Plan.Net: WhatsGerman

Campaign Summary

As a wave of refugees arrived in Germany in 2015, a leading digital agency in Germany worked with the popular mobile app WhatsApp to help refugees learn German. WhatsGerman was built on an app already popular with refugees and helped them to bridge the gap between arriving in Germany and being able to enroll in language courses. An integrated campaign, employing print, TV, social media, and government agencies, was used to promote the program.


Objective and Context:

More than a million refugees arrived in Germany in 2015 with little more baggage than hope and a smartphone. Refugees use their smartphones to plan their escape and to stay in contact with family and friends. Arriving in Germany, they face a significant problem: while language is the most important thing for successful integration, they have to wait an average of three months for a spot in a German language course.

Plan.Net, a leading digital agency in Germany, wanted to change the refugees' situation and help them to start their new lives more quickly. The company used the mobile app WhatsApp in a new way to teach German to German-language beginners.

Target Audience:

The target audience was the more than one million refugees coming to German-speaking countries in 2015.

Creative Strategy:

WhatsGerman was the first language course for refugees on WhatsApp. The key was that it wasn’t a separate app to install and use on its own. Rather, it was based on a digital platform that was already used many by refugees to stay in touch with their families: WhatsApp.

The strategy for WhatsGerman was based on three pillars:

  1. Almost every refugee has a smartphone and uses WhatsApp.
  2. As the waiting time for an official language course was three months, the duration of the offer was three months as well. By bridging this time gap, WhatsGerman offered an opportunity to learn German in a self-regulated way.
  3. The lessons were available in English and Arabic in order to reach more than half of the refugees coming to Germany.

Upon registering their smartphones at, participants received daily lessons consisting of text, explanatory emojis, and videos for pronunciation. The use of emojis, to explain a language that consists of alien letters, is typical for communication via messenger. The application of video underlines an appropriate use of all WhatsApp features.

The course contents (length, readability, choice of topics) were developed with language teachers especially for WhatsApp. Three courses that built upon each other were available to choose from:

  • Course 1: “The Alphabet” enabled users to get to know the Latin alphabet.
  • Course 2: “Daily Life” made daily tasks easier with useful vocabulary and short phrases about everyday themes like shopping.
  • Course 3: “Basic Grammar” offered an introduction to German grammar for advanced users.

Overall Campaign Execution:

WhatsGerman was advertised with the help of print flyers and posters in refugee homes, social media, and reporting/PR. The program was promoted via NGOs like Caritas, magazines (Page, VICE), leading national newspapers, and radio stations, including Radio Bremen.

Facebook was an official partner of WhatsGerman and provided a non-profit ad campaign. A partnership with Wir zusammen, the refugee initiative of the German economy, increased media reach with ads in online and print magazines and via TV.

Mobile Execution:

WhatsGerman messages are sent through an external broadcasting service. The company offers a backend with which the project is controlled and statistics are evaluated.

Results (including context, evaluation, and market impact)

The success of WhatsGerman was based on earned media. But the biggest confirmation of success was positive feedback, often written in German, from dozens of refugees using the course.

  • The first Facebook post about WhatsGerman was shared 1,400 times in two days.
  • More than 80,000 people (17 percent of Arab-speaking refugees) registered for the program in the first six weeks.
  • 1,000 new users sign up daily.
  • Currently there are 131,000 refugee participants.

Categories: Messaging | Industries: Nonprofits & Government | Objectives: Messaging | Awards: Silver Winner