Schools shut, hobby classes closed, empty playgrounds, and meeting less with friends. This is what the entire year looked like for school children in the pandemic. However, if Covid-19 caused a slump to several businesses, it has also opened new avenues. In a pandemic-stricken year, some technology-based businesses, especially edtech, received tailwinds which helped them to grow. Founded in 2018, Whitehat Jr. is the brainchild of Karan Bajaj, a former CEO of Discovery India. He started this first-of-its-kind ed-tech startup to enable kids of age group 6-14 years to learn coding virtually. It aims to create the next generation of coders, app developers with its one-to-one video interaction class to learn coding. As schools and hobby classes quickly transitioned online, it became a golden opportunity for Whitehat Jr with its unique proposition to make children learn coding themselves from anywhere in the world. We are surrounded by a world of applications that are intended to make our lives easier. With schools closed and kids having enough spare time, parents considered that time perfect for kids to learn something new and stay ahead. Currently, WhiteHat Jr. enjoys a fan base of 150,000 students, over 400,000 projects, has over 500 teachers, and has gained maximum traction from Tier-II and Tier-III cities.
The game of acquisition
Online coding platforms for kids became a lucrative segment in the K-12 space in the ed-tech sector. 2020 saw several edtech platforms leaping forward to launch their coding learning platforms. Vedantu launched Super Coders in May and Coding Ninjas and Toppr launched Coding Ninjas Junior and Toppr Coder respectively in July. Seeing WhiteHat Jr.’s tremendous growth, edtech behemoth Byju’s too jumped into the online coding bandwagon by acquiring WhiteHat Jr. worth $300 million in an all-cash transaction in August.
The blitzkrieg of advertisements
After Byju’s acquired WhiteHat Jr, it wanted to get the word out to the masses and hence began its aggressive advertising on all social media platforms. It spent a whopping sum of Rs 10-15 crores on digital platforms. Its hi-decibel advertising was definitely noticed by the people, but unfortunately, it drew flak from social media users and soon became the troll stock. The ads were largely criticized as they popped out of nowhere to an audience that did not belong to its target group. Many social media users found the tone of the ads to be evoking emotions of ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ and push parents to enroll their children. The social media ads used the pictures and quotes of tech giants like Sundar Pichai, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. This was highly criticized by parents as they found the ads to be unethical and misleading. It demonstrated that school-goers should aspire to be like them and should learn coding from an early age to become tech moguls like them. This message creates unnecessary peer pressure at the back of a kid’s mind as well as parents who will feel that their child will lag if he/she does not know coding. However, a child needs a strong academic foundation and that is the only crucial necessity. One of the most misleading ads was a TV commercial where it showed how global investors are fighting tooth and nail to fund a coding project made by a child.
Wolf Gupta Vs Pradeep Poonia
The ads of WhiteHat Jr further got embroiled into controversies when it used the name ‘Wolf Gupta’ in its social media ads who has bagged a career in Google with a package worth 1.2 Crore or 150 Crore. His age varied in different social media posts from 9, 12 or sometimes 13 years. The ad has shamed kids who naturally play video games or cartoons at that age and has lauded Wolf Gupta who, being of the same age as the ‘video game player kids’, has received a job offer from Google. A 30-year-old engineer Pradeep Poonia claimed that Wolf Gupta is a fictional character used by WhiteHat Jr in its ad content and to give Wolf Gupta credibility, WhiteHat Jr. has created a fake LinkedIn profile. Pradeep Poonia, later on, leveraged all his social media handles and highlighted this to educate people about the trap behind the ad. It led WhiteHat Jr. to file a defamation case against Pradeep Poonia.
ASCI and WhiteHat Jr.
The WhiteHat Jr ads soon came under the scanner of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) that found five of its advertisements to be violating the ASCI code. Manisha Kapoor, Secretary-General of ASCI quoted that the advertisements violated The Emblems and Name (Prevention of Improper Use) Act and has asked the advertiser to withdraw the ads from social media.
It is evident here that if the brand is a digital-first brand, the trick is to listen to what people are saying about you on social media. Hounding to the wrong audience with irrelevant ads becomes a nuisance that erodes the brand image.