HBO's Whisper Ad Campaign Asks People to Confess 'Big Little Lies'

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Whisper also works with brands like Universal Music Group with campaigns like this one.
Whisper also works with brands like Universal Music Group with campaigns like this one. Credit: Whisper

HBO wants the internet to give up its lies.

To do so, it's working with Whisper on a piece of the marketing for the new show "Big Little Lies" in an effort to generate conversation around the program. Whisper, launched as an anonymous app, gained some popularity in 2014 when the internet started embracing more private forms of social media; today it's reshaping itself into a digital media publisher that helps brands develop content.

Instead of relying on its own properties of apps and websites for traffic, Whisper has take a digital distribution approach similar to BuzzFeed.

"Advertisers don't just purchase an ad that lives on Whisper, they purchase the right to be part of a Whisper," said Brian Liebler, Whisper's VP-ad sales. "So there's a lot of upside potential when we take content and post it on Facebook."

Whisper campaigns start inside the app where people post anonymous confessions. Brands get images from their marketing into the posts, and in the case of HBO, images from "Big Little Lies" will pair with people creating Whispers about lies they've told.

The individual Whispers are curated into stories and videos that can be posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Whisper's homepage. The company has run recent brand campaigns with Dove and has an upcoming one with Universal Music Group.

"They are a good community for meme generation," said an exec from a top advertiser that has worked with Whisper, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But we're more limited with them since they don't have great video opportunities."

Whisper claims to reach 30 million people a month across its app and website, and has more than 3 million followers on Facebook, where it claims to get an exceedingly high 20% clickthrough rate on posts.

Whisper employs machine-learning technology that crawls its platform and identifies the most popular discussions. The technology helps Whisper understand what will play well on social media.

"We invested heavily in machine learning and algorithms to recognize common themes that bubble up in our community," Mr. Liebler said.

HBO declined to comment for this story but it has been leveraging social channels to create awareness and conversation around the show, which stars Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

Mr. Liebler said Whisper has focused on these types of branding campaigns, but is working to incorporate more direct response advertising options for marketers, too. "We're going out talking to advertisers when we can match their campaigns to contextually relevant content that connects with people on a deeper emotional level," he said.

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