Shreyas Kulkarni

Truecaller calls out harassment, stalking; creates buzz with first print and outdoor campaign

Manan Shah, the app’s marketing director, talks about the campaign, working with Thinkstr, and choosing to go with print and outdoor advertising.

“This is the real pandemic that nobody has been talking about,” says Manan Shah over the phone. The director of marketing at Truecaller wasn’t referring to the Coronavirus, or the ailing economy. He was referring to phone harassment, i.e., the inappropriate and sexual phone calls and messages that women receive.

Truecaller calls out harassment, stalking; creates buzz with first print and outdoor campaign
Truecaller calls out harassment, stalking; creates buzz with first print and outdoor campaign
Truecaller calls out harassment, stalking; creates buzz with first print and outdoor campaign

On Wednesday (January 20) morning, the front pages of The Times of India, The Economic Times, and the Hindustan Times carried ads by the app. With the help of bold headlines, the ads talked about the issue of phone harassment women face. It mentioned how women could block these numbers on the app, and should step forward and report these callers by calling 1090/1091/100.

“We were a little jittery about spending money on print because we knew the circulation was down. We were worried about whether print will have an impact. But I think print has outdone itself again more than any other medium we’ve advertised on,” says Shah.

Terminal 2
Terminal 2
Truecaller calls out harassment, stalking; creates buzz with first print and outdoor campaign

It is not just print media where the app, famous for its ‘caller identification’ feature, ran its ads. Shah says that the app also opted for outdoor advertising… “We’ve done it at the operational terminals of Delhi airport and parts of central Delhi around Connaught Place…”

The brand is also running four short TVCs on news channels and select general entertainment channels (GECs).

Called #ItsNotOk, the campaign has been running for four years now. But it caught everyone’s attention, courtesy the latest print ads. “We’ve been doing this for the last four years… One print ad and suddenly people talk about it.”

Manan Shah
Manan Shah

On the campaign’s name, Shah says that it is courtesy a meeting he had with the agency White Balance (it’s now called Media Monks). “I was sitting with three women and asked them what happens when somebody harasses you over the phone. They said they block the number and move on. I said the ‘chalta hai’ (move on) attitude is the problem that I am trying to address here.”

The campaign was born in India because the country is Truecaller’s biggest market and, hence, “we monkey-test (tech jargon for app testing) everything we do here first,” says Shah.

Truecaller’s research revealed that in India, 76 per cent of sexual or inappropriate calls women receive are from unknown people. Seven out of 10 women have taken some action against their harassers, but reporting to law enforcement or authorities was a dismal 12 per cent. It was four per cent during Truecaller’s first year of research. It went up to nine in the next year, and then 12 per cent.

Shah says that they’d seen and heard from women how Truecaller had helped them against their harassers and that’s how the campaign started. “We expanded the scope of the campaign to other countries, like Brazil, Columbia, Kenya and Egypt a few years back…”

He also told us that the power of a number to reach others on the app is diminished if more and more people report it. First, the person’s profile picture gets removed and then the number is marked as spam. The app also shows you how many people have marked it as spam.

The second level starts after the harasser's number crosses a certain threshold of it being reported as spam. The number then enters the ‘top spammers block list’ and top spammers get automatically blocked on Truecaller if you’ve enabled that setting on your phone.

Truecaller also faced a privacy controversy last year (2020), when the Indian army asked its personnel to uninstall Truecaller to avoid information being leaked. The app protested and stressed on its Swedish roots, unlike other banned Chinese origin apps.

In 2019, Truecaller came under fire. It was reported that the app had signed up people for its UPI payment services without their consent. Truecaller issued a statement where it placed the blame on a bug and said it had resolved the issue.

Working with Thinkstr

Two days ago, we (afaqs!) carried the news that Truecaller had chosen Thinkstr, a Gurgaon-based independent agency for this particular campaign. Shah says that he sent the agency a one-page document, which mostly had the kind of campaigns the brand had done in the past. And, also a link to its YouTube channel, where it’d put up links of women’s interviews where they speak out about harassment.

Shah told Thinkstr, “Look at the videos… look at the horrors and harassment these women are facing, and tell me how I can make this campaign go to print and TV.”

Ravi Raghavendra, executive creative director/head of creative, Thinkstr and the writer of this campaign said, "This is a campaign that was waiting to happen. A real issue that had to be firmly dealt with. Who better than Truecaller, which is the first line of defense to crores of women in India, to send out a strong message and instill fear in the perpetrators of online harassment."

"We have deliberately kept the messaging fearless, bold and in first person. We hope this will encourage more women to go beyond blocking their harassers and take timely action by reporting them to the authorities."

The print ads garnered a lot of buzz on social media. A tweet from Ajay Ghaulat, former CCO and MD, Publicis India, read: Kudos to the client for understanding that great work comes from great talent, not great size. Well done Thinkstr and @thesatbir – a nod to the forever competition between agency holding networks and independent agencies.

We also spoke to a few creative folks about the print ad, the copy, and whether it helps push the readers (women) to not just block their harasser's number, but also go ahead and report them.

Anupama Ramaswamy, managing partner and NCD, dentsu Impact

Anupama Ramaswamy
Anupama Ramaswamy

While Truecaller helps you block unwanted harassment, what this ad is asking you to do is change one's behaviour. Now, it is such a deep, society-led behaviour that it will not change with one ad. Till we make our society safer for women, they will not come out in the open and report such instances. They will rather just block the person and shove it under the carpet.

L Suresh, creative consultant

L Suresh
L Suresh

The first thing that grabs your attention in the ad is the headline. It’s clever and draws you to read the copy. The copy, however, could have been shorter and in the same tone of voice as the headline. Instead, it was quite generic, templatised and sounded more like a brochure copy.

Is this just another chapter in social advertising?

Hopefully not. However, a lot has to happen for the campaign to work. First, we’re living in the age of threats to women’s security in the real world, and threats to data security in the digital world. All of Truecaller’s features can be used only when one grants the app permissions all around. Is this safe? I’ll leave the digital security experts to answer that.

Second, there are reports of Truecaller not working as well on some premium brands as it does on Android. Personally, I’ve seen that when the net connection is poor, Truecaller takes time to kick in. And, I’m not in a position to identify the caller, leave alone block him.

The next problem is more societal. Most women wish to avoid the hassles that follow a complaint and, hence, stop at blocking annoying callers. What is Truecaller doing to make it easy for them to make this complaint?

For instance, after a call ends, Truecaller asks you if a call was related to business or sales. Likewise, Truecaller could ask users to identify why they blocked a call. Was it simply annoying, or was it harassment? If it’s the latter, the app should forward the number straight to the helpline so the victim wouldn’t have to follow up on it. For this to happen, Truecaller needs to tie up with the women helpline numbers - 1090 and 1091.

What is being suggested here is a mere product tweak. It has nothing to do with the communication. But the question of effective communication can only be addressed when the product has all the answers.

Sraman Majumdar, senior creative, Brave New World, a Bangalore-based creative agency

Sraman Majumdar
Sraman Majumdar

The message certainly comes from a great place, in terms of product and intent. Truecaller has the tech, reach and credibility to effect tangible change against a societal disease that every woman regularly deals with. The headlines grab attention by the collar. There’s a simple mechanism to report harassers, and the hashtag has the individual ownability to spark a movement with the right push.

However, the copy feels overwritten and the voice seems external to the problem, perhaps to the point of mansplaining. All in all, the heart of the campaign is in the right place, and kudos to the brand for leading the charge against phone harassment. I do wish the power of the medicine was less buried in the manifesto.

Have news to share? Write to us