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By Imogen Watson | Senior reporter

June 13, 2021 | 4 min read

After a privacy backlash earlier this year, WhatsApp wants its doubtful users to know their privacy is its top priority. To do so, it has worked with BBDO on ’Message Privately’, which aims to show its 2 billion users exactly how it protects their messages with privacy features.

Marking its first global campaign, 'Message Privately' includes three films that demonstrate how end-to-end encryption scrambles your messages, using humor to get the message across.

The first of the films captures an awkward double date, with one couple dominating the conversation, while the other text each other under the table. Finding attraction amongst the awkwardness, the on-screen text reads: ’What brought them together, with end-to-end encryption, only they know.’ Another spot features a lady receiving a job offer while on the loo at work. We see her clear out her desk and march out of the office accompanied by the line: ’Whatever is next, with end-to-end encryption, only she knows.’

The move follows a very public backlash against WhatsApp earlier this year after plans for a privacy update caused a mass exodus from its platform. Users were alerted to its privacy policy change via an in-app notification that said they must agree to share their data with Facebook in order to keep using the service.

Despite the reaction, WhatsApp execs are reassuring users that the updates were minor. “WhatsApp helped bring end-to-end encryption to people across the world, and we are committed to defending this security technology now and in the future,” it said via a blog post at the time. “With these updates, none of that is changing.”

Eshan Ponnadurai, WhatsApp’s director of brand and consumer marketing, admits that ’Message Privately’ is informed by the reaction to its updates. “Earlier this year, we created a bit of confusion and uncertainty for our users,” he says. “As a company, we saw firsthand how concerned they were about their privacy and the worry that people might be reading the messages. We know how important privacy is for our users.”

Ponnadurai says the new campaign is to address those worries and to ensure that people really understand that whatever they communicate on WhatsApp is protected and private.

Considering the sensitivity of the topic addressed, Ponnadurai says the team approached it in a number of ways. “We spent a lot of time with consumers to understand what they were feeling and it was very clear to us that the thing they care about most is their personal messages.

“So, with the creative we wanted to ensure and empower our users that their messages continue to be private. So you’ll see the in campaign itself that we focus on everyday moments where users expect things to be private. It’s just a reinforcement of that.”

Success, he says, will be measured metrics including how many people really believe that WhatsApp is a private platform. It will be looking, through social listening, to ensure that there is a positive conversation around it. ”We want to make sure that people feel seen and heard by the brand.”

And despite reports that the backlash caused an exodus from the brand, Ponnadurai claims WhatsApp’s figures continue to grow. “We’re actually in a good place,” he says, although he admits that WhatsApp is aware of “a lot more competition over the past 12 to 18 months”.

“That makes us stay on our toes and it creates a need for us to continue to communicate the values of our brand because this is a competitive space – but we continue to grow. This is not a brand campaign, it is a campaign to reinforce and communicate with our users.“

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