For many users around the world, WhatsApp is the internet. It's where more than 2 billion people chat with their friends, order food, send money, shop for clothes and much more. It has become a true super app, similar to WeChat in China, for a huge number of users.
But WhatsApp never really caught on the same way in the U.S. There are lots of reasons for that: the popularity and network effects of Apple's iMessage, relatively cheap and now largely nonexistent SMS fees, users' close connection to their carriers and plenty of old habits and inertia to boot. WhatsApp was always interested in the U.S. market, but often seemed to see it as a lower priority than growing in developing markets around the world.
Now? WhatsApp is ready to make a real push in the U.S. — and it's making its case based on privacy. WhatsApp's first-ever stateside marketing campaign starts this weekend, with a commercial set to air during the NFL playoffs on Sunday. The commercial, called "Doubt Delivered," harps on the lack of security in SMS and the privacy that comes with WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption. Imagine if the mailman opened your letters, the ad says; that's what it's like to use SMS.
The irony, of course, is that WhatsApp is owned by Meta, the company with perhaps the worst privacy reputation of any company in the U.S. right now. (Which may help explain why the Meta name and logo only appear briefly, in small print, in the last moments of the ad.) The inertia for American users will be tough to crack; the Meta association may be even tougher.
But it's clear that WhatsApp is serious about growing in the U.S., and it may have a case to make. The company has spent the last year improving the service's privacy, working on solving some of its many issues with viral misinformation, and building it into a cross-platform service that's both more powerful and more useful than plain old SMS. And as more of users' lives move online, a messaging super app could be huge.