All posts in “advertising”

Click-to-WhatsApp messaging buttons are now rolling out in Facebook ads


WhatsApp has always said that it has no plans to put ads into its own app, but this is not stopping Facebook, which now owns WhatsApp, from figuring out other ways of monetizing the hugely popular messaging service, which has around 1 billion daily users.

Today, Facebook is launching a new ad unit that will let businesses create a link between the two platforms: advertisers can now include a button on their ads so that people can call or message via WhatsApp with the click of a button.

We reported early sightings of the feature in test mode earlier this year.  Now, Facebook has confirmed to us that it’s rolling this out gradually, starting first with North and South America, Africa, Australia and most of Asia.

You might notice that Europe is not included in the list, and wonder if that might relate to news that Facebook last year had to pause efforts to share data between the two platforms when it was deemed to violate data protection laws.

From what we understand, the plan is to introduce Europe at a later date, but Facebook is going to first observe how the feature is used elsewhere, and is also still working through questions from outside the company about how WhatsApp and Facebook will work together.

(Those outside the company may well include consumers, but also regulators.)

The new feature getting announced today, more generally, follows on from some bigger developments for how WhatsApp is already being used by businesses.

Facebook tells us that more than 1 million Facebook Pages already include WhatsApp numbers in their posts each month, which implies that there is already a pipeline between the two companies being used by businesses more informally to connect with customers more directly.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard that in some developing markets, businesses are using their WhatsApp and Facebook pages as their primary points of contact for users, so this would make some sense to expand for Facebook, as the new White and Yellow Pages, respectively.

“Many people already use WhatsApp to communicate with small businesses. It’s a fast, convenient way to stay in touch,” said Pancham Gajjar, product marketing manager, Facebook, in a statement. “By adding a click-to-WhatsApp button to Facebook ads, businesses can now make it even easier for people to learn about their products, set up an appointment or use their service.”

The other trend to note here is that WhatsApp has been working on a way of creating more specific business accounts for some time now. Most recently, it’s posted some more information on its help pages about how business accounts will be verified, confirmed or unconfirmed — although it has yet to roll out any specific products or pricing tiers that speak to these three statuses.

The new button ad-unit is also similar to the click-to-Messenger ads that Facebook previously rolled out.

“That format was the first ad product to explicitly link activity on Facebook with activity on Messenger, and it was followed by other ad formats on Messenger itself,” said eMarketer principal analyst Debbie Williamson. “It seems that Facebook is following a similar strategy for WhatsApp, starting with click-to-WhatsApp ads on Facebook, and presumably eventually rolling out ads on WhatsApp itself.” (Which really would be a track back from WhatsApp’s mission statement.)

For now, Facebook does not have plans to add the WhatsApp button integration to regular consumer services, although you can see the potential for putting the links in, say, Pages where users want to offer a contact address, or in the Marketplace next to items that are being sold, or even in job listings.

“We recently started testing different ways for a Facebook Page to point people to their WhatsApp presence from the Page itself,” a spokesperson said, “but don’t have any more details to share on that right now.”

Updated with comment from eMarketer.

Apple introduces a new pay-per-install ad product called Search Ads Basic


Apple today is introducing a new way for app developers to acquire users for their apps: it’s launching a pay-per-install advertising product called Search Ads Basic. The “basic” branding signals that this product is being aimed at smaller developers compared with the existing Search Ads product, which is now being renamed to Search Ads Advanced.

Launched last year, Search Ads have been one of the biggest changes to date in terms of improving discovery of mobile applications on the App Store. The idea with the original Search Ads product was to help developers better target potential users using specific information – like location, gender, keywords, and whether or not they’ve ever installed the app before.

After configuring a campaign, those ads would then appear at the top of the App Store search results when users searched for a keyword or terms, like “games,” or “war games,” for example.

Developers paid for these ad placements when users tapped on them.

That product, now called Search Ads Advanced, isn’t going away. Instead, it’s being joined by a more entry-level option, Search Ads Basic.

In this case, developers aren’t paying for taps, but for actual app installations as a result of the ad.

Setting up a Search Ads Basic campaign has also been designed to be a much simpler process. The only parameters that have to be entered are the app to be advertised, the budget, and the amount the developer wants to pay per install.

