Remember the note that WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum kept taped on his desk: “No ads! No games! No gimmicks?”

Well, it seems WhatsApp is backing off on its promise and will begin to slot ads after all, replacing the dropped WhatsApp subscription fee as a revenue stream for its parent company, Facebook. 

The unveiling comes on the back of WhatsApp’s debut last year of its Business API. That service enabled businesses to answer customers’ queries via automated messages. While customers could limit the messages they received from business, they will not be able to skip or block status display advertising.

How WhatsApp Ads will work

WhatsApp users worldwide will be able to view full-screen ads shown in-between friends’ status updates. Launched in 2017, the Status feature allows users to share photos, videos and GIFs that live on the section for 24 hours

It is likely that Facebook Ads will be a blueprint for WhatsApp advertising channel, serving up personalised content to users based on their profile, device use information and off-Facebook activity. 

There is the question, however, of how well brands and consumers will react to the app’s monetisation. Businesses and digital agencies are always on the lookout for the next big marketing channel to reach as many people as they can, but consumers still regard WhatsApp as a secure, private communication platform between their close friends and family. Targeted ads could be a form of violation of the platform’s end-to-end encryption privacy principles, which might be turning users off.

With 1.5 billion users, WhatsApp will have great potential for sales and brand awareness. What will work in brands’ favour is the brevity of the feature; viewers can move on quickly as possible when presented with an ad. However, brands will need to take a strategic approach to their creative and targeted messaging in order for their investment in this uncharted territory to really pay off in the end. It will be all about determining how to make those few seconds to their disposal count.

Social networks have grown more crowded and for brands looking to break away from the noise and find a new way to be seen or discovered, WhatsApp could be the ideal solution. What’s more, advertisers will also not view their Facebook News Feed budget separately from their WhatsApp ad budget as they might be able to use Facebook for automatic placement on WhatsApp. Its success will depend on whether the company can prove that brands and customers will benefit from valuable interactions. In the end, brands will only start planning their paid advertising budgets around WhatsApp once they have a clearer picture of the rewards they will get out of the platform.