While coding for children is a debated topic, advertising about the same doesn’t have to be. From White Hat Jr’s aggressively targeted campaigns to Jeetu Bhaiyya’s message for Coding Ninjas – experts feel that responsible & audience-first marketing can help EdTech start-ups go a long way.
Apart from being in the news for its constant alleged intrusive advertising to promote coding, White Hat Jr found itself in hot water when the company was accused of getting its senior employee to impersonate a kid and attend a trial class on its competitor platform Tekie. Barring the controversies, it is unmissable that the coding advertising is in full swing and online EdTech startups are pulling out all the stops to make coding indeed a must-have skill among kids.
According to reports, in 2015 there were as many as 7 million job openings for professional candidates with coding skills. Cut to 2020, 9-year-old Shivank Patel has been learning to write software code for a year and he’s already built a handful of apps, including one for donating food to street children.
With a sudden spurt in coding campaigns, we speak to experts to understand the advertising economy in play – is it because of the good old engineering craze in parents, or has coding re-emerged as the go-to ‘cool’ sector again?
The Deluge of Coding Campaigns
On being asked if they remember seeing a coding campaign, almost all experts referred to the White Hat Jr. ads. Gautam Mehra, Chief Data & Product Officer- dentsu Asia Pacific (APAC) & CEO – dentsu Programmatic – South Asia says, “We all have been exposed to several coding for children ads in the recent past. WhitehatJr does have the highest recall for me though. I guess it’s more to do with targeting and frequency than the message itself for me.”
The New Education Policy allows students to choose to code from class 6 and onwards and will be taught in schools as a part of 21st-century skills. But how important is it to teach coding to children at a young age has been a long-standing debate in the socialverse.
“When I think of ‘coding’ campaigns, I think of Whitehat Jr,” asserts Mihir Joshi, Co-Founder of 1702 Digital. He thinks that the company’s marketing strategies were solid enough for it to be considered a competitor to BYJU in a relatively short period.
According to him, their targeting was on-point during the initial campaigns they run and did a smart thing by targeting the masses via TV ads. “Showing kids as ‘creators’ is a smart way of communicating their message of teaching kids to code. They rightly showed the parents how their kid’s future is secured if they learn to code. They tapped the right pulse of an Indian parent to make their kid’s future secure and this is one of the major principles of copywriting, isn’t it?” Joshi opines.
In another instance, on the occasion of Children’s Day, Tinker Coders launched the #BeAProblemSolver campaign which will help K-12 students become aware of environmental issues and develop problem-solving Applications, 3D Designs via Coding. While the goodwill thought was commendable, it put into focus the erstwhile thought of – why even a 2 or a 3-year-old is made to sit in front of a computer and expected to design an app or a game?
‘Coding for Kids’ – Is this the Right Theme?
Coding for kids is one of the most debated terms on the internet especially when the stakeholders talk about indulging the kids population into adapting the skillset.
Toppr Codr follows a similar theme of imparting coding skills for the creators of tomorrow. It is a one-on-one live coding class for children aged between 6 and 18 years.
The platform leverages social media to promote its one-on-one live personalized classes, and output based learning.
While brands go all out and debates continue to flare, we ask the experts how these coding brands can progress?
Mehra thinks whenever there is anything new, there are uncertainties and unknowns. Many times marketing messages make it seem otherwise. According to him, this creates confusion and sometimes leads to distrust amongst consumers, which leads to such backlashes.
On the whole, he is a believer in technology doing good for humanity and hence, is pro coding for children. Mehra feels emerging technologies grow faster sometimes that we can cope up with and that creates issues. Similar to how we see a backlash against social media itself sometimes.
Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy shares that the controversy (White Hat Jr) stemmed from the fact that the ads were not targeted well. There was a large spillover in the targeting, combined with a high frequency almost like carpet bombing which resulted in a backlash. “Careful planning and sensitivity to the accepted norms of frequency/exposure could have prevented this to a great extent,” she suggests.
Meanwhile, Joshi feels the reason for receiving such criticism is because people feel that teaching kids to code is taking away their childhood and leads to creating pressure on the children.
He explains, “While this might be true to some extent, I believe that coding is another language in itself. A language that can actually help kids strengthen their verbal and written skills and additionally teach them logical thinking. Yes, not all kids will make their career in coding but, all kids need to learn problem-solving, logical thinking to decide what is good and bad for them, experimentation in new projects, et al.”
Edtech start-up Vedantu launched ‘Vedantu Super Kids’ in May to equip early learners between 3 and 12 years. Founded in 2014, the Bengaluru-based ed-tech startup claims that 25 million users every month from 1,000+ cities and 40+ countries access the platform and its channel on YouTube.
Both, White Hat Jr and Vedantu SuperCoders share user experience and achievements of young minds on social media acknowledging their coding skills for the greater good with hashtags like #CodingForKids, #KidsWhoCode, and #CodingIsFun.
