WhatsApp: “Behind the Scenes” Marketing

By: Joseph Sanfilippo and Ronald Zampanti

WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app that is available for IPhone, Blackberry, Android, Nokia, and Windows Phone. Each phone is able to send messages to each other across this platform. WhatsApp allows you to exchange messages with your friends and family without having to pay for Short Message Service (SMS).  WhatsApp uses the same internet data plan that you would use for email and web browsing, making it free to message your friends since it can be used over Wi-Fi.  WhatsApp’s biggest competitor is Telegram, which is a free messaging app over the internet that prides itself on being the most secure messaging app available.  However, WhatsApp is way more popular and used by way more people globally.

WhatsApp was founded mainly by Jan Koum, but was also co-founded by Brian Acton in 2009.  Jan and Brian both worked at Yahoo! before they created what we know as WhatsApp.  After leaving Yahoo!, Jan and Brian realized how big apps were growing, so they decided to come up with a great app that would make them money.  Jan came up with the name “WhatsApp” because he liked how it sounded a lot like “What’s up.”  In 2014, Facebook officially bought WhatsApp for an astonishing 19 billion dollars, which is ironic because after leaving Yahoo!, they both applied for jobs at Facebook, but were rejected.  As of February 2016, WhatsApp reached one billion users, making it the most popular messaging application, and it is still growing.  At one point, WhatsApp was gaining about a million subscribers every month, and users were sending 30 billion text messages a day.  Despite selling the company to Facebook, Koum still is involved in the app.

When using WhatsApp, you can only communicate with people who have the app as well.  Recently, WhatsApp was made free to download and use whenever you want.  However, WhatsApp used to offer their product free for the first year, and each year to follow it cost $0.99, which was still cheaper than using regular SMS.  In the licensing agreement, it states that users must be age sixteen or older to use WhatsApp.  WhatsApp is mainly used by people who travel and reside in a different country from home for a while.  This app is unique in this way, as customers can avoid international charges that they would incur by using regular SMS messaging to contact their friends and family back home.  The messaging on WhatsApp is all over Wi-Fi, so if you and your friends and family download WhatsApp, you can communicate with each other for free rather than paying the large international messaging costs you would normally pay without the app.  As long as you have Wi-Fi, you can communicate with your friends and families overseas for no cost.

WhatsApp is used just like text messaging. With the help of the app, people can send unlimited basic text messages to anyone who also has a WhatsApp number.  You are also able to send unlimited images, videos, and voice messages on the app.  Just like normal SMS messaging, you can create group messages as well as share your location with your contact list.  The app also features a large number of emojis and symbols, as well as allows you to post status updates so your WhatsApp friends can see if you are busy or not. WhatsApp also offers WhatsApp Calling, which allows you to call your friends and family for free, even if you are in a different country.  WhatsApp uses your internet connection just like it does with its messaging rather than your cellular plan’s voice minutes.

The people who use WhatsApp are young; half of users are below the age of 36.  Fifteen percent of WhatsApp users are between the ages of 18 and 34.  WhatsApp is also popular among teenagers.  When looking at the demographic of WhatsApp users, almost half of the adults that use WhatsApp during a normal month are Hispanic.  Also, users are 20 percent more likely to have a household income that is less than 50,000 dollars. WhatsApp sees most of their users in poorer countries around the world, as many of them cannot afford the high prices that can come through using SMS messaging and a cellular plan’s voice minutes. WhatsApp is now completely free to use. Many people, especially those with low household incomes, use WhatsApp to avoid the costs of regular messaging and regular calling.

WhatsApp does not have any advertisements. The creators wanted to provide a service that is not riddled with advertisements. The founders of WhatsApp know people often try to avoid ads and they hope consumers will stay on the app longer without ads.

Businesses can broadcast using WhatsApp. Broadcasting consists of sending bulk messages to WhatsApp users that can include text, images, video, or audio content. Broadcasting was created in 2013 by WhatsApp. It also allows users to send group messages without revealing recipients to one another, which cuts down on the user’s notifications.  This is used by marketers on the app because with broadcasting they are able to reach almost one hundred percent of their contact list, which is their target market. Since WhatsApp is a personal communication app, businesses should be advised to tread lightly in how they market themselves, especially since they cannot make formal advertisements on the app.

