Can messaging apps ever be used for content?

One key trend of recent years, that very few media watchers anticipated, has been the growth of a new generation of messaging apps. WeChat, WhatsApp and Snapchat are just the tip of an iceberg of apps that enable mostly young people to send quick and easy messages to each other.

Their growth has been phenomenal. WhatsApp has more than 500 million active users, WeChat has 396 million active users, while Line reports to have 480 million registered users

The challengers have also shaken up some of the existing social media players. Facebook recently revamped its messaging offering, Twitter is working to attract more users to its private messaging system and most recently Instagram announced Bolt, a messaging app that is designed to take on Snapchat, which has had a limited beta launch.

Almost all of the apps access an existing address book, which bypasses the need to build new list of users.

What are the opportunities though for content producers, does this new breed of messaging apps offer much to brands?

Brands have always used messaging

In a way brands have always used messaging systems to distribute content. The most obvious example is of course the email. Most branded emails tend to focus on links that drive users to websites, but not always. There are numerous examples of brands who use email as primary way of distributing content.

As for how effective the new platforms are for distributing content, depends on the nature of the app. The key question brands need to consider is how easy it is to send messages to lots of people? For many messaging apps this is the Achilles’ heel that will stop brands from using them effectively. Some services offer single to many broadcast messaging like WeChat, but even they have stringent controls over how brands can use this service.

Creative approaches

Creating content for messaging apps demands a different kind of creativity. Many of the key examples of brands using messaging apps have been when they have created a character for a brand and personalised the way they communicate with people. Given the younger demographic of many messaging apps this seems to be much more effective that a brand simply using the messaging system as broadcast-only medium from their corporate account.

It is very early days for brands using WhatsApp. Most of the recent examples have tended to involve brands creating a character and that person having a WhatsApp profile. One very clever example came from Absolut. The brand planned an exclusive party in Argentina to launch the new collection and created “Sven,” a personality to be the doorman at the party.  Sven’s important job was to choose lucky ticket entry winners.  In order to communicate with Sven, however, applicants had to use WhatsApp to convince Sven to give them access. 

Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp inevitably means that there will be more opportunities for brands in WhatsApp as time goes by.

Snapchat and WeChat

In a recent example for the CMA we looked at how brands were starting to consider Snapchat as a platform for distributing content.

The big issue for many brands with the platform is its early association with the sending of lewd images and videos. Snapchat appears to have moved on now and its Snapchat Stories innovation has attracted many brands. Up until now though most brands seem to be using the platform for competitions - like this clever idea from Heineken for the Coachella festival. It will be interesting to see how Snapchat develops as a platform for storytelling.

The messaging brand with the highest potential for storytelling though could be WeChat.

The three year old messaging systems that is hugely popular in China and is increasing its range in the UK and Europe now, has already worked with many brands including Burberry and McDonald's. It feels as if the messaging service will evolve into something more akin to Facebook or even Twitter. The break at the moment is that service limits how often brands can engage with users. But this is likely to change as the platform develops.


Overall though it is still early days for brands using messaging apps, however ultimately they may have no choice given that the young seem to prefer these platforms ahead of established social media like Facebook.

Commissioned by The CMA

Posted in CMA blog
31stJul 2014

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