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Congratulations to the Silicon Valley winners!! Meet Manya Singhal, Creator of Pickaboo app The app allows kids to explore and learn about their surroundings, in a language they understand. #SuperStudent #SilliconValley #WhiteHatJr #WHJSilliconValley #championship #CodeToCreate #winners
How to mend ways?
What should or shouldn’t be taught to kids has always been a sensitive topic in India. Honing them with hard skills early on or keeping the ‘school bag’ light for them to enjoy childhood are two separate polar emotions.
Joshi highlights that Tier-2 parents are typically seen to be a little more insecure and get attracted to gullible marketing messages. He recommends that the brands must find their correct empathetic positioning and communication methodology, especially in coding advertising.
He says, “Running A/B tests from a psychological TG adaptivity perspective is as important as weighing it from a performance marketing and overall ROAS perspective.”
Digital has a lot of potential and possibilities for selective and ethical targeting of communication, overexposure in coding advertising should be avoided, thinks Sharma.
“Relevance of the communication as well as the authenticity of the communication is equally important. When planning the campaign more often than not it’s the small errors that explode into a backlash, this also seems to have been the case where the ads showed 19 seats left for every single course. While I am sure it was a technical glitch in the signup, careful planning and tests by the agency team can avoid such slips,” she observes.
Mehra too thinks that the startups need to focus on trust-building. He briefs, “In things like Education, trust is the most important factor that determines long-term success. The valuations for EdTech are very high since there is a big lock-in, once they acquire a student. But if lack of trust and credibility creeps in, then the lifetime value of the acquisition goes for a toss and the startups are in danger of their math turning out wrong.”
Creating Responsible Coding Advertising
In October 2020, WhiteHat Jr agreed to withdraw five ads after they were found in violation of ASCI Guidelines for making dubious and unsubstantiated claims. The move was taken after a few social media users pointed out how such ads put pressure on children and parents making their ‘insecure; about their kids’ future.
The video campaign urged children as young as six to take up computer programming. They also featured names of prominent tech giants like Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Apple founder Steve Jobs, suggesting that the knowledge of coding in kids can help them succeed.
Acknowledging the issue, Karan Bajaj, founder and CEO WhiteHat Jr wrote on LinkedIn, “Feedback on our marketing needing improvement is well-taken. We’ll do better with it,” Bajaj said. “Coding for kids is about the sheer joy of creation, hence I founded WhiteHat Jr.”
So how does one market coding for kids responsibly and without ambiguity?
“Communication will play a vital role in improving acceptability and improving awareness about the benefits of “start coding young”. A single line of communication may not be the best way forward,” thinks Sharma. Apart from communication groundwork and workshops with parents, schools, and child psychologists will improve awareness and acceptability.
In hindsight, a few start-ups like Coding Ninjas has managed to stay away from the controversial limelight and instead focusses on young adults and professional who have been trying to make their mark in the coding and programming language. For the same, it launched a campaign – ‘BeCurious’ encouraging young brains to learn to code.
The campaign video featuring Jitendra Kumar aka Jeetu Bhaiya, an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, binds a series of concepts for programming aspirants and students for categories like courses for Foundational, Advanced, and Professional development who want to upskill.
Mehra suggests that EdTech startups need to reinforce their credibility by “doing right by the students”. They need to put their students’ growth first before theirs. Coding advertising and messaging that is to this tune, he thinks will resonate far more with parents.
CodeChef’s acquisition by Unacademy was likely to help the Facebook-backed firm to launch coding skills vertical for school kids. The eleven-year-old platform helps programmers get a foothold in computer programming through active participation via contests on social media and various offerings.
“Advertisement pushes the cause of capitalism. Any Edutech company is a for-profit entity established to give returns to its investors, so they will do whatever it takes to amass revenues and customers. However, with Edtech advertising comes a slight fiduciary duty of not misleading parents with a “10 crore package for your 13 years old kid,” elucidates Joshi.
A frequency above 7 in showing your ads may bother your potential consumers. So maybe some restraint can be put on the remarketing strategy for the good of the brand itself.
In spite of all the backlash towards coding advertising, we can see many young startups working on making ‘Coding for Kids’ popular in India akin to its global counterparts. While experts stand divided on whether coding as a skill is something kids need to learn, all of them opine that responsible, clear, and transparent advertising will help EdTech startups going forward.
Joshi suggests that they just need a little more realism and clean inspiration in the marketing messages and maybe a little less aggressiveness in outbound sales for a pleasant customer experience.
“Most English majors hate Chetan Bhagat for his trash novels. But let’s face it, he put a book in the hands of India’s nonreaders. Similarly, love it or hate, White Hat Jr at least made parents aware en masse on about the benefits of hard skills,” he concludes.