Skype’s brilliant, passive-aggressive new monetization idea: “Conversation Ads”

Skype is pushing ads into the conversation view, basically forcing its users to take in a little commercial content with each call they make.

The company said it’s personalizing the content and is hoping you’ll even discuss it with your friends while you talk. They’re even calling the new inventory “Conversation Ads.”

Here’s how I imagine that “conversation” going down:

“Hi, Dude, are you coming to bowling practice… Wait, what the [expletive deleted]?”

“What’s wrong, Walter?”

“Dude, there’s a huge ad right next to your face now.”

“What are you talking about, Walter?”

“It’s a [expletive deleted] ad for something called ‘Pleasure Hunt 2,’ and it’s right next to your face.”

“Walter, what the [expletive deleted] are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about unchecked commercialism, Dude.”

“Just take it easy, Walter. You don’t even pay for Skype. If you did, they probably wouldn’t be showing you ads.”

Yes, the company says the ad units will only appear in Skype for Windows one-to-one calls for users that don’t have a Skype subscription or Skype Credits. If you pay, you’re safe — for now.

On the Skype blog, Skype monetization wizard Sandhya Venkatachalam writes, “We’re excited to introduce Conversations Ads as an opportunity for marketers to reach our hundreds of millions of connected users in a place where they can have meaningful conversations about brands in a highly engaging environment. Skype is already at the center of meaningful conversations, where families, friends, and colleagues spend time together.”

However, we would argue that the “meaningful” and private nature of consumer-to-consumer calls doesn’t really leave too much room for “engagement” with brands. To cut through the marketing-speak, it’s a bit annoying and a bit intrusive.

But before you get all consumer-advocate-y on us, remember the First Law of Monetizing Social Media Products: If you, the consumer, are not paying for the product, you are the product. Skype reveals it will be using your location, age, and gender to target ads to you, essentially selling you out to advertisers. You can opt out of letting Skype use your age and gender, but the company will still sell ads against your location, like it or not.

On the other hand, paying for Skype Credits is a relatively reasonable trade-off to keep your data private and your conversations ad-free. And if the company’s idea is to annoy you into paying for the service, we are willing to call Conversation Ads a brilliant (if extremely passive-aggressive) business strategy.

Well played, Ms. Venkatachalam. Well played.

Top image courtesy of Gunnar Pippel, Shutterstock


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