18 months since it started rolling out ads in Messenger, Facebook is re-launching its charm offensive on advertisers as it looks to convince them of the value in merging the contextual with the personal, but one thing it won’t be doing imminently is forcing them to watch branded videos in the app.
“There’s definitely great demand from a business perspective for [autoplay video] ads, but we need to make sure that before we roll them out that people enjoy them, so testing will take a while,” Facebook Messenger vice-president of product Stan Chudnovsky told The Drum.
Facebook confirmed back in June that it was trailing the format with a small pool of people.
It said the spots would automatically play as users scrolled through their conversation with an advertiser but users would ultimately “remain in control of the experience” - ie tweak their settings to hide certain content, not opt-out of autoplay videos in Messenger entirely.
Chudnovsky explained that Facebook is currently experimenting with “different considerations” and hadn’t decided on anything firm yet. Early tests look promising, though.
“Right now over the past couple of months, we haven’t detected any sentiment decline and people are genuinely happy to see them because [autoplay video] explains [in a better way] what the business is selling. But we want to give it more time, because we want to see how it performs.”
The jewel in Facebook's crown?
During a talk at Dmexco in Cologne on Thursday (12 September) Chudnovsky is poised to pitch the Messenger as an end-to-end offering for advertisers: a customer relationship platform that can be used for both sales and brand building.
The firm's renewed focus on the platform comes as it continues to run out of room for advertisers on its news feed.
While it’s been diversifying its revenue streams though video-centered products like Watch, away from the endless scroll of the feed Messenger is the jewel in Facebook's crown and after seeing results from big brands and it’s ready to shout about it.
Lego, for instance, launched a Messenger bot last year to help with Christmas gift recommendations. It bought 'click-to-Messenger ads' which sent Facebook users to a bot that served them up potential products. Facebook said the toy-maker achieved an ROI 3.4-times greater on those ads, versus ones those that just linked Lego's own site.
During Facebook’s most recent earnings call, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said its flagship messaging app was one of the products that was “furthest ahead” for the business in terms of opening up fresh revenue streams.
However, as the platform tries to walk the tightrope between getting Messenger on media plans and turning users off its being “very slow and deliberate”.
It took Facebook a year to perfect Messenger ads – static ads that can direct users through to brands’ sites - and take them global, since introducing them Chudnovsky said it’s not seen any dip in sentiment.
Convincing brands to shift spend
When Facebook first opened up Messenger to brands it was very much a customer service platform, allowing marketers to build AI bots that could answer queries and let people buy stuff.
Now, 8bn messages are sent between people and businesses each month on Facebook (up four-fold on last year) with a mixture of humans and bots manning them.
On top of display ads and click to Messenger formats, brands can also send sponsored messages to users who have already engaged.
When it comes to getting Messenger on media plans however, Facebook has its work cut out.
A recent study found that 58% of marketers their messaging app efforts have been inhibited because it’s ‘not enough of a priority’ and 56% saying they’ve not doubled down on messaging due to lack of in-house experience.
The social network also has to differentiate itself the likes of Apple’s iMessage, WeChat and Skype which all have a go-to interface for B2C messaging. Facebook-owned WhatsApp too lets businesses communicate with consumers and while Facebook says its progress is “further out” more than three million people are testing it.
One way Messenger is separating itself is through tech like augmented reality, which advertisers like Sephora have been early through the gate to test, letting customers 'try and app' within the app.
"The hope there is that it allow advertisers to create more immersive experiences without introducing more friction into their buying load, which will result in higher conversation," said Chudnovsky.