Marketers can make their own WhatsApp account using their phone number. They can create their own brand persona or character on the account. For instance, a fictional character was made by Absolut Vodka in order to create interest and engagement. Absolut Vodka wanted to engage young consumers with the brand for its limited edition Absolut Unique in Argentina. So they decided to throw an exclusive launch party but to get in you had to contact the “fictional doorman” Sven, a guy who is notoriously hard to please. The Whatsapp number was released in all Absolut media and advertising and users started sending messages, songs and even indecent proposals to Sven in order to get in.

Businesses have to do what we consider “behind the scenes” marketing. Without the ability to make advertisements on this media platform, businesses have to acquire consumers’ phone numbers in order to deliver any form of content on WhatsApp. Marketers can offer consumers something in exchange for consumer phone numbers. Incentives can range from deals or sales to valuable information. Once a phone list is built, marketers need to produce great content on relative topics in order to keep consumers engaged. Content can be delivered through images, videos, audio recording, or text messages. Speedy customer service is needed of businesses marketing on this website. Messages are generally seen within minutes on WhatsApp, while messages can be seen days later on other social media platforms such as Facebook. WhatsApp has a 70% open message rate, meaning marketers are basically guaranteed exposure to their messages. Marketers can also engage in consumer research with this app. Marketers can question consumers regarding certain things they like, or have them choose between options the brand is proposing to launch. Consumer input is always useful in making decisions.

Sales is a metric marketers can use to measure a company’s marketing objectives. Businesses can determine whether more sales are being made since utilizing the app. The amount of open messages can indicate whether consumers are actually reading and looking at content created by the company on this app. The amount of people directly messaging the company through WhatsApp is a statistic to keep in mind as a marketer. Website traffic based on how many people clicked the company’s website link on WhatsApp is also important.

In countries where SMS messaging (a.k.a. text messaging) is less accessible or more expensive, WhatsApp is widely popular. The app is not that popular in America because of SMS deals. Small businesses and artisans in countries such as India have used the application to communicate directly with clients and finalize sales. In other countries, some businesses have put their WhatsApp numbers on advertisements and websites, letting the public know they can be reached using the application.

Businesses can purchase credit messages to market on this media. The greater the number of messages bought in a subscription, the smaller the cost per message. Five credit messages costs about $178.16, while three hundred credit messages costs $6,427.32.

It costs practically nothing to use this app and it doesn’t require the upkeep of other social networks that necessitate active content production. WhatsApp is simply another avenue by which customers can reach you; all you need is a phone number.



27 thoughts on “WhatsApp: “Behind the Scenes” Marketing

  1. Aishwarya Gunti April 25, 2016 / 8:28 pm

    I love whatsapp more than Facebook messenger because of its linkage to phone numbers and privacy it provides. Apart from that, non existance of advertisements is a killer deal. It is the place where marketers cannot intrude in but customers have the opportunity to choose them. If whatsapp loses that feature, countries with minimum income levels will stay away from it. It will be so because though it costs monwy thwy stick yo it because of the abscence of distractions and intruptions. Recently, I have also noticed that whatsapp also started encryption on messages to assure privacy and security to its customers. I hope sincerely that whatsapp does not open doors to advertisements ( atleast in the traditional way) which every other social media does.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:12 pm

      I think the privacy aspect of Whatsapp is a great feature as well. To be able to give your number to who you want to communicate with rather than allow any one of your Facebook friends to message you is a great aspect of this app. I definitely agree that with the privacy and no ads makes this app a great deal that we should all think about transitioning to. The creators of Whatsapp have been firm since the beginning about no ads, so hopefully they keep their idea. Now that it’s free, I think everyone should at least download the app and try it.