Here, Apple will helpfully suggest the maximum the developer should pay based on historical data from the App Store related to the type of app being marketed. While other pay-per-install ad campaigns from third parties may offer similar results in terms of installs, Apple’s advantage is that it has direct access to App Store data and the ads themselves show up directly in the App Store – not elsewhere on the web.

Apple’s implementation of ad targeting also respects user privacy. While it does use its historical understanding of App Store trends to help target ads, it doesn’t build specific profiles on individual users for targeting purposes.

In addition to the ease-of-use, a side effect of using Apple’s Search Ads product is that it can lead to a higher chart ranking. Apple’s algorithm takes into consideration number of downloads and velocity of those installs to move an app up the Top Charts. Because Apple considers an install from Search Ads a “high quality” download, it counts those installs towards the app’s chart position and its rise.

There are no limitations on the type of app or size of the company that can use Search Ads Basic, but it will make the most sense for smaller shops who aren’t yet ready to toy with Search Ads’ more advanced options. Plus, Search Ads Basic limits budgets to $5,000 per month, while Search Ads Advanced has no such upper limit.

Since its launch, Search Ads have been largely embraced by developers as an easy way to increase their app’s exposure. Apple’s data indicates that conversion rates for the original Search Ads product have been holding steady at over 50 percent, while the cost per acquisition has been below $1.50. Compared to other platforms, this is below the market norms.

The new ad product is launching today and will be available on searchads.apple.com alongside the Search Ads Advanced offering. From there, developers can start their campaigns then track results in an online dashboard showing how many users installed the app, the campaign budget, and the amount paid.

Initially launched in the U.S., Search Ads were more recently expanded internationally, to markets including the U.K., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and Mexico.

However, Search Ads Basic won’t roll out to these markets until sometime next year.

Facebook will temporarily disable a tool that lets advertisers exclude people of color


Facebook has been under fire for its practices and policies that enable advertisers to exclude “multicultural affinity” groups from the audiences they reach via the social network. Now, in light of a ProPublica investigation and pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, Facebook says it’s committed to taking a closer look at its advertising policies, its COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a letter to CBC Chairperson Cedric Richmond.

Until Facebook figures out how to ensure advertisers don’t use its tools in a discriminatory way, Facebook will temporarily disable the option that lets advertisers exclude multicultural affinity groups from their audience. As Sandberg wrote in her letter to the CBC, multicultural affinity groups “are made up of people whose activities on Facebook suggest they may be interested in ads related to the African American, Hispanic American, or Asian American communities.”

Multicultural marketing, Sandberg said in her letter, is common in the ad industry. There are “many legitimate uses for this kind of marketing,” she said, but there are also concerns that advertisers use Facebook to discriminate against people in the areas of housing, employment and credit loans.

“By allowing online advertisers to promote or market a community or home for the purpose of sale to select an ‘ethnic affinity’ as part of their advertising campaign, Facebook is complicit in promoting restrictive housing practices,” members of the CBC said last year.

Facebook said it also will take a look at how advertisers are using exclusion targeting across other “sensitive segments,” like ones that relate to members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

Pinterest rolls out its own version of QR codes


If you are walking around a retailer, you might have seen a sign or something along those lines posted to check out its Pinterest account for additional content or products – but there was not really a seamless way to get to that account without a lot of tapping around.

Taking a cue from some of the prevalence of QR codes around the world, like China, Pinterest said today that it is rolling out its own variation of QR codes for retailers and brands. They behave like you’d expect for a QR code, where users can open the Pinterest app and use the code to quickly jump to a board without having to search or tap several times to get there. It’s another way of reducing friction to getting to the content from those brands or retailers on Pinterest, as a huge amount of the content on the service comes from brands or marketers.

“In China it works because when they see a QR code they open the app and scan it,” visual search product lead Jeff Harris said. “You don’t really know how you’re supposed to process it in the US. Pincodes are a really good use case. You open up Pinterest and tap the camera icon. We had so many partners asking for it. They had all this online content already and said hey can you use the camera.”

