Anonymous sites and apps have had their share of publicity problems in recent months, but should brands give up on them altogether?
Coca-Cola doesn't seem to think so, based on the fact it just ran its first ad on the popular app Whisper.
Coke's ad, which asked users to suggest ways to end cyber bullying, garnered 1,500 likes and 950 shares in only a few hours after it went live in the upper-right-hand corner of the platform's Popular channel on Wednesday night. It was evidently a test run, as the promo is no longer live today.
The promo aims to create a dialogue on Whisper about the fact that 72 percent of teens are bullied online, extending a multichannel, anti-bullying effort by the beverage marketer that launched last month with Oscar-winning "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black at the helm. A rep for the brand told Adweek the promo is part of an autumn reboot of the social-media-minded "Make It Happy" campaign. Using the hashtag #MakeItHappy, the decidedly positive appeal is also an extension of Coke's Super Bowl initiative. (The effort hasn't always been a joyous experience for the brand, which took heat for inadvertently turning racist language into "happy" images on Twitter.)
Whisper claims 10 million monthly users and grants them anonymity, giving them the freedom to speak freely online. It has been hounded by people who say anonymous platforms make Internet bullying all too easy, which actually makes Coke's ad all too perfect.
Whisper has seen a steady flow of marketers like Paramount Pictures, MTV and Hulu invest in its platform since it launched three years ago. The mobile app has raised some $60 million and, in recent months, has hired president Mark Troughton and vp of sales Shelby Huston Haro. It appears to be getting serious about advertising. The company offers marketers the ability to target users' emotions with a keyword algorithm, and it could see more millennial-seeking brands jump on board.
The dark Web, home to anonymous apps and websites, is relatively new and sometimes risky territory for brands. This summer's data breach at the infidelity website Ashley Madison has thrown that brand into a tailspin, and the incognito app Secret shuttered in late April.
But if you thought those missteps signaled the demise of secretive platforms, you might simply be too old to get the concept. Despite negative industry chatter about data heists and bullying, apps such as Whisper and rival Yik Yak are building their businesses by engaging Gen Y and younger consumers.
That younger crowd starkly contrasts more leery Generation Xers and baby boomers, said interactive marketing consultant David Deal. "Digital natives are comfortable creating anonymous profiles to experiment with their own identities," he said.
Dr. Aleksi Aaltonen, a professor at Great Britain's Warwick Business School, disagreed. "Privacy matters will become increasingly important to businesses, and they will shape how we behave online," he said. "Young people are not an exception to this."
Beverage companies like Coke, of course, have for decades gone after young consumers—so, for now at least, the brand appears to be hitting its mark with Whisper.
Los Angeles-based Whisper reportedly accrues 10 billion page views a month, mostly from young adults and high schoolers. The tech player, which declined comment for this story, has also said users open its app 1 million times every hour.