  2. Zac Lyons April 26, 2016 / 12:51 am

    I have never used Whats App before but I can say that if I was texting with people or creating a chat I wouldnt want to have the possibility of being marketed to. Even having to text the company for them to interact with you doesnt appeal to me. I think Whats App is just one of those things people dont want changed.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:17 pm

      I agree that it would be annoying to receive text messages from different companies, but I think that by making the app free because of it is a pretty good trade off. I agree that no one really likes change, but ignoring a text sent by a business or company is much easier then getting ads just constantly thrown at you that you can’t do anything about like most other apps and websites. All in all I think that customers would rather have the app free and have to deal with some text messages by companies, unless they start receiving multiple texts a day, which would then get very annoying.


  3. cbernard7778 April 26, 2016 / 3:42 pm

    I had never heard of WhatsApp before this year when my friend had been using it to contact her family while we were in the Bahamas. I came home to a phone bill through the roof from reaching out to my own family, and I realized then how useful WhatsApp was. It’s definitely monumental to be able to contact friends and family around the world without racking up phone data and just being able to use surrounding wireless internet connections. Definitely an App ill utilize in the future.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:21 pm

      The best part about this app for Americans is how we can communicate with our family overseas without having to pay for it. I had a similar experience when I went to Italy last summer, and after I was kicking myself that I didn’t download Whatsapp. Especially now that it is free, I think it is an app we should all download for these situations, as well as people who don’t have an unlimited texting or calling deal. I also will try to utilize this app in the future, and I think everyone who is planning to go out of the country should download this app.


  4. Sean April 26, 2016 / 6:30 pm

    I was shocked to learn just how popular WhatsApp is. I had heard of it before, but never have used it nor heard of any of my friends using it. After learning just how large the network is, it seems like a platform marketers have to be on. I think this could be a great platform to be on for companies trying to expand internationally, since it sis very popular among people who have left the country.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:25 pm

      I was surprised just how popular this app was as well. I had known people used it when they went overseas, but I was shocked at how many people who live outside of the United States use this app. It makes sense though, as many countries don’t have the cell phone plans and bundles that the United States has. I agree that this is something businesses overseas need to try to get into in some way, because of how many people actually use this app. However, they will have to be extremely careful when going about it, as this app is not the average app to advertise on.


  5. Andie-Jane Phinney April 26, 2016 / 8:33 pm

    I have never used WhatsApp before, but I know that if I were too, I would not want to see marketing ads popping up. I believe it is a great app for communicating and interacting with friends and family, but I do not believe that marketing through these apps are a good idea. I believe the marketing ads should be more for the digital and picture apps, rather than the text applications. Though I am sure it could have some great success through WhatsApp, I personally would not like to see the ads through my text and conversations with friends and family.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:30 pm

      I agree that advertising through Whatsapp wouldn’t be a very good idea. People just don’t want to see ads, especially when they are communicating with their friends and family. However, if they want to make the app free to use so that they can allow their consumers to keep using the ad, they need to incorporate a third party business in some way to make money. I think that companies texting consumers is a good idea, because it isn’t exactly advertising, but it is a way to market that wouldn’t be too annoying to consumers. Plus, consumers can just ignore or delete the text from businesses without ever reading the app, which wouldn’t take a lot of time or effort to do.


  6. Hechuan Lou April 26, 2016 / 9:15 pm

    I heard a lot about WhatsApp before I came to the U.S. but I had no idea about this App at that time, we usually use Wechat or QQ as online chatting tools. As I started familiar with this app, I found it’s very useful, and it has a special function that Wechat or QQ didn’t have, which is you can read or see if the messages delivered or seen by the receiver. From this article I also get the idea that how the App make profit from it and I think it would be a good idea if WhatsApp cooperate with Wechat and develop Chinese market.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:36 pm

      I definitely agree with you that Whatsapp should try to develop their presence in the Chinese market. I am not too familiar with the Chinese market, but according to you they don’t have much of a presence there, which they should as it is a huge market. I think that Whatsapp is the most comparable app to regular SMS messaging, so I think that is why many people like it. Also, Whatsapp has certain features that other messaging apps don’t have. By not going into the Chinese market, Whatsapp is definitely missing out on a huge market.


