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The Branding Potential Behind Some of Mobile Messaging’s Big Players

Marketers, take note (before this message disappears)

There are currently about 1.3 billion smartphones in use globally. By 2017, it’s expected that 2.5 billion users will connect through messaging-based apps.

Snapchat. Line. Whisper. Tango. These are just some of the call names of a new messaging code that advertisers are trying to understand and speak themselves. They are the new social platforms—entirely mobile and thoroughly engaging, particularly for youth.

Until recently, innovative social media marketing meant campaigns built for Facebook and Twitter, and maybe Tumblr. Just as marketers started to get the hang of this new language—redirecting their ad dollars accordingly—they had to contend with Instagram, then Vine and then Snapchat. While those platforms are still relatively new marketing landscapes, the increasingly mobile social media frontier is now exploding with unexpected, and seemingly inhospitable, new inhabitants that look really scary to all but the most daring brands. If advertising on Facebook was thought to be intrusive, try inserting a trademark into a private group conversation or targeting people who don’t want to be identified.

For example, how do you find fans on Whisper, the anonymous mobile message feed best used for broadcasting secrets? How do you campaign on Kik, where millions of users are messaging with friends and strangers? Should marketers bother to post questions on Jelly, yet another app for sending messages and getting feedback?

Already these apps attract massive audiences—WhatsApp alone counts almost a half billion. But to survive, most of these new apps will surely need to monetize some branded experiences. DDB Worldwide, used to pushing into new creative areas, has already embraced six-second video formats for promotions on Vine. The agency’s Oslo office already has branched out into disappearing messages on Snapchat.

These are almost safe ad plays—no-brainers. Still, clients are unsure of even these new modes of social media, says Joseph Cianciotto, DDB’s U.S. chief digital officer. It’s a challenge convincing brands only just now getting accustomed to Twitter that Whisper or Kik is worth a look. “Every dollar spent on Whisper is a dollar not spent on a known quantity,” Cianciotto says. “That is still nerve-wracking to a client.”

So much can go wrong marketing-wise—brand messages can fall flat or, worse, backfire. Unknowns also stand in the way of a full brand embrace of these platforms. How do they create a uniform experience across the apps when everything is native? From where will the third-party metrics come? “Marketing on ephemeral networks such as Snapchat, where content literally vanishes seconds after being received, is tricky,” says Thomas Husson, Forrester’s principal analyst of marketing and strategy. “These new networks are primarily peer-to-peer communication platforms where consumers expect relevant and entertaining content—not ads.”

Despite the challenges, marketers can ill afford to ignore this new breed. Much as Facebook became a gateway to the Web, some of these apps envision themselves as the gateway to mobile devices. They are the new communication hubs on smartphones. One study said users of apps like Kik send more than 30 messages per day, compared to an average of five regular texts.

Marketers will always be intrigued by the prospects of these platforms with large young audiences active on social and mobile, Husson says. “I’d expect that popular social media apps will become more than just services and will push for platform plays.”

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