Meta (META.O) has introduced its first AI-driven ad targeting programme for businesses on WhatsApp, signalling a significant shift for the popular chat service. The announcement, made by CEO Mark Zuckerberg via video at a conference in Brazil on Thursday, aims to boost revenue from the encrypted messaging platform known for its privacy focus.

This new ad targeting tool represents a departure from WhatsApp’s traditional stance against the targeted advertising methods used by Meta’s other apps, like Facebook and Instagram. The AI tools will leverage user behaviour on these platforms to deliver targeted messages to customers who use the same opted-in phone number across accounts. This approach is expected to enhance the effectiveness of business messaging, which previously involved broad, non-targeted outreach to all opted-in users.

Guilherme Horn, WhatsApp’s head of strategic markets, highlighted the importance of this development for businesses. “These AI tools will allow businesses to optimise ad delivery to users most likely to engage,” Horn told Reuters, emphasising the value for companies paying for these messages.

Meta has been striving to monetise WhatsApp, its largest app in terms of daily users, following its US$22 billion acquisition in 2014. Despite its vast user base, WhatsApp has so far contributed minimally to Meta’s overall revenue. The company has already introduced various commerce and payment features on WhatsApp, including business messaging tools for customer service and marketing.

In addition to the AI ad targeting, Meta unveiled a new AI chatbot designed to handle business inquiries directly within the chat. This chatbot will assist users with common requests, such as finding catalogs or business hours, mirroring existing AI-powered customer service platforms. This initiative aligns with Zuckerberg’s broader goal of encouraging businesses to adopt automated communication tools.

Furthermore, Meta announced the integration of Brazil’s PIX, an instantaneous digital payment method, into WhatsApp’s payment system. PIX, which facilitated approximately 39% of transactions in Brazil last year, offers services similar to WhatsApp’s payment tool, such as person-to-person money transfers and purchases from businesses. This integration follows WhatsApp’s similar move in India, where it began offering payment services from rival providers last year.

Meta’s efforts to enhance WhatsApp’s functionality and revenue potential underscore the company’s ongoing strategy to capitalise on its extensive user base across its various platforms.