From WhatsApp to Facebook Messenger and LINE, messaging apps are consuming the world’s attention…but can advertisers monetize that time?

While many messaging apps allow advertising, others do not…

Advertising and Messaging Apps

Gaming and social media consume the vast majority of consumers’ mobile and desktop time each month. And messaging apps are on the rise.

Due to the amount of time spent in messaging apps and the large user bases, the mobile ecosystem represents a prime opportunity for app developers interested in reaching out to these customers.

But not all apps are created the same.

Here’s a rundown of the major messaging apps and their advertising options:



WhatsApp is famous for its anti-advertising policy.

The WhatsApp blog even contains a quote from Fight Club’s Tyler Durden: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.

They take a vehement stance against advertising, claiming that “when advertising is involved you the user are the product.” 

And when WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook, there was some speculation that WhatsApp was going to loosen its privacy policy or introduce advertising. But so far that hasn’t been the case. A simple annual subscription of $.99 is how WhatsApp earns money.

Zuckerberg publicly stated that the goal for the next several years is simply growth. When his companies’ user base reaches 2 or 3 billion, he says, then there will be “many clear ways to monetize.”

And WhatsApp does appear to be growing.

Recently, it developed an extension for Google Chrome that allows WhatsApp users to operate the program on a PC or a Chromebook. To install the extension, users simply need to navigate to while using Chrome, then scan the QR code. This app is actually an extension of the mobile experience, and requires a connected phone in order to work.

Currently, the only way to monetize WhatsApp appears to be through messaging. There are marketing services that offer SMS marketing services specifically for this purpose.

But if you’re a developer looking to advertise on WhatsApp, that solution doesn’t appear to be in the cards in the near future…

Facebook Messenger

According to Zuckerberg, “messaging is one of the few things that people actually do more than social networking.” So it stands to reason that they want to monetize this space, but Messenger seems slow to adopt.

Companies like Korea’s KakaoTalk and Japan’s Line app tie their messaging apps to gaming platforms, which allows developers to promote games quickly and easily. When Facebook tried this in 2010, news feeds overflowed with spam and Facebook had to restrict companies like Zynga from abusing the feeds.

It appears Facebook has learned from its earlier mistakes. The app isn’t making any quick moves when it comes to advertising and monetization, but it’s also not shying away from Facebook privacy policies either.

The Messenger app has a permissions list as long as the company’s privacy policy itself. When installed, it can access:

  • A device’s log data
  • Cellular data settings
  • Identity information
  • Calendars and contacts
  • Location information
  • Use a device’s SMS service
  • The phone log
  • Photos and media files
  • The camera and microphone
  • Wi-fi connection information
  • The device ID and call information
  • And other custom settings provided by the OEM

Sounds pretty typical for Facebook, right?

Naturally, this extensive, detailed information offers a plethora of data that can be used to enhance targeting and personalization…even if the app itself isn’t a hotbed of advertising, like the Facebook News Feed.

Messaging Apps and the Future of Advertising

Snapchat is promising “gorgeous advertising” with its new media service, Discover. Major media brands from Yahoo to CNN will have their own branded space and be allowed to post photos and videos that last for 24 hours. They will follow the same type of disappearing act that messages from family and friends do.

Last summer, Line opened up advertising to marketers. This app, as mentioned, makes most of its money through games.

And Tencent’s WeChat, popular in China, has been testing out ads in its own feeds. Starting in January, users began seeing promoted content, which they can “like” or hide. WeChat is taking the cautious approach, learning from Weiboo’s mistakes: the Chinese Twitter flooded its service with ads and turned off its users.

From an examination of these messaging apps, we can see a few clear trends that will impact the mobile monetization landscape in years to come…

Messaging consumes a huge portion of people’s mobile app time, but is still relatively untapped. As Zuckerberg mentioned, people spend more time messaging than doing social networking. The messaging app world presents a fertile land of opportunity for advertisers and developers looking to reach customers.

But advertisers need to tread carefully. Technology is becoming much more intimate, and messaging apps are, by definition, more intimate than social networks. In the same way that advertisers need to watch how they monetize the more intimate Apple Watch, they also need to be careful how they monetize messaging apps.

Facebook and WeChat both appear to be learning from earlier mistakes. And with significant financial backing, they can afford to play it safe.

Messaging apps will experiment with other monetization strategies. Stickers, games, in-app ads, and app install ads are just a few monetization strategies that messaging apps already use. But we may see others.

For instance, Facebook pulled PayPal’s David Marcus to run Messenger. This reinforces widespread speculations that Facebook is looking to monetize via a payment system, such as Google Wallet or Apple Pay.

So what does all this mean for the mobile advertiser and developer? Given the amount of attention people pour into messaging apps, advertisers around the world will remain focused on these apps as a source of income. Even if we don’t see WhatsApp ads this year, things may change in the future.