Pinterest users just open up the camera app, which the company seems to be increasingly using to close the distance between the real world and Pinterest as it looks to get the right content in front of its users. Collapsing that distance, and shaving off even a small number of seconds to the experience of getting to a product, can be critical to getting a user on the service and keeping them engaged. It can then do its work of getting interesting content in front of them that they might not have realized they wanted to see in the first place.

By doing that, it offers brands and marketers an opportunity to get their products in front of users when they already have a ton of baked in intent in terms of interest in a brand’s products. They might go to a shoe rack, and not see a pair of shoes they like, but the retailer can direct them to a home with a much wider array of shoes that the company has available. And when they go to those pages, they have a Google-like intent of looking for products for potential purchase, which they can then start saving for later or continue down the road of eventually purchasing those products.

So it may seem like a little addition — and somewhat late to the game given how popular the tactic is abroad — but it’s a behavior that hasn’t quite stuck in the U.S. just yet. By making the process more seamless and tapping an already existing psychology, Pinterest gives its users a way to quickly access more products and give marketers a way to get more products in front of those users, which means it can continue to convince marketers it’s getting products in front of users in ways that Facebook or Google might not be able.

I watched 1,000 hours of YouTube Kids’ content and this is what happened…

The multicolored slurry of user generated content that for years has been successfully netting millions of kids’ eyeballs on YouTube by remixing popular cartoon characters to crudely act out keyword search scenarios leered into wider public view this week, after writer James Bridle penned a scathing Medium post arguing the content represents “a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives”.

What do you get if you endlessly recombine Spiderman and the Joker with Elsa from Frozen and lashings of product placement for junk food brands like McDonalds?

A lot of views on YouTube, clearly. And thus a very modern form of children’s ‘entertainment’ that can clearly only exist on a vast, quality-uncontrolled, essentially unregulated, algorithmically incentivized advertising platform with a very low barrier to entry for content creators, which judges the resulting UGC purely on whether it can lift itself out of the infinite supply of visual soup by getting views — and do so by being expert at pandering to populist childish cravings, the keyword search criteria that best express them and the algorithms that automatically rank the content.

This is effectively — if not yet literally — media programming by SEO-optimized robots.

And, as Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964, the medium is the message.

… because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium. It is only today that industries have become aware of the various kinds of business in which they are engaged. When IBM discovered that it was not in the business of making office equipment or business machines, but that it was in the business of processing information, then it began to navigate with clear vision.

Insofar as kids are concerned, the message being generated via YouTube’s medium is frequently nonsensical; a mindless and lurid slurry of endlessly repurposed permutations of pilfered branded content, played out against an eerie blend of childish tunes, giddily repeating nursery rhymes, and crude cartoon sound effects.

It’s a literal pantomime of the stuff kids might think to search for. And it speaks volumes about the dysfunctional incentives that define the medium.

After the latest outcry about disturbing UGC intentionally targeting kids on YouTube, Google has said it will implement new policies to age-restrict this type of content to try to prevent it ending up in the YouTube Kids app, though a prior policy forbidding “inappropriate use of family characters” clearly hasn’t stemmed the low-brow flow of pop-culture soup.

The maniacal laughter that appears to be the signature trope of this ‘genre’ at least seems appropriate.

McLuhan’s point was that content is intrinsically shaped by the medium through which we obtain it. And that it’s mediums themselves which have the power to enact structural change by reconfiguring how humans act and associate en masse.

The mindless cartoon noise mesmerizing kids on YouTube might be the best visual example of that argument yet. Even if McLuhan thought analyzing content itself would merely distract from appropriate critical analysis of mediums.

All you have to do is imagine the unseen other half of these transactions: Aka all those unmoving toddlers staring into screens as they consume hours and hours of junk soup.

The thriving existence of such awful stuff, devised with the sole intent of generating high volumes of ad revenue by being structured so as to be likely to be surfaced via search and recommendation algorithms, is also a perfect example of how the content humans can be most easily persuaded to consume (aka clickbait) and the stuff that might be most intellectually profitable for them to consume are two very different things.

Algorithmically organized mega platforms like YouTube may host quality content but are expert at incentivizing the creation and consumption of clickbait — thanks to ad-targeting business models that are fed by recommendation systems which monitor user inputs and actions to identify the most clickable and thus most addictive stuff to keep feeding them.