  7. Justin Flory April 27, 2016 / 1:35 am

    I think WhatsApp could be a very effective tool for marketers, especially outside the United States since most of the users of the app are outside the U.S. WhatsApp could be very successful with customer service and also sending out promotions. It can also allow customers to interact and reach out to the company. They should keep advertising off the app though and stay true to their values.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:40 pm

      I agree that they should stay true to their word and keep advertising off of the app. Staying true to their word shows that they are trustworthy, and will probably have an app that is good. I agree that marketing is a big opportunity for this app, and they could get the word out on many promotions and can handle customer service a lot easier. They could put their Whatsapp number in stores, so people can text them about good and bad experiences that they had, which they can monitor and try to resolve issues with upset consumers.


  8. Colleen Flynn April 27, 2016 / 2:17 am

    Surprisingly I was not familiar with WhatsApp, despite it being the most popular messaging app with one billion users. I think that it is really eye-opening that Facebook bought the app for 19 billion dollars! There definitely shows promise in the app and popularity for Facebook to buy it for that much. I thought it was really interesting though that the app is only allowed for users 16 and up. I would think that it would have a great following by younger kids who have ipods or phones without a data plan, but want to still message their friends on WiFi. It did not really make sense to me as to why it had to be 16 and older, but I’m sure there is a legal standpoint and reasoning for that. I also think marketing could be cheaper but a little more difficult since you need the customer’s phone number in order to market/ secretly advertise to them. The idea is great, but I would think it is actually hard to actually get down. Not everyone wants to provide their phone number. All in all though I am amazed at the success of the app and think it is an overall great concept that seems to be growing and growing!


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:49 pm

      I didn’t realize how popular Whatsapp was either until doing this project, and I also couldn’t believe that Facebook spent 19 billion dollars to buy the app. I think the ages 16 and up is just there for precautions, and I’m sure that many kids below this age download the app anyways. If not, I’m sure their parents give them permission to download the app, as it is a great deal, so I think the age restriction is more of a guideline. I agree that not everyone would want to get the marketing from businesses, but by downloading the app and creating a number you are pretty much agreeing to being subject to this. It is kind of like when you log on to Facebook and see the ads everywhere. You provide your number to the app the second you create a Whatsapp profile.


  9. Olivia Sullivan April 27, 2016 / 3:29 pm

    I just discovered what WhatsApp was because my friend studied abroad first semester. I did not download it but I do think it is a good app to have if you need to contact someone out of the country. With ads being displayed on WhatsApp I would probably just use Facebook to contact people. But ads are on every site so I think people will just get used to it. I think it will be a good tool for marketers when they need to expand their brand to different countries.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo April 28, 2016 / 6:57 pm

      I think you are right that U.S. citizens are downloading this app to contact friends and family overseas, but don’t really use it after that. It would be just as effective to use Facebook Messenger, but some people like the privacy and similarity to SMS messaging that Whatsapp provides. I agree that companies can not only advertise to the United States with this app, but to other countries as well, vastly expanding their target market, which could be huge for many companies.


  10. reganka April 27, 2016 / 7:26 pm

    I also just recently heard of WhatsApp as we are at the age where people are studying abroad and traveling the world. Although I have never personally used this app, I can see its positive features. However in regards to advertisements, I’m not sure it is the best idea. I do agree with Olivia that it could be a good tool for marketers in relation to international expansion. But I’m not confident it would work well for marketers in other ways.


  11. Stephanie Barbagallo April 27, 2016 / 7:39 pm

    A few of my friends used WhatsApp when they studied abroad last semester. I downloaded it in order to communicate with them easily. It was definitely beneficial to use for people who are not in the same country and can’t communicate otherwise. Before my friends studied abroad, I had not heard of this app before. It wasn’t until I got it myself when I realized just how popular it is. I think WhatsApp can definitely be beneficial to some marketers who are looking to market their products internationally – since a lot of the uses of it are when people need to communicate with those who aren’t in the same country as them.


