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How to Advertise on Mobile Messaging Apps

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When phones were still considered the ‘3rd screen’, one of the first ways advertisers tried to reach audiences was through SMS campaigns. American Idol anyone? But mobile-friendly social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, with their glitzier interfaces and richer communications through video and images quickly left SMS campaigns in the dust.

But, a Facebook post only has a real life of 3 hours, and a tweet 18 minutes before getting flushed down the timeline. The rise of mobile messaging apps such as WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk promise to combine the direct targeting of SMS with the continuity and multimedia richness of social network communication. How can marketers use these platforms to talk to their consumers effectively?

1. Talk in Emoji

For brands or agencies leading the pack, consider emoji a new exercise in art and copy. Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ lyric video illustrates how familiarity with the canned symbols is just as important as familiarity with the alphabet in this new craft. For example, the ‘super’ for the line “I got the eye of the tiger a fire”, was “I got the (winking smiley) of the (side tiger)(front tiger)(side tiger) a (flexing bicep).” If that just had you go “???”, think of it as having your copywriter and art director combine into one role, and express in Wingdings. And brands will probably have to get used to the fact that using smileys —and chickens, and monkeys, and poop icons— in their corporate communications is now ‘on-brand’.


Katy Perry’s “Roar” Lyric Video mashes emoji and text

FYI, Whatsapp, whose interface was featured in the video, didn’t have to pay Perry a dime, simply because she was a fan… and probably has her finger on the pulse of the millennial consumer ;)

2. Hand over your brand with branded stickers

Besides the default emojis, most of the apps come with another type of communication format: Stickers. While emojis are static, canned default symbols from the app, stickers are large, downloadable add-on (read: brandable) GIFs, usually of cute animated characters. The expressiveness of stickers have fans of Line in Taiwan creating viral melodrama comics using the brand’s sticker characters, bunny and bear.

The Walking Dead official account on Line just released their zombie sticker set on Nov 5, allowing fans to disseminate the apocalypse. Stickers are also the perfect vehicle for celebrities. Korean pop idols such as G-Dragon and 2PM have their own suite of mini-me stickers —laughing, crying, booing— expanding the meaning of ‘give your brand over to the fans’. I’m waiting for a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) to release dancing burgers so I can express my hunger. Turn on your notifications, branded stickers might just become the next hashtag.

Furthermore, these apps are linked to a whole creative suite of ‘in-house’ editing apps such as Line Camera and KakaoStory, that allow you to add filters, messages, stamps to your messaging images. There is a huge possibility there to put a spin on the now ubiquitous photo campaigns. 

walking-dead-sticker.jpgline-camera-photo-editing-app.jpg         t-dog-itsfriday-walking-dead-edit.jpg 

Branded stickers allow consumers to express themselves with your content.

In-app creative apps allow consumers to take your branded content and run with it, such as this Line Camera photo-editing app.

A Walking Dead photo can be edited within Line, with the Line Camera, and shared with friends.

3. Press 1 to Start an Official Dialogue

WeChat brands so far have had the most robust 2-way dialogue with their fans. Starbucks, Harrods, Nike, Durex etc have pinging setups that resemble ‘press one for english’ type phone menus. Chatting with Durex for example, gleans you sex tips, an 8 second voice message in your choice of sexy female or sexy male voice saying ‘Don’t be angry, baby” in Chinese, and hours more of 2-way pleasure.

Nike+ has 8 different workouts delivered right to your message box. Starbucks has the latest coffee blend with gorgeous pictures and a mouth watering description to go along with it. The Walking Dead on Line has ‘On Air’ sessions after every episode airs on TV, attended by over 30,000 fans. This allows the brand to engage directly 1-on-1 with its consumer base, and gauge the popularity of the series’ storyline.

How is this different than an email or Facebook CRM program you might ask? The difference is, consumers can control the path they want to take with talking with the brand, feel special while doing it. And brands get stats on what is most popular.

   walking-dead-on-air.jpg                             nike+-wechat.jpg

The Walking Dead ‘On Air’ function on Line allows 1-on-1 conversations between brand and consumers.

Nike+ on WeChat lets you choose workout programs directly from your message box.

It still remains to be seen when social messaging will truly take off in the U.S. The most popular U.S. based app, Whatsapp, remains staunchly against advertising on its platform. For global brands however, most social messaging apps allow brands to customize localities. So Miley Cyrus has a Japan account, Korean account etc. No matter what, Asia seems to be taking the lead in this conversation, or so its 200 million Wechat users are saying. 








