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24 November 2016, 12:42

The future of targeted ads on social

A whopping 30,000 chatbots were developed for Facebook Messenger between April and September of this year. Clearly, these bots have been a huge hit with businesses, and the individuals they chat with. Now, Facebook is looking to capitalise on this popularity with the launch of targeted ads – or “Sponsored Messages” in Facebook speak – that will appear directly in Messenger threads rather than in News Feeds.

Targeting ads to an already engaged customer base

Sponsored Messages allow businesses to send “highly targeted, in-context” ads to anyone who has previously chatted to them on Facebook Messenger. And that’s an important point to emphasise: rather than being able to target any of Messenger’s 900 million users via simple demographics and interests, businesses can only target individuals who have messaged them in the past.

The feature provides a new revenue stream for Facebook, and allows businesses to target users in a place where they are less likely to skim over adverts, unlike in the News Feed. Plus, one of the more interesting uses for Messenger ads will be its purchase functionality, allowing users to buy a product in just a couple of simple steps. This means brands will be able to target people with a highly relevant product ad and prompt almost instant payment. Consider this from the customer’s perspective: instead of having to go to a company’s website, search through the products to find the best one for them, then head to the checkout, customers can simply chat with the brand in Messenger, ask the chatbot to recommend the best product for them, then buy it in a few quick steps.

Some Messenger users need a little more convincing

The reaction to Messenger ads has been mixed. On the plus side, it gives businesses the opportunity to deepen engagement with customers and is a clever way to build on the obvious popularity of both Messenger and chatbots.

But one of the key concerns has been around the potential for companies to spam users with ads, and how ads will change the user’s experience of Messenger. After all, receiving a new message may no longer mean a loved one is thinking of you or you’re being invited to the pub – it could just be an ad.

Facebook’s VP of Messenger, David Marcus, has been quick to reassure users that ads “will definitely be limited … we’re very paranoid about that and we don’t want bad things to happen to anyone.” Speaking of the potential for businesses to spam users with tons of ads, Marcus confirmed people will have full control to block messages from brands: “Of course, people using Messenger shouldn’t worry about getting spammed … businesses can’t send a sponsored message to threads that weren’t previously opened by their customers or prospects, and users have full control to block messages or people/businesses they no longer want to hear from.” Marcus has also stressed that Facebook can police Messenger ads much more tightly than ads sent through other mediums, saying “We have the ability to control the number and quality of messages that are sent to you, which is not the case with email.”

Looking to the future

At pslondon, we’re always interested in new ways of communicating with people, and we can see the enormous benefit in being served a relevant product that we can buy instantly, by a company that we’re already engaged with. Getting a bot to do all of the work, rather than going to a site and having to fill out so many details, certainly sounds good to us.

Plus, it’s another step in Facebook’s journey to becoming a digital passport for its users. As people start conversing more and more with bots, as opposed to flesh-and-blood company personnel, this move could prove incredibly lucrative both for Facebook and the companies advertising through Messenger.

It’ll be interesting to see what the uptake is like and the pslondon team will be keeping an eye on innovative ways that brands use Sponsored Messages. One thing is clear, though: Facebook has worked out how to monetise Messenger’s 900 million users, and it’s more than likely a similar feature will be adopted in WhatsApp as well. This could well be the future of highly targeted, extremely relevant ads.

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