    • Joseph Sanfilippo May 1, 2016 / 9:50 pm

      I have been seeing many responses from people just like you who have said they have never heard of this app until recently whether from their friends and family leaving the country or from our presentation. It makes me believe that the marketing for Whatsapp hasn’t been very good, especially in the United States. While this does make sense as we have a lot of cellular plans here in the United States that provide unlimited texting, it is something Whatsapp should still be advertising to the U.S. population. I think Whatsapp is missing out on a big part of their market, especially on those U.S citizens who leave the country. Whatsapp could easily put out advertisements on social media for U.S. citizens showing what their app is. I think Whatsapp should do this and focus on the aspect of leaving the country in their ads for U.S. citizens, since that is what most of us would use it for. By showing the comparison in prices, I think many U.S. citizens would easily download this app when their friends and families leave the country.


  12. Marisa Harrington May 1, 2016 / 8:06 pm

    I didn’t know how popular WhatsApp was until this presentation. It is a really good way to talk to friends and family who are all around the world. It is also only $0.99 compared to a large amount of money for texting someone outside the United States. I think the most popular age for this app is around 13 though because I know my younger sister uses it with all her friends and she’s only 14. I don’t think it would be one of the top apps to market on though. If i was texting someone and apps kept popping up, it would get annoying. I think the Bot idea is creative though. By giving deals on a popular app will reach many consumers of all ages.


  13. adeangelo13 May 2, 2016 / 11:02 pm

    Until this presentation, I had no clue how relevant and popular WhatsApp was. It is an amazing way to keep in contact with friends and family around the world and not have crazy data fees from your phone company. On a negative note though, I would not like to be in a group chat and have advertisements constantly popping up.


  14. cimminoc May 4, 2016 / 2:36 pm

    Whatsapp is a great way to stay connected especially with friends or family overseas. I wonder if alot of the same people that use whatsapp also use Facebook messenger. This seems like a conflict for Facebook and I’m not sure how they properly market for both to a similar group. An app I have used in the past is Groupme. It sounds similar and allows large group chats across multiple platforms. I’m interested to see if combining efforts with Facebook will seperate Whatsapp from the many messaging apps out there.


  15. brigettehoughton May 5, 2016 / 1:57 am

    I have used WhatApp before, and I loved it. It was a great way to stay in contact with my family while I was abroad in Rome for a semester with out having to get an international phone number. There was one thing that I wanted to ask you guys after your presentation, but I didn’t think of it until after, what sets WhatsApp apart from texting apps like Viber? Friends of mine that were abroad with me used all different kinds of texting apps to stay in contact with their families back here in the states, but Viber was one of the more popular ones because you could make phone calls as well as text. I am just curious as to how long ago they added this feature because when I had the app a year and a half ago I don’t believe it was there.


  16. Derek Lawton May 7, 2016 / 12:05 am

    I personally love WhatsApp much more than Facebook. They have so much more to offer than Facebook. I love how you have privacy unlike Facebook and it gives customers a lot of options. It is always a very easy way to keep in content with friends and family especially when in college. Im interested in the future of Whatsapp.


  17. Maria May 7, 2016 / 2:34 pm

    “When looking at the demographic of WhatsApp users, almost half of the adults that use WhatsApp during a normal month are Hispanic.”

    I am not surprised! Coming from a Hispanic family, my mom uses WhatsApp to text and call our family in the Dominican Republic without worrying about international calling costs, as you have mentioned. It’s a great way to stay in touch with family from all over the globe for free, if it is being used through Wi-Fi. WhatsApp can still be used with cellular data when not connected through Wi-Fi, which may still incur a charge if we were to go over data, but, the cost is still cheaper than paying for international calling.

    I liked how you guys, Joseph and Ronald, mentioned the two main audiences that use the app: families and marketers. Both I can related to; my family uses it for communication and yet I have an uncle who is running for a position in congress in my country and often than not, he is sending bulk messages on his strategies in order to promote himself.

    The two of you also mentioned how Telegraph prides itself in privacy; something new I noticed in WhatsApp is a message that pop up: “Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption. Tap for more info.” WhatsApp seems to contain the last bit of the piece of the puzzle to really surpass Telegraph, more than it has already.

    Great article, I enjoyed reading it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s