Till about a year ago telecom advertisements in
didn’t have much to talk about. India
Most of the advertisements revolved around incomprehensible value added services and tariff plans that made customers wonder: where’s the catch? Moreover, companies were trying hard to create characters and trying harder to make these characters household names. For these companies it would have definitely been a dream come true had some updated couple nick-named their kid “zoozoo” or if some localities began calling influential residents : Sirjee! Did it really happen? You tell me.
Then came the necessity. Necessity still continues to be the mother of invention. In an attempt to make mobile service more Indian-customer friendly TRAI introduced mobile number portability (MNP). It allowed customers to switch operators without changing numbers. All of a sudden the telecom service providers began to feel that their respective empires were mere packs of cards! It brought them face to face with some sort of a reality check: Is my customer loyal to me, or is he just loyal to his number?
They looked around them seeking answers only to realize that even without MNP customers churned off with glee. Brand loyalty in the sector was indeed very low. The so called high-profit long-term “Super users” had stuck on with their respective operators only because changing mobile number was not a viable option for them.
It didn’t take the highly qualified business managers of Telecom industry much time to realize that MNP would undoubtedly make the sector a fiercer battle field. They were all forced to go to war without really knowing which weapons might save their day. However, all these managers from a very early age had participated in structured mock GDs on topics such as: When life throws lemons at you, squeeze and make lemonade for yourself! They sat down together to discuss the same topic in a group yet again. However, this time it was far from being mock!
We all got to see the output of the discussions soon after. The advertisements pertaining to MNP might have different story-boards but surely a common theme. It is clear that no company is eager to protect their own barracks but instead they prefer to launch full scale attack on all others.
MNP changed the very nature of attack too. Earlier the attack was mostly on tariff or in other words the war was just another price-war. Post MNP the war involves attack on each others products, services, distribution, promotions and of-course price. Traditionally advertising is used by firms to prove the superiority of ones offerings. The Indian telecom companies are now more interested to prove the inferiority of their respective competitors. This of-course is not that difficult a task. Even in our personal lives isn’t it easier to point fingers than to rectify oneself? And oh yes… it works wonders too! It makes the customers smile and say: I too thought so.
While pointing fingers it is not so important to clarify whether you are yourself a similar sinner. If you keep pointing out that all others in your industry own pathetic networks you are likely to attract some sympathy votes as freebies from customers. Even if your network is the worst you might get some blessings such as: At-least this one is honest and on the face! No Idea about what I am talking about? My advice to you would be: Get Idea!
Earlier Idea advertisements hovered around associating the brand with socio-patriotic causes to such an extent that many started wondering whether they had poached the brand manager of Tata tea. They tried hard to force down our throats a certain Sirjee and were lucky enough not to face some sort of a PIL. The Idea Sirjee tried a lot of things starting from using mobile phones to spread education to using the handsets to garner the voice of people. He even went to the extent of posing as the bark of a tree in one of the ads. Post MNP, Idea went to war with a basket full of new ads that had everything novel other than the brand ambassador. However the brand-ambassador was no more “Sirjee” -the social opinion leader. This time his role was that of another face in the crowd who eagerly small-talks with distressed telecom customers. In the new idea ads the customers were distressed mostly due to mobile network problems… So it was loud and clear to others that Idea would attack the short-comings of their network more than anything else.
It is interesting to note what DOCOMO is upto when it comes to post MNP advertising. It decided to play with the consumer psyche at a much more sublime level. Unlike Idea it abstained from attacking any tangible aspect of its competitor’s offerings. Its attack very blatantly was on the complications that have historically been laced with telecom offerings. When it comes to humor DOCOMO undoubtedly beats Idea. Moreover their use of “stand-up-comedy” also is coherent with their butter-knife attack philosophy. DOCOMO was perhaps the first ones to use comparative advertising in the Indian Telecom industry when they attacked all existing tariff plans by introducing per-second billing. Even then their communication theme was to attack existing complications. DOCOMO thus has gone for the post MNP war without changing much it’s positioning. Its not that Idea didn’t try to do the same! During the Cricket world cup they did come out with a series of advertisements that were themed on “Keep Cricket Clean”. It was an attempt to punch their traditional “Socially concerned” positioning with their newly acquired attack philosophy. I personally don’t think it worked much. I over-heard quite a few say: What the F***, where`s the telecom? On a lighter note, DOCOMO somehow proves here that practice makes a man perfect !
(Of the records, I have some sort of a gut feeling that DOCOMO is somehow playing the role of a suicide bomber in the Industry. It`s per-second-billing earlier had made the industry profitability hit rock bottom. Till date its persistent attack on complications is somehow causing irreparable damage to the industry as a whole. Can’t be denied that with profits lowering all that telecom company’s had for earning their bread was the complications … )
With Idea and DOCOMO fighting hard in the battlefield how could Virgin sit idle at home? It thus didn’t take much time to come out in the open with its Salt & Pepper advertisements. Virgin adopted the theme of “time to break-up” for its new line of advertisements. I must say that its haatke concept of comparing one’s relationship with his mobile operator with that shared by two troubled lovers did strike a cord … but only on Youtube! The virgin ads do deserve critical acclaim for being micro masterpieces but it is still to be seen how much they would help the company’s market-share. Even paying the customer for receiving incoming calls couldn’t help them much earlier.
Before I wind up this rather unexpectedly long post I would like to present the war strategy of the two big brothers of the Indian Mobile Telecom Industry : Vodafone & Airtel. These two were undoubtedly different from the pack when it came to post MNP war. Precisely they preferred protecting their own empires rather than pelting their neighbors. While others tried to woo customers with comic timing and small-talk, the big 2 preferred relying on the brand equity that they already possessed. No wonder their post MNP ads spoke of class more than anything else. Vodafone`s caption : “everybody is welcome without changing their number” is undoubtedly the simplest yet most effective take on MNP. Airtel too abstained from excessive competitor bashing and kept things simple by portraying what they were more than anything else. The question is why so?
The answer is written in the pages of www.coai.com (a site that gives in details subscriber figures of all the Indian telecom companies). Even in a highly competitive and fragmented market the big two enjoy a market share of 60% between themselves. On the other hand others are struggling hard to retain each percent of their market shares. For the big 2 MNP comes with not much new opportunity if they don’t aspire for unrealistic market share. For the others it is a severe opportunity. It gives them a chance to have a peck at the highly profitable first generation mobile phone users who have minted money for the big2 for ages. A senior manager in an upcoming Telecom had once told me off the records (few months before the introduction of MNP) that his company never really saw MNP as a threat. On a lighter note he said: “You can only be insecure when you have something to lose. For us it’s a chance made in heaven.”
Whatever be it, all companies must agree that amidst all this war and bloodshed, the Indian customer will have the last laugh. They will decide the final victor in this business war. So more than anything else it’s important to keep them happily in the loop. So keep things simple. In the language that you understand one last advice: “Keep it Simple Sirjee!”