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Facebook's latest test brings large, unavoidable ads to Messenger

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With Facebook running out of ad space on its flagship platform, it is now intent on introducing sponsored content into its Messenger app. The company announced on Thursday that it is testing ads on its popular messaging service. For now, only a small group of users in Thailand and Australia will be able to see the promotional items.

Facebook assures users that the ads will not be intrusive, despite the fact that they take up a large amount of space within the app. The ads are presented in the form of News Feed-style branded cards with a swipeable interface. The sponsored content will be located below your recent conversations in the app, where you’d usually expect to find personalized notifications from Messenger. Facebook is confident that you won’t mind these ads because they won’t infringe on your chats — otherwise they’d border on spam. However, that’s not necessarily the case.

When clicked, these new ads will prompt you to take an action such as learning more about the brand or product, or signing up for a service. It could also direct you to a conversation with the brand, which can then provide you with a link to the sponsored item and (in the future) let you securely purchase it directly from Messenger. The convenience factor is certainly an appealing prospect, but initiating a chat with a business also has its drawbacks. For example, chatting to a business on Messenger allows that company to send you sponsored messages in the future — an update that was introduced in November.

Users are being granted limited controls when it comes to the new ads, such as the option to hide and report specific content using the dropdown menu.

From Facebook’s point of view, Messenger (which is home to 1 billion users) is ripe for monetization. Facebook already expressed its concerns about ad growth on its main social network during its third-quarter earnings call in November. But it doesn’t really have much space to maneuver ads on its Messenger app,introduce either. A quick glance at the presentation of the ads indicates just how large they are compared to all the other icons on the app. They’re also being slotted right into the middle of the display, making them hard to ignore or scroll past.

Facebook claims that 1 billion messages are sent between people and businesses every month. Its new ads could substantially increase that figure. And that’s the bottom line for the company, whether users like it or not.

“We believe this new test for the very small group of people in Thailand and Australia reflects a lightweight, relevant, and useful approach to helping people and businesses connect on Messenger,” writes Eddie Zhang, product manager for Facebook Messenger, in a blog post. “For the Messenger community, it may enhance the discovery of new experiences to make it seamless to interact with businesses on their terms. For businesses, it could offer a new way to surface their products and services to current and potential customers.”

Messenger’s new ads will start appearing in Thailand and Australia over the coming weeks. Facebook claims that a broader rollout is also on the cards but it plans to refine the experience before expanding the feature.

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