Everybody loves messaging. It’s personal, it’s convenient, it’s a great way to keep in touch with the people we care about without having to — cringe— pick up the phone.

Advertising? Not so much. So how will consumers feel when marketers invade their sacred inboxes and start imploring them to “join the conversation”? We may be about to find out.

AdLingo was its name-o 🐶

A Google-incubated startup called AdLingo has launched a platform that allows advertisers to embed a conversational assistant within display ads.

AdLingo has been in development for two years within Google’s Area 120 incubator and, as VentureBeat reports, “essentially builds a Facebook Messenger-like experience within traditional web and mobile ad units.”

Clicking a Conversational Display Ad triggers a chatbot flow, which brands can build using a variety of tools, including Microsoft Bot Framework, LiveEngage, Blip, and Google’s own Dialogflow.

AdLingo is partnering with LivePerson to help brands manage conversations using a combination of humans and AI, and with digital marketing agency Valassis, whose VP of Strategy claims AdLingo’s conversational ads are 10 times more efficient than Facebook news feed ads:

"The conversation happens right there on the page."

Don Draper would be proud 🥃

AdLingo’s cofounder, Vic Fatnani, says the company is focused on solving a very specific problem for brands and software makers — discovery.

As more brands get on board with chatbots and business messaging platforms like Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp Business and Google My Business, they’ll be looking for ways to bring their conversational experiences to the masses.

For Fatnani, the solution is old fashioned (digital) advertising:

"People were building these amazing AI experiences, but no one was using them... We thought: ‘[What] if we combine the new school and the old school together?' "

Show me the money 🤑

If AdLingo’s bringing conversation to the people through advertising, WhatsApp’s challenge is how to bring advertising to the conversation without alienating its 1.5 billion people.

This week Himanshu Gupta, a former marketer at Chinese messaging juggernaut WeChat, published an in-depth piece in Factor Daily about WhatsApp’s advertising strategy and what it means for its parent company, Facebook.

Gupta outlines three ways Facebook intends to monetize the app it purchased for $19 billion in 2014, and whose founders swore would never contain ads.

The first is via WhatsApp Status, the Snapchat/Instagram Stories-like feature it launched last year. Because Status is a public feed as opposed to a private conversation, Gupta suggests running ads there won’t feel like an intrusion.

Indeed, the Status/Stories feature is growing in popularity across all Facebook apps (including Instagram) and may eventually eclipse the news feed in terms of engagement. The question is whether it will prove as attractive to advertisers, and as lucrative to Facebook.

WhatsApp’s second revenue stream is tied to its Business API, which I’ve written about extensively since it launched with limited availability in August.

Unlike Facebook Messenger, where a user needs to initiate the conversation, WhatsApp is allowing businesses to proactively send transactional messages to customers, such as receipts, boarding passes and shipping notifications.

As Gupta reports, WhatsApp is charging businesses a premium for these messages compared to SMS (as much as 7x), though delivery rates are also much higher.

For now, WhatsApp is maintaining a tight grip on what kinds of messages can be sent and which businesses can send them, though Gupta wonders whether the platform can ensure users’ inboxes remain spam-free once the floodgates open next year.

That brings us to the third WhatsApp advertising opp Facebook revealed in August. The company has started selling ads on Facebook and Instagram that prompt customers to message a business on WhatsApp.

Gupta likes how this approach relies on customers to initiate the conversation, but wonders if Facebook will end up cannibalizing its future ad revenue once businesses have a direct channel to the customer.

Proceed with caution ⚠️

No matter which tactics gain traction for WhatsApp in the short term, none will be successful if users’ inboxes become minefields of marketing spam.

The good news is that advertisers seem to get this. Marketing Land interviewed a handful of digital marketing professionals about their plans for WhatsApp.

Though they clearly appreciate the channel’s extraordinary reach, many, including the CMO of a company that specializes in digital ad retargeting, sounded a note of caution for brands:

"They will need to make sure they don’t contaminate the experience with ads that make users feel like someone uninvited has invaded their private conversations."

Everybody loves messaging. Let’s make sure to keep it that way.


This is an excerpt from The Message, Smooch’s biweekly newsletter about the messaging industry, chatbots and conversational commerce. Subscribe to get the next edition delivered straight to your inbox.