “Right now, it (ads on WhatsApp) is just to drive the reach. I will not forward my tickets to anyone else, and thus there is no engagement parameter in place. It is just to help consumers. Once they open the full-fledged advertising solutions, it will be helpful in garnering that reach but I am not sure how will they measure the engagement.”

However, Chaudhary states that Facebook can access keywords from WhatsApp chats despite encryption being in place. “In spite of the fact that WhatsApp states that they cannot access users’ data due to end-to-end encryption but in order to run targeted ads, access to data specific to individuals is required. Security researchers have pointed out that even with encryption in place, it will be possible for Facebook to derive keywords from people’s messages and use them to impose an ad-targeting model on the app. These ads will be showcased on WhatsApp stories and in-message advertising for WhatsApp business accounts.”

Kumar further shares, “It seems more likely that while chatting with other users, WhatsApp will showcase ads of particular brands that might be most relevant to you depending on the topic of conversation or particular keywords. One of the best-case scenarios for users would be if sponsored ads were only displayed after the use of keywords or syntax based content to drive clicks where individual, demographic and chat-based data would not be shared. However, understanding the growing prominence of target marketing and its effectiveness in the digital world, the on-ground scenario may differ greatly.”

Another way to access relevant data could be through telecom companies, as shared by RK Swamy BBDO president and director Sangeetha N. She notes, “Telecom companies do provide data based on gender, age, make of phone, average billing per month, location, post-paid/pre-paid, etc. While we've used this data in the past to send out SMS'es, we can surely use the same data to send out WhatsApp messages.”

Shah vouches on the importance of programmatic methodology to drive successful ads on WhatsApp as he notes, “WhatsApp can build the users’ profile using the information gathered directly from the platform and elsewhere. If WhatsApp is using programmatic advertising, then it will be the smart choice for these requirements. Programmatic advertising uses Data Management Platforms (DMPs) that help advertisers to analyse, process and structure the user’s data. DMPs can be used to get relevant audience profiles and to deliver personalised and relevant ads to them. Further, using the different targeting options like interest-based targeting, behavioural targeting, contextual targeting and many more, advertisers can deliver relevant and targeted ads to their customers on platforms like WhatsApp.”

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