After more than a year of preparation, WhatsApp was finally close to flipping the switch on advertising, kick-starting a plan to generate billions of dollars a year in revenue from one of Facebook’s crown jewels, which it had acquired for $22 billion six years earlier.
Last fall, employees prepared to share details of the planned 2020 rollout at an internal sales gathering in Singapore. But after meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ahead of the event, Will Cathcart, the new head of WhatsApp, relayed to staffers that the plan to implement ads had been shelved. Employees who had already booked their flights for the sales conference canceled their trips.
Zuckerberg suspended the push to introduce ads to the popular messaging app partly because Facebook wanted to avoid antagonizing regulators, according to people familiar with the matter. Facebook also feared angering WhatsApp users who valued the app’s emphasis on privacy and who resisted the idea of having their accounts tied to Facebook.