Country of Origin


South Korea, now Japan-owned

South Korea




Global User base








Tech in Asia, August 2013 This statistic gives information on the most popular mobile messenger apps in Asia as of August 2013, based on number of registered users worldwide. As of that month, NHN Japan’s LINE app had 230 million registered users, up from 100 million registered users in January 2013.

**The Next Web; WhatsApp This statistic shows a timeline with the amount of monthly active WhatsApp users worldwide as of October 2013. In August 2013, the mobile messaging platform announced more than 300 million monthly active users, up from over 250 million in June 2013.

About the Author


Ruth Ong

Ruth Ong is an Art Director at Grey New York. She hails from sunny Singapore and has called New York home for the past 8 years. Besides art, strategy and all things digital, she loves sailing and culinary encounters of the third kind. Twitter: @ruth__ong 

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Last week, I was lucky enough to escape the frozen tundra of New York for a few days to moderate a panel with a group of members of the IAB Mobile Committee (folks from CBS Interactive, Millennial Media, Pandora, and TargetSpot) at the Online Marketing Summit in San Diego. I thought (though as moderator I may be biased) it was a great conversation, looking at the year ahead in mobile advertising.

iStock_000007887592XSmall.jpgWe kicked off by tackling one of the great industry clichés, namely that this is “the year of mobile.” This phrase has been a constant at every mobile meeting, event, summit, and panel since at least 1999, and onstage at OMS the panel agreed that we need to move beyond it. “Year of mobile” is irrelevant, because we’re living in the era of mobile, and it’s something that publishers, agencies, and marketers alike need to understand and internalize. With that in mind, I committed to never utter the phrase “year of mobile” at a conference again. If you catch me doing it, call me on it.

Someone did raise the question of whether this is the “year of the tablet,” which I reserve the right to repeat ad nauseum.

The best takeaways from the panel were some great pieces of advice for marketers, including the following:

  • You can’t just cram a full website down onto a mobile device and expect success. Even if the network and smartphone can display your content, the screen real estate and more importantly the consumer mindset are different in the mobile world, so sites optimized for mobile will always do better than repurposed Web pages as mobile destinations/landing pages.
  • Don’t create a mobile silo. Mobile works best when it’s integrated into a broader marketing strategy. Simply throwing the $30K left over after the rest of the campaign is planned out at mobile is not a path to success. In fact as mobile increasingly becomes the glue that binds all the other media in a campaign together, it’s going to be ever more important to consider mobile at the outset of any campaign planning process.
  • Let someone else do the heavy lifting. Let’s face it, mobile is a complex landscape. With upwards of 5,000 devices and 15 operating systems, making sure that a campaign, site, or app works across devices and networks is hard. But there are tons of companies that can help manage that complex landscape.
  • Focus on people, not devices. While it’s tempting to plan a campaign tailored to the new, hot device on the market, marketers should approach mobile like they do any other medium, and start with the goal of the campaign and who they want to reach. The device(s) to target should follow from that. In some cases it’ll be a specific device or operating system, but usually it’ll be a combination of several. Mobile’s evolved beyond targeting solely based on sites or devices; explore opportunities to target demographic, psychographic, and behavioral segments.
  • Plan success metrics early to focus on the right ones. Mobile is a chance to grow an interactive advertising business with the hindsight of what we did right, and wrong, on the Web. Avoiding click-throughs becoming a dominant success metric would be a great win for Web hindsight. Clicks to mobile landing pages are just the tip of the iceberg of what you can do (and measure) with mobile ad campaigns. Interactions, shares, texts, calls, stores located, apps downloaded, views, coupon redemptions, and impressions, are all possible success metrics—and nearly everything is measurable. Just like the web, think about the goals of the campaign first, figure out what success metrics will matter, and go from there.

It’s an exciting year for the industry (even if I can’t call it the year of you-know-what), and an exciting time for the IAB as we ramp up our resources devoted to helping the mobile advertising industry grow. The IAB published a Mobile Buyer’s Guide in 2009. That was a long time ago in mobile terms, but the advice in it is actually pretty consistent with the points the panel discussed: details may change, but good strategy is good strategy. Marketers who want to learn more can start by looking there, and feel free to get in touch with the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence. We’re eager to help!

Joe Laszlo is Deputy Director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, at the IAB