Abid Hussain Barlaskar

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

The campaign is designed like a 'How-Not-To' usage guide to the Facebook-owned app.

Online messaging platform WhatsApp has taken up the role of a 'strict school-teacher' in its first ever TV outing in India. The Facebook-owned messenger app is on an advertising spree, not as a brand exercise, but as an attempt at teaching its vast user-base how to and how not to use the platform. The campaign - 'Share Joy, Not Rumours' - comes in light of the buzz around the propagation of fake news on the social media offshoot. WhatsApp has launched a set of three TVCs and one of them also features Prajakta Koli, an online influencer.

The ads have been conceptualised by Taproot Dentsu and were executed by Oink Films.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

WhatsApp - Share birthdays, share laughter, share joy, not rumours

The WhatsApp team maintains that 'Share Joy, Not Rumours' is not a brand campaign but a step towards user education which was started earlier on print and radio.

In an email interview, the WhatsApp spokesperson, based in San Fransisco, USA, says, in the context of this media burst, "... In the run up to the 2019 elections, we have made a number of product changes and partnered with civil society to tackle the issue of misinformation. These are important to help users stay safe... The campaign is aimed at all users of WhatsApp- irrespective of where they’re from or what language they speak..." adding about the insights, "... The research helped us develop these three films – each film represents a scenario we’ve heard from users about misinformation they have received in family and school groups as well as from unknown senders..."

The spokesperson went on to reiterate that the team is working towards "tackling misinformation" by propagating "safe" usage of WhatsApp, preventing "abuse" of the platform, and working "together with the government and civil society".

Recent media reports suggest that WhatsApp has been under severe pressure from the Government of India to take steps towards curbing fake news and rumour-mongering on its turf. In July, the Ministry of Electronics and IT warned WhatsApp for abuse of the platform citing 'repeated circulation of provocative content' as the problem. The government has also directed WhatsApp to contain the spread of such messages through the 'application of appropriate technology'.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

WhatsApp - Share notes, share farewells, share joy, not rumours

Around the same time, WhatsApp introduced a new set of features labelling forwarded messages as 'Forwarded' and limiting the number of times a message can be forwarded to five. However, the Ministry of Electronics and IT sought stricter measures to check the fake news menace.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

WhatsApp - Share recipes, share compliments, share joy, not rumours

The digital-first brand then went out, guns blazing, with its ads on traditional mediums like the radio, print and most recently, TV.

WhatsApp released print ads which adorned whole pages of newspapers. The ads were a list of dos and don'ts, a cautionary user-manual for users.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news
WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

WhatsApp's print ads

Click on the images to enlarge

The print ads were followed by radio advertising which conveyed a similar message in Hindi. It started off with 'WhatsApp aur aap, milkar mitaaye afwaho ka bazaar,' and the 30-second-long broadcast ended with "WhatsApp dwaara janhit me zaari" - like any other public service advertising. Only this time, it was WhatsApp and not 'Bharat Sarkar' or the Government of India.

The first phase of the radio campaign started in August with ads across Hindi-speaking radio stations - AIR in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. The second phase continued from September with ads across AIR stations in Assam, Tripura, West Bengal, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

Whatsapp's Radio Ad

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The three TVCs are the latest bit of communication from the campaign. Two of the three heavily Indianised ads of the global brand, are woven around Indian households and the third deals with young college-goers. The films seem to have students and the slightly mature lot in their crosshairs. While the ads uphold the benefits, they also highlight the don'ts.

All the three TVCs will be shown in 10 languages with a message about how everyone can contribute positively to using WhatsApp.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

Neeraj Kanitkar

Commenting on the campaign, Neeraj Kanitkar, creative director, Taproot Dentsu, says, "Given that WhatsApp has never done an integrated TVC campaign anywhere in the world, this was a thrilling opportunity. The overwhelming majority of users use WhatsApp in a positive manner. So it was very important for the campaign to educate its users to stay safe as they continue to use WhatsApp. While conceptualising the campaign, we took a conscious call to not paint indiscriminate forwarders as an offenders since often, the vast majority of people who forward such messages do it without intending any malice. If they can be convinced to be sceptical about forwarding messages then our hope was those with malicious intent would be deprived of the oxygen."

He further adds, "The process of making the films was a real treat. We shot across the country, sometimes with real families with almost no acting experience to play key roles, and they did a great job!"

Expert speak:

Mahesh Uppal, telecommunications consultant and owner, ComFirst, a telecom consulting firm considers the campaign to be WhatsApp's response to media reports of the possible abuse of the app.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

Mahesh Uppal

"It is unusual. However, it is enlightened self-interest for any brand with a mass following, such as WhatsApp, to discourage abuse or misuse of its product. This is particularly sensible now when there have been media reports of malicious abuse of WhatsApp," says Uppal.

"It is difficult to hype a "do's and don'ts" type of a campaign. A 'sexy' marketing-type approach could arguably take away from its focus on the safe use of the product. They would naturally want to be seen as a part of the solution. It would make perfect sense for the platform to do and be perceived to be doing the right thing," Uppal adds.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

K Vaitheeswaran

K Vaitheeswaran co-founder of India's first e-commerce company Fabmart.com (also author of 'Failing to Succeed')says "The key reason why WhatsApp has become so popular with users is its convenience. A recent survey suggests that WhatsApp has over 200 million active users in India. Unfortunately, this immense reach, popularity and convenience have become a problem for WhatsApp.

"We consumed news in print and on TV mediums and assumed that it was true. We are now consuming news digitally and we have assumed that the same credibility has also shifted to the digital medium. This assumption of credibility is being exploited by spreading 'fake news' and rumours digitally and WhatsApp is the best medium for such messaging. The impact of such fake news has forced the government to push WhatsApp into taking strong and visible steps into controlling this menace. Hence, the campaign...," Vaitheeswaran says.

"I like the variation in campaign tones. Normally, you would assume a multi-medium campaign to have the same tone. WhatsApp has chosen different tones - straight, simple and direct for print; nice, easy and friendly for video and a government type (No Smoking type) stern tone for radio. I think the idea is that different tones will resonate better with different groups and mediums," he adds.

WhatsApp's first India-specific TVCs attack fake news

Nimesh Shah

Nimesh Shah, head maven, Windchimes a social media agency Communications, finds the ads - simple, neat and straightforward. "The campaign has literary been idiot-proofed and it spelt out the message of not forwarding unsolicited messages. The clear mandate is to educate people wrapped in daily scenarios and situations for easier relatability. They want people to continue using WhatsApp while being judicious about the kind of messages that they should entertain and delete," Shah says.

"WhatsApp has found a high resonance with Indians and today, we use it to communicate, share, build groups and even call each other. With such high-level involvement, the platform is bound to be misused. There are vested interests that create maligning content on topics, people etc. that spread misunderstanding and incite violence. This ad campaign is part of the overall educational series asking people to refrain from spreading unsolicited info," Shah adds.

"A media campaign in a more effective way of communicating and changing consumer behaviour than merely changing product features. Here, the entire idea was to communicate to users to be more alert and play a role in not forwarding insidious messages which is better communicated through an interesting commercial," he signs off.

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