Messaging Apps: The New Browser

Bottle Message

In association with Rakuten Viber.

Following the discussion at ATS London 2019 on why brand marketers need to invest in mobile, ExchangeWire speaks to Cristina Constandache (pictured below), Chief Revenue Officer, Rakuten Viber, in this exclusive interview on how messaging apps can be used as an effective and brand safe environment for advertisers.

What advantages do brands see by spending in messenger and super-utility apps? What can be done to ensure these ads are brand-safe, non-intrusive, and privacy-compliant?

Industry stats show that users spend more time on messaging apps than on any other app, which is great for brands. This means that reaching consumers today can be done much more naturally through a native dialogue experience. It’s not only about placing ads in front of them, it’s about engaging in a conversation with consumers, which is something that no other marketing channel can deliver. The results go beyond just impressions, views, and increasing brand awareness: we’re talking about actual performance results where you can measure the impact and the actions taken by the consumers, following the interaction with a brand. Again, this is something that is exclusive to the messaging space. No other channel is able to offer the same level of engagement, not even social media.

Cristina Constandache

Cristina Constandache, chief revenue officer

When it comes to brand safety, many messaging apps offer a premium environment where ads are not placed in the middle of private conversations. While brands might think that they want to be inserted in the middle of a private conversation, it’s not a good experience for either the consumer or for the brand. First of all, no one can control and monitor the content of private conversations in real time, so you wouldn’t want to place an ad here. This is very important, because obviously as a brand, even if it is a closed space, you still want users to feel comfortable that your message is not coming across in a negative environment. At Viber, our placements have been chosen to showcase advertising in a way that doesn’t intrude upon private conversations in the app.

What is the benefit of native advertising?

At Viber, we tend to work mainly with native formats. Depending on the ad placement, the country, and the requests from the advertisers, some of our ads are compatible with banner placements as well. But we prioritise native because consumers respond favorably to native.

In terms of privacy compliance, we can’t speak for other messaging apps. But when it comes to Viber, our app has been built with the user’s privacy in mind from the very beginning. All messages, photos and media on Viber are end-to-end encrypted by default, meaning that we do not have access to the exchanges that the users are having, and we go above and beyond to ensure our privacy settings are set to the highest level by default.

With social platforms such as Tik Tok embracing rewarded video, similar to those seen in gaming environments, will we see similar ad units rolled out across all social and messaging platforms, and why?

Long answer short would be: ‘I hope not.’ But this is a very personal view. Again, I can’t speak for other messaging apps, but I don’t understand the point of rewarded video given that we’ve known for years that incentivised traffic offers poor performance. We are a utility app. We’re offering a service to the users and our priority is to avoid advertising in such a way that it becomes a nuisance to the consumers. Also, when it comes to the quality of the traffic that you are looking for, and the engagement for ad units, the clicks are great for rewarded video, but do you really think that the users who are clicking on something like a video just to get rid of it are going to be the ones that are going to yield the most conversions? Definitely not.

I do think that there is space for rewarded video. There are plenty of gaming apps where it might make sense to use rewarded videos, especially ones that skew towards younger audiences and users that don’t have access to a lot of extra money, who will put up with an ad to get free items for their games in return. Obviously, since it’s such a widely used practice in the industry, there are good results. But when it comes to messaging specifically, rewarded video is a deterrent to the consumers, not an advantage. Rewarded video is not how you increase engagement with the audience that exists today in messaging apps.

How do brands prepare for differences between in-app advertising and web banner advertising? Should brands that are outside the gaming industry gamify their ads to maximise user engagement in a way that is appropriate for the messaging setting?

If brands want to get the most of the messaging space, I’m not sure that gamification is the way to go for a non-gaming brand because messaging is all about relevance and utility. You are on the messaging app because you are performing an action; you are not in a messenger app because you want to play with your friend. There is a time and space for that. So actually we’re seeing the best results from non-gaming brands when they complement the utility and the conversational aspect of messaging.

Let’s take the financial sector for example. We have plenty of banks and financial services that are present on Viber, and they are present in chatbots. They offer one-to-one messages, so they are trying to replicate a real-life experience where the consumer is engaging with a brand because there is a specific need for it. Alternatively, they’re trying to at least understand the needs of the consumer and answer those needs. It doesn’t make sense in all cases to look at gamification.

Then you have some other non-transactional brands, like Coca-Cola, that are all about gamification precisely because they are non-transactional in the digital space. So it’s really a matter of what the brand is looking to achieve. If it’s a transactional brand, gamification is not the most important thing they should be looking at doing in the messaging space. Engaging in a conversation with consumers is hugely important, and allows the consumer to contact them through an open door, 24 hours a day. That is what is relevant in today’s world.

How can brand safety be promoted, besides crude methods such as blanket blacklisting?

To ensure brand safety each brand should first define what it means to them, because it’s not going to be the same thing to all brands. Then, transparency is highly important and should be applied as a rule over a broader range of publishers. Choosing premium inventory is another safety measure which a brand can apply, as is avoiding blacklisted publishers. Ultimately, choosing a good programmatic provider or agency can increase the chances of achieving a brand-safe environment. Last but not least, something that is not being done often and goes beyond the programmatic space, is choosing to discuss directly with publishers, or understanding what the publishers have to offer based on their different business models. We can put all the above measures in place, but the best way to ensure that your brand is in a safe environment is to understand how the different channels are working, what they offer, and how you can come up with a customised strategy for using them to their full potential, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all solution.

What would make advertisers invest in a messaging and super-utility apps in the privacy-focused landscape, and how can they be guided along the right path?

There is a lot of speculation around ITP and the future of the third-party cookie, because this is something very technical that is still changing. But when it comes to messaging apps, it’s quite obvious that this is where the consumers are going every day, and where they spend a lot of time.

Privacy is important, and you need to look at the different players that you’re dealing with and understand what their stance is on privacy. For Viber, we were built in such a way to protect user privacy, but we’re also creating a safer space for advertisers as well. This is done through the methods outlined earlier: how you choose where your ad placements are going, how they are shown, the type of ad placements, the way we engage with different types of brands, etc. Ultimately, being a utility app means that we are forced to ensure that whatever we put in front of our consumers is relevant to their experience within the app. Obviously it’s a new environment as well, because messaging apps have been under-utilised by brands so far. So the more advertisers diversify, the more they think of custom strategies designed for messaging apps, and the more they put these strategies as part of their marketing mix, the more successful they are going to be.

What forms of user identity does Viber use? What are the opportunities for programmatic advertising within Viber, while maintaining your privacy focus?

We look at IPs, IDFAs, and GAIDs, because we need to be extremely careful with the private information that we have and that we are collecting. As I said, user privacy is the key element within the app. However, without sharing any of the sensitive data on users or linking it to a person’s actual ID, we can still provide targeted advertising based on actions. By targeting actions, brands can reach highly relevant audiences with information fueled by intelligence from public activities versus private, identifiable information or chats. There are a lot of public activities and consumer actions happening within Viber. We have communities and content that is consumed in a public way, such as the type of stickers users download, or the kinds of chat extensions they use to enhance their messages. So all of this public information can be used to understand the consumers’ preference towards certain verticals, sectors, and brands. By using this more intelligent first-party data that doesn’t breach the private space, we can offer targeted campaigns that advertisers can buy programmatically or direct, at scale.