Ad ticks many boxes in WhatsApp print campaign, but does it convince?

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Industry watchers feel that while the ad managed to reach out through the credible print medium, it has done little to instil trust in users

Yesterday, India woke up to WhatsApp’s clarification on its privacy policy across leading newspapers in full-page ads this morning with the boldfaced title: “WhatsApp respects and protects your privacy”. The Facebook-owned messaging app also said, “respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA”.

The ad went on to list what had changed and what hadn’t. However, screenshots of the ad blitz have been flying on social media, where users have commented on the irony of WhatsApp putting out newspaper ads. Moreover, it spurred debates, memes and a virtual exodus of many WhatsApp users to rival platforms like Telegram and Signal. We asked industry observers whether it chose the right medium and if the ad manages to convince.

Dr Sandeep Goyal, Brand Expert and Chief Mentor, IIHB feels that when it comes to this ad campaign there is no real dichotomy there. “Most e-commerce sites use newspapers for all their big sales. The logic is simple: print is a medium that has high credibility,  longer shelf life and longer window of interaction; it also reaches older audiences,” he says. He opines that while Whatsapp reaches audiences through this ad, it does not fully convince.

The ad asserts that WhatsApp does not share contacts with Facebook or any other app.

Samit Sinha, Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting is not sure if there is enough trust and faith in the reassurances being offered through Whatsapp’s print ads. “The irony is that it is the Whatsapp platform itself that is being used to spread the call of boycotting it. But the bigger question and the one that people who are advocating its boycott and accusing it of hypocrisy should be asking themselves is whether they would be willing to pay the sum of money it would take to keep a service like Whatsapp running profitably without advertising revenues? Or for that matter to sustain any other similar service?” he says.

Sinha sees this issue as a fairly nuanced one. “Media is almost entirely dependent on advertising revenues for its survival. In the case of social media, the availability of rich user data is what makes these platforms attractive to advertisers. Facebook-owned Whatsapp is a free-to-use platform, and to fund its existence, not to mention, serve its commercial interests, it has to find a way to monetise its data, either directly or indirectly, through advertising revenues. It would be naïve to think that it exists for purely altruistic motives.

“One needs to understand and accept that nothing comes for free, and that if you are getting something for free, then you ought to know that it is your data that is being monetised. Whatsapp has access to vast amounts of data on the basis of the content that is generated, consumed and shared on it, which it obviously wants to indirectly monetise by sharing it with its parent –Facebook. Even if the data is kept anonymous, the fact is that today’s sophisticated data-mining tools make it ridiculously easy to influence and manipulate people through targeted messaging. Is this kind of manipulation already happening through social media per se?

“There is enough indication to believe that it is so. Is the private, sensitive and confidential data of non-anonymous specific individuals being shared for commercial considerations on a large scale? Probably not. Because if that was indeed happening, it would go beyond mere privacy concerns to a whole new threat level and would, of course, be universally unacceptable,” he remarks.

Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma too was among those who commented on the newspaper ads and criticized WhatsApp’s “blatant double standards”: “This is the third effort to clarify by the cross-platform messaging and Voice over IP service provider since it revamped its privacy policy stating it will share data with its parent company Facebook.”

According to Prathap Suthan, managing partner and chief creative officer (CCO) of Bang In The Middle, the full-page ad works to some extent. But was it the right choice of the medium? Suthan feels that somehow the print medium lends authenticity and trust to WhatsApp’s communication. “It’s something they themselves know, and it’s the right choice of medium. Print is far more credible and believable as a medium and as a mainline medium. While there’s enough stuff also coming through on Twitter and even Whatsapp,” he says.

Suthan adds, “It’s not as though we didn’t know that WhatsApp and FB and Insta together couldn’t figure out who I talk to, what I share, and when I share. They have been sitting on that data reservoir for years. And I bet they also know I am a Malayali, that I am from Trivandrum, that I live in Delhi, that I love mutton biriyani, that I don’t do politics, and that I am in advertising. Plus a few other things. If they don’t know all that yet, then surely they are hoodwinking me. But seriously speaking, I would want to trust and believe in their communication. I don’t think they would lie about it. Not to the entire world. Considering there are some lawmakers and heavy-duty leaders who use those platforms. Besides, anyone from inside, any leak from within could jeopardise them for good. As is, there is a mass exodus from FB and Whatsapp. I know it’s pointless considering that Telegram and Signal are companies that could be swallowed by FB tomorrow morning. Which makes this whole migration thing pointless.”

Last week, WhatsApp had informed users of an update in its terms of service and privacy policy regarding how it processes user data and partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the social media giant’s products. It said users would have to agree to the new terms and policy by February 8 in order to continue using WhatsApp.

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