Shreyas Kulkarni
Interviews

Meet the brain behind the viral 'Signal' posters that people mistook for an official ad

Guess what? Ramkumar G is a B-school student who created this Signal poster to counter WhatsApp's official print ads.

“The Signal posters were created to counter WhatsApp,” says Ramkumar G, a young chap in his final MBA year in Pondicherry.

Meet the brain behind the viral 'Signal' posters that people mistook for an official ad
Meet the brain behind the viral 'Signal' posters that people mistook for an official ad
Ramkumar G
Ramkumar G

He’s been in the news lately. Well, his work, to be more specific. Two posters he made on the Signal messaging app went viral, but unfortunately, he was not credited. Most assumed that it was an official piece of work, commissioned by Signal. To be clear, this is not an official ad any brand has paid for. It's just a poster created by Ramkumar G. He soon decided to come forward online and claim credit.

In the last two weeks, WhatsApp has suffered a lot of negative press because of its policy update that has led to questions on data privacy. The Signal app, which was developed by the non-profit organisation Signal Foundation and Signal Messenger, came up as the alternative. What worked in its favour was that it “is an open source and its code is peer-reviewed, which means that its privacy and security is regularly checked by independent experts.”

Adding to this was SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk’s tweet “Use Signal” that acted as an unofficial endorsement of the app.

Also Read: WhatsApp takes out front page ads to reassure users about privacy policy

What further fuelled the debate was WhatsApp’s print ad blitzkrieg, where it tried “to encapsulate what the new policy does and does not do. The copy is split into two columns - What has changed and what hasn't changed with the new policy.”

Stand-up comedian Atul Khatri made a smart observation, when he said, “In the fight between WhatsApp and Privacy - as usual Times of India is the winner”. WhatsApp, the digital messaging app owned by Facebook, chose the print medium to point out ‘facts’ and clear any misinformation. And in response to these WhatsApp print ads stood the Signal posters from Ramkumar G, and the latter seemed to have won.

Ramkumar G has worked as a copywriter at Big FM for just over a year and as a digital marketing executive at Notion Press Media. We caught up with him for a quick chat on his posters, credits, and whether he’s received offers from other brands.

Edited excerpts:

What made you create these posters for Signal?

I took a break to pursue an MBA. Then I started to doubt if I’d forgotten how to write an advertisement. This was actually a practice session. I wanted to get back to writing. This was my first digital ad in the last two years and the first-ever in English.

The reason why I choose Signal was that it was the talk of the town and I wanted to create something that counters the argument WhatsApp made in its print ads.

The headlines you chose captured the essence of the debate around messaging apps’ privacy policies, how did you craft them?

The very first headline I wrote was, “We care about your privacy” but it wasn’t powerful and I wanted to create something which counters WhatsApp’s headline – “WhatsApp respects and protects your privacy”.

So, I went ahead and changed the headline to “We don’t care about your messages” because Signal does not read your messages. This headline too was missing something... So, I removed the last bit and kept it: “We don’t care about you”.

I know it sounds rude, but I just took the risk.

Did you first post your work on Reddit, or share it across social media?

I first posted it on Signal’s subreddit (a specific community) ‘r/signal’ and then cross-posted it to r/copywriting for feedback. I learnt many things… such as how to write a better negative headline and that’s the reason why I created a revised Signal ad poster. There’s another revised version where the headline was “We are just not interested”. Yes, it’s a negative headline, but it sounded less harsh.

The posters went viral on the web, but remained uncredited. At what point did you decide to come forward and claim credit for your work?

One of my friends (he’s the only one who knew that Ramkumar was behind the posters at that time) saw a post from Social Samosa on Instagram, where it was looking for the person behind the posters. It said that one Reddit user made a banner for Signal and the post asked people to DM him if they knew the person.

It was my friend who told me about the posts going viral and I contacted it (Social Samosa), who then gave me the credit. I searched Facebook and Twitter, and that’s when I realised it had gone viral. On Twitter, people were comparing the WhatsApp print ad and Signal poster, and saying that Signal won.

I wasn’t confident of the copy and that is the reason why I did not have a watermark on the posters. My friend made sure that I received the credit for my work.

Have you received any brand offers?

I’ve been receiving a lot of messages on LinkedIn. Suddenly, I’ve got 500-700 connection requests and yesterday (Sunday, January 17), my post reach around was 78,583. Also, I’ve received many offers and collaboration requests, and some from huge brands too.

What are the discussions among your classmates about this (privacy) debate?

None of my classmates know about this, I am keeping it a secret.

To be frank, I’ve been a privacy advocate for a while and have been using Signal for at least one-and-a-half years. I’ve been suggesting that people use the Signal app, but nobody cared…… Once Elon Musk tweeted about it, the entire thing broke on the Internet and so did Signal’s servers.

Last, has Signal contacted you regarding the posters?

No.