As first mentioned last year, Facebook had confirmed that ads will appear in WhatsApp, starting in 2020. Before arming up with pitchforks however, it’s worth looking into the details.

Facebook has long had a problem figuring out how to monetise WhatsApp. When they bought the messaging service, it had to deal with a longstanding promise to the userbase about why they charge for the service after the first year instead of selling advertising.

It’s been years though, and nobody’s really paying for WhatsApp (when was the last time you paid your 99 cents?) and the founders are gone, so while Facebook isn’t exactly hurting for the cash it seems fair that they try to work out how to make some money from their $19b outlay.

Late last week at a Facebook Marketing Summit, the company detailed its first run at advertising in WhatsApp, and it’s probably not as off-putting as you might think.

It looks like WhatsApp won’t be placing ads in your standard WhatsApp experience. You won’t be seeing banners atop your contacts list and your won’t get a popup when you send a message. That’s the core WhatsApp experience we’ve had for years unchanged.

Where you will start to see ads is in the WhatsApp “Status” area, where users upload temporary updates into “stories” for friends to view. The feature’s been around a little over a year now for WhatsApp and has found its way into the main Facebook app and Instagram as well. It’s mainly designed to compete with Snapchat. Ads will likely appear as you reach the end of a friend’s Status story (as on other services).

If you don’t use WhatsApp Status, you won’t be seeing these ads. A quick check in my own WhatsApp Status tab reveals the only update waiting for me this morning is the introduction to WhatsApp Status from the service itself.

It’s fair to say I’m a fairly light WhatsApp user, but I certainly don’t see friends scrambling to post stories on WhatsApp Status. Maybe it’s bigger in other markets. Of course, less traffic means less eyeballs, and less revenue. Expect the revenue question to come around again.

Ads will come to WhatsApp Status in 2020. After that, where they’ll appear is anyone’s guess. For now though, the team should probably be commended for resisting the urge to go all-in on the revenue hunt.

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cuts deep

question is, how to communicate with those friends if you don’t use it? (sms isn’t the answer) i’d love to be able to stay protected and talk all my uncles/aunties/random friends into using signal, but it’s not that easy

Phill Edwards