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4G Pitch: Operators’ advertising strategies to boost service uptake

May 19, 2016
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Marketing and advertising have always been a key focus area for telecom companies. Faced with intense market competition on the one hand and the inability to reduce tariffs beyond a point on the other, operators have often launched unique media campaigns to increase their subscriber base and popularise new offerings.

During the 3G service launch, operators created innovative advertisements to encourage initial adoption. For instance, Vodafone announced its 3G services in India with Super Zoozoos, a new version of its popular mascot, which was inspired by superheroes. Meanwhile, Idea Cellular sought to promote its 3G services with the tagline “What an Idea Sirji!”. The advertisement was developed on the concept of governments using mobile services as an efficient tool to gather public opinion and support, while taking vital decisions impacting people’s lives.

Today, media campaigns have once again assumed significance as telecom operators strive to encourage the uptake of their 4G services. According to consulting firm Deloitte, higher spending by telecom companies to promote their 4G services is expected to boost the advertising industry by 10-15 per cent in 2016. The industry is expecting operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) to spend huge sums on advertising over the next few months to grab market share.

tele.net takes a look at the recent marketing and advertising campaigns of select telecom operators in the 4G space… 

Bharti Airtel

Bharti Airtel launched its 4G services with a series of advertisements highlighting the “Airtel 4G Challenge”. Through these advertisements, it claimed that it had the fastest network in the country and promised to pay the customers’ mobile bills for life if they found a better network. Thus, Airtel chose speed over pricing as a differentiator to promote its 4G services. However, the operator struggled to meet people’s expectations as the 4G speeds were not uniform across the country. In many areas, consumers received 3G speeds due to lack of adequate cell sites or fewer 4G-enabled towers.

Airtel has since changed its advertising strategy and is focusing more on advertising its extensive 4G coverage across the country. In its recently released advertisements, a girl is seen on a vacation with her friends, who are happy at the thought that they may not get any mobile network service at remote locations. However, the local residents surprise them with their Airtel 4G service.

In February 2016, Bharti Airtel came up with another innovative advertising strategy to encourage customers to upgrade to 4G services. As part of the strategy, the company offered free 4G SIM cards with the Mumbai edition of The Economic Times. This enabled existing Airtel subscribers to switch to 4G by replacing their SIM cards with new ones and registering their new number with just an SMS. Airtel reportedly distributed over 200,000 SIM cards during the campaign. It is planning to try out similar promotions in other cities soon.

Vodafone India

Vodafone is promoting its 4G service SuperNet through a creative campaign conceptualised by Ogilvy and Mather India, which brings back one of the company’s most loved and popular brand mascots, Cheeka, the pug.

The pug first made an appearance in a 2003 campaign titled “You and I” for Hutchison Essar’s cellular service in India. In the campaign, the dog follows a boy to unlikely locations, prompting the tagline, “Wherever you go, our network follows”.

The current campaign includes four advertisements announcing the launch of Vodafone’s 4G services. The first one showcases a boy beating a drum about the new services and in the second, he is driving a toy truck with 4G SuperNet painted on the side with the dog in tow. The third advertisement shows the boy painting SuperNet 4G on the wall, and the two adding their hand-prints to the work. The fourth one has both the dog and the child running up and down a flight of stairs, which has piano keys on it. Each film pitches SuperNet as the “World’s largest 4G network” and invites customers to upgrade to it.

Through its current campaign, Vodafone is trying to build on an already established prop that has strong brand recall amongst consumers. Meanwhile, Vodafone has brought back its Zoozoos to establish the company’s MyVodafone Application as a one-stop shop for all Vodafone services.


In December 2015, RJIL soft-launched its 4G services for employees of Reliance Industries Limited, and organised a mega event in Mumbai to popularise the brand. The company has also made Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan its brand ambassador to leverage his popularity amongst the country’s youth.

Further, RJIL is providing its services at various tourist spots, airports and other prominent locations to enable customers to test the service before the company undertakes a full-scale launch. For instance, it offered unlimited free Wi-Fi service Jionet at all the T20 world cup match venues in the country.

Misleading claims

In October 2015, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) sent a notice to Bharti Airtel, asking the operator to withdraw its 4G speed challenge advertisement on the ground that it is misleading. According to ASCI, the claims made by the operator in the advertisement, such as being the fastest network ever and the proposal to pay someone’s mobile bills for life, were “misleading by omission”. There was an absence of appropriate disclaimers in the print, television as well as hoarding advertisements.

Airtel had then asked ASCI to review its decision and provided the requisite data backing the advertisement. However, in November 2015, ASCI upheld its earlier decision, concluding that the claims made in the advertisement are location dependent. Therefore, disclaimers are necessary to elaborate on this aspect. Earlier, in May 2015 too, ASCI had issued a notice to Bharti Airtel regarding its 3G advertisements. It reportedly stated that the claims made in the advertisements by the operator, of being “India’s Best 3G network” and “Airtel gives 122 per cent faster download speeds than other 3G networks”, were not adequately substantiated.

ASCI also issued notices to Idea Cellular and Vodafone India in May 2015 for their 3G advertisements. In the case of Idea, ASCI had said that its advertisement of Idea Internet Network (IIN) was “misleading by ambiguity” as it led consumers to believe that through IIN, a student can avail of the same level of education as is being provided in a college. ASCI had remarked that there is no data to support that the subjects being referred to in the advertisement are being made available for formal education.

Vodafone India’s advertisement claiming “Fastest 3G Network” was also not substantiated adequately as per ASCI, and was “misleading by ambiguity”.


Telecom operators are adopting innovative marketing and advertising strategies to gain a significant share in the 4G market. However, while the advertisements claiming to have the widest and fastest network  attract customers, they are unable to address relevant concerns such as the actual speeds being delivered and the tariff plans. Eventually, it is the on-the-ground service that will determine the difference in market share for operators.

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