(This is not just a problem with kid-targeting content, of course. On the same dysfunctional theme, see also how quickly disinformation spreads between adults on Facebook, another ad-funded, algorithmically organized mega platform whose priorities for content are that it be viral as often as possible.)

Where kids are concerned, the structure of the YouTube medium demonstrably rewards pandering to the most calorific of visual cravings. (Another hugely popular kids’ content format regularly racking up millions and millions of views on YouTube are toy unboxing videos, for example.) Thereby edging out other, more thoughtful content — given viewing time is finite.

Sure, not all the content that’s fishing for children’s eyeballs on YouTube is so cynically constructed as to simply consist of keyword search soup. Or purely involve visuals of toys they might crave and pester their parents to buy.

Some of this stuff, while hardly original or sophisticated, can at least involve plot and narrative elements (albeit frequently involving gross-out/toilet humor — so it’s also the sort of stuff you might prefer your kids didn’t spend hours watching).

And sure there have been moral panics in the past about kids watching hours and hours of TV. There are in fact very often moral panics associated with new technologies.

Which is to be expected as mediums/media are capable of reconfiguring societies at scale. Yet also often do so without adequate attention being paid to the underlying technology that’s causing structural change.

Here at least the problems of the content have been linked to the incentive-structures of the distributing platform — even if wider questions are getting less scrutiny; like what it means for society to be collectively captivated by a free and limitless supply of visual mass media whose content is shaped by algorithms intent only on maximizing economic returns?

Perhaps the penny is starting to drop in the political realm at least.

While kids’ TV content could (and can) be plenty mediocre, you’d be hard pressed to find so many examples of programming as literally mindless as the stuff being produced at scale for kids to consume on YouTube — because the YouTube medium incentivizes content factories to produce click fodder to both drive ad revenue and edge out other content by successfully capturing the attention of the platform’s recommendation algorithms to stand a chance of getting views in the first place.

This dismal content is also a great illustration of the digital axiom that if it’s free you’re the product. (Or rather, in this case, your kid’s eyeballs are — raising questions over whether lots of time spent by kids viewing clickbait might not be to the detriment of their intellectual and social development; even if you don’t agree with Bridle’s more pointed assertion that some of this content is so bad as to be being intentionally designed to traumatize children and so, once again looping in the medium, that it represents a systematic form of child abuse.)

The worst examples of the regurgitated pop culture slurry that exists on YouTube can’t claim to have even a basically coherent narrative. Many videos are just a series of repetitious graphical scenarios designed to combine the culled characters in a mindless set of keyword searchable actions and reactions. Fight scenes. Driving scenes. Junk food transaction scenes. And so it goes mindlessly on.

Some even self-badge as “educational” content — because in the middle of a 30 minute video, say, they might display the word “red” next to a red-colored McDonald’s Big Mac or a Chupa Chups lollipop; and then the word “blue” next to a blue-colored Big Mac or a Chupa Chups lollipop; and then the word “yellow”… and so on ad nauseam.

If there’s truly even a mote of educational value there it must be weighed against the obvious negative of repetitious product placement simultaneously and directly promoting junk food to kids.

Of course this stuff can’t hold a candle to original kids’ comics and cartoon series — say, a classic like Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races — which generations of children past consumed in place of freebie content on YouTube because, well, ad-funded, self-sorting, free-to-access digital technology platforms didn’t exist then.

Parents may have hated on that content too at the time — criticizing cartoons as frivolous and time-wasting. But at least such series were entertaining children with well developed, original characters engaged in comic subplots sitting within coherent, creative overarching narratives. Kids were learning about proper story structure, at very least.

We can’t predict what wider impact a medium that incentivizes factory line production of mindless visual slurry for kids’ consumption might have on children’s development and on society as a whole. But it’s hard to imagine anything positive coming from something so intentionally base and bottom-feeding being systematically thrust in front of kids’ eyeballs.

And given the content truly has such an empty message to impart it seems logical to read that as a warning about the incentive structures of the underlying medium, as Bridle does.

In truth, I did not watch 1,000 hours of YouTube Kids’ content. Ten minutes of this awful stuff was more than enough to give me nightmares.