WhatsApp looks to calm privacy fears with first international campaign

WhatsApp is aiming to highlight the fact it holds user privacy in high regards and show how its service actually works as it launches its first global campaign.

WhatsApp is launching its first global campaign to show its 2 billion users their data is safe, after causing “confusion” with the release of a privacy update, which caused many users to uninstall the app.

The Facebook-owned brand released a controversial change to its terms of service in January, which was met with a backlash from users who believed they needed to accept the privacy update or face removal from the app.

Some users were also under the impression the change would mean sensitive data being shared with sister brand Facebook. WhatsApp said at the time it was a victim of misinformation.

But this resulted in rival apps seeing a surge in new sign-ups. Signal, which, like WhatsApp, claims “state of the art end-to-end encryption”, said it saw “unprecedented” growth after the furore, as did Telegram.

WhatsApp’s director of brand and consumer marketing Eshan Ponnadurai, says the brand “saw first hand” how users value privacy and he believes now is the right time to inform them just how it protects their data.

The campaign, ‘Message Privately’ aims to showcase how its end-to-end encryption works in “everyday life” to protect user privacy with “industry-leading features”.

“We know how important privacy is to our users. This year as a company, we’ve seen first hand how we created a bit of confusion and uncertainty for our users, how concerned they were about their privacy and the worry that people might be reading their messages,” says Ponnadurai.

“This campaign is very much coming out in the world to address some of that, and ensure people really understand and continue to understand that what they communicate on WhatsApp – the powerful things they say, the relationship they have – are always protected and truly theirs.”

Campaign for privacy

Created with agency BBDO, the campaign will be launched in phases, first in the UK and Germany, its largest markets by users, followed by Mexico, Indonesia, India and Brazil over the coming months.

It kicks off with two films, the first ‘Double Date’ shows a couple struggling to communicate as their date is being dominated by their matchmakers, but they manage to make a private connection via the app. ‘Dream Job’, meanwhile, shows the progress of an office worker who gets a message to inform her she has a new job and can leave her current one.

Success for the campaign will be measured on KPIs such as reputation, sentiment and brand health. Ponnadurai says the brand does a lot of social listening and metrics that measure whether people believe WhatsApp is private are already “very strong” but it will continue to measure them to see how they are impacted by the campaign.

The brand will also be doing a lot of social listening to gauge its users’ mood.

“We’re fortunate in the sense that we are a pretty strong brand, we have some really great metrics there, but it’s really just about ensuring that people are feeling heard and seen through the campaign,” he adds.

“[WhatsApp] is a place for your most powerful and intimate conversations, and just ensuring that perception continues with our users [is important]. We’ve had really a strong record and strong understanding of our users, they do believe WhatsApp is private, and we just [need to] continue to remind them of that, so that’s really success for us.”

Giving people power

Ponnadurai joined WhatApp 18 months ago to set up its brand and consumer team, having previously worked at Airbnb, Uber and YouTube.

He says the marketing team looks to “give people the power in their hands” as opposed to just making advertising.

An example, he says WhatsApp worked with NGOs to launch chatbots to provide people with accurate stats and information about Covid, and find doctors amid the current health crisis.

“Our marketing efforts have been two-fold: communicate to users but also work practically with partners to put out utility within the product that people can access, as we see that as marketing as well,” says Ponnadurai.

Drop in numbers

Following the announcement about the privacy update, WhatsApp downloads dropped from 49.6 million in December to 44.6 million in January, and continued to fall to a low of 37.5 million in April before increasing to 39.7 million in May.

By contrast, Signal saw 50.6 million global downloads in January, a 4,117% surge, from 1.2 million in December, according to data from Sensor Tower, while Telegram saw downloads more than double from 29.1 million to 63.5 million over the same period.

Sensor Tower mobile insights strategist Craig Chapple, says although WhatsApp rivals “have seen a rise” it is vital to remember WhatsApp reached “critical mass”, gaining 5.8 billion downloads since January 2014.

“The most likely trend right now is that consumers will use multiple messaging apps alongside WhatsApp, as most of their friends and family are probably still on it,” says Chapple.