HBO Suicide Squad promotions: How WhatsApp was used as a mobile marketing platform

The new WhatsApp Status feature was leveraged to execute a 3-week-long activity where fans were engaged and updated about the movie on a daily basis

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned chat app, is notorious for its closed API. Besides, one still cannot place ads on it. Cajoling or cursing Facebook may not be a well-meaning strategy, either. Perhaps challenging the limits would be. And, given that most young people are eternally active on the chat platform, most marketers are constantly on their toes to crack WhatsApp; another engagement channel in addition to the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, wouldn’t hurt nobody.

‘The wall around WhatsApp needs to be broken’, marketers apparently felt in unison. We need to work around whatever limited features are available to us, we need to build and engage a community and we must do it creatively.

The solution was served this March - WhatsApp rolled out its ‘new Status feature’, getting rid of the text-only status message, and in its place letting one add photos, gifs and videos as their WhatsApp Status. Well, at least a variety of media content pieces could now be pushed down the platform; there is now a decent scope of consumer engagement.

When the team at HBO India and its agency FoxyMoron was looking to promote one of its biggest movie premieres - Suicide Squad on HBO, leveraging this new Status feature of WhatsApp came across as the ideal way ahead.

The idea was to give WhatsApp a personalized touch with Suicide Squad. A Suicide Squad takeover was planned as a 3-week-long activity where fans would be engaged and updated about the movie on a daily basis. The villains would take over the app, enabling fans to speak with their favourite villains.

The team began by pushing its number across various social media platforms and on-air push on the channel itself. Users were invited to add HBO on their WhatsApp, with a message saying “Villains now have a number” – HBO India. For the fans that added their number, and began chatting, there was a customized response in their favourite villain’s style!

A week prior to the screening of the premiere, a villain takeover would take place daily. Fans were greeted with voice notes and best scenes from that villain. The conversations with the fans matched with the said Suicide Squad villain’s tonality. The contest of the day was inspired by that villain. Additionally, popular comedian Karan Talwar aka Bollywood Gandu was roped in to host a contest asking for suggestions for a Bollywood Suicide Squad.

Apart from villain takeovers, the team utilized the new WhatsApp status feature to host daily contests, and also shared exclusive as well as never seen before content from the movie.


A contest was held every evening, with incentives like film merchandise and vouchers. Fans were asked to mimic their favourite villain by sending a voice note of a dialogue or humming the official soundtrack of the movie. The WhatsApp Status’s doodle feature was also utilized to get people to doodle themselves to look like one of the villains from the movie.

Creative. Engaging. On-the-go.

Until Facebook reveals its grand plans to monetize WhatsApp, marketers can take a cue from the HBO Suicide Squad campaign. Despite the limitations on WhatsApp, the campaign focused on a recently rolled out opportunity and proved that WhatsApp can indeed be capitalized on as a mobile marketing platform. The creative content pieces coupled with the incentivized contests made for a fun, engaging and highly participative campaign.

The team claims to have raked in decent numbers. In a few hours, the campaign saw 800 contacts being added organically, a 1000 new contacts were added every day later and over 2000 daily views were garnered on its status. Over 2200 voice notes and 500 doodles were received from participants. The campaign managed to generate over 10,000 chats and 1,00,000 messages.

This is probably the first case of the new WhatsApp Status feature being used for a campaign. Besides being completely organic, it paves the path for building an active community on a mobile platform like WhatsApp.