Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp, and wants you to know it

By Bloomberg | 05 Nov 2019 at 14:54hrs
Facebook Inc. owns Instagram and WhatsApp, and wants everybody to know it.

The social media giant has created new corporate branding and a new logo for Facebook Inc. to distinguish Facebook the corporation from the company's popular social network with the same name. The new logo — which is the word Facebook spelled out versus the white or blue "f" Facebook has used for years — will appear in places like the login screen and the settings page of Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook began this effort earlier this year when it added "Instagram from Facebook" and "WhatsApp from Facebook" to both apps, but the new branding makes the message even more pronounced.

The point is to ensure that people who use those products know they're owned by Facebook, said Chief Marketing Officer Antonio Lucio.

"All the research that we've had from Generation Z and millennials was all very emphatic as to they need to know where their brands come from," Lucio said in an interview. "We needed to be more transparent with our users in showcasing that everything is coming from the same company."

Lucio said most people don't know that Instagram and WhatsApp are Facebook-owned — he cited a Pew research study that found only 29% of Americans knew Facebook owned both apps. When people find out, Lucio said it improves that person's perception of Facebook as a company.

"When they know, the overall appreciation for the Facebook family actually grows," he said.

Facebook could certainly use a boost after years of battling misinformation campaigns and mishandling private user data. Facebook is also a favorite punching bag for politicians and is currently under investigation for potentially stifling competition.

That tarnished reputation also means that while aligning WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook might improve the company's overall image, it could have an adverse effect on some of the brands. Lucio said associating Facebook with Instagram makes "no difference" on how a user feels about Instagram. That same association, though, negatively impacts users' perception of WhatsApp, primarily because the messaging app pitches itself as a safe, private place for communication. Facebook's track record on privacy isn't very good.

"There is a little, let's call it brand tax, on the messaging apps like WhatsApp," Lucio said. "It's a more private setting."

Lucio said a rebranding like this could take five to 10 years to catch on, and that Facebook is OK with a brand hit on WhatsApp because it's committed "long term."

He also said Facebook discussed changing its name, along with other ways to distinguish the parent company from its core social network. Ultimately, it decided to keep the name. They didn't want it to look like Facebook was trying to run from the problems associated with its brand.

"It would have been perceived as disingenuous by the rest of the world," Lucio said. "We want to step up and deal with what we have to deal [with]."

The branding effort is representative of a larger shift happening inside the company. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has been pulling the different aspects of Facebook's empire closer together in recent years. Instagram and WhatsApp, for example, once operated very independently, and that autonomy is often used as a pitch by larger corporations when they want to acquire a popular asset. There were also feelings, especially early on, that Facebook could give these apps time to grow without the pressure that comes with trying to make money.

But the co-founders of both companies have left in the past 18 months as that autonomy started to fade. In WhatsApp's case, Zuckerberg started to push the service toward targeted advertising, something its co-founders promised it would never do. With Instagram, Zuckerberg started limiting how much it steered users from Facebook to Instagram, and instead started trying to lure Instagram users back to the main social network. Some inside Facebook saw this as a chance for Instagram to give back to its parent company after it benefited from Facebook's network and resources following the 2012 acquisition.

That effort to pull the products closer has manifested in other ways too. Employees who work at Instagram and WhatsApp gave up their instagram.com and whatsapp.com email addresses in favor of Facebook-branded emails earlier this year, for example. Facebook is also currently working to enable messaging between all its different services, a robust technical challenge that will take years to finish. That effort is happening while Facebook is under investigation by multiple federal agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, for potential antitrust violations. Some critics, including Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, have said this plan could make the company harder to break up from a technical standpoint.

Lucio said Facebook's branding efforts could continue into other parts of Instagram or WhatsApp, or into other Facebook products like Oculus and Workplace. "You're going to see it more subtle in wherever it makes sense within the consumer experience," he said.



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