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Call of the Brand: Operators strike a new sales pitch

January 21, 2011
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In November 2010, amid much fanfare, the country’s leading telecom operator Bharti Airtel unveiled a new company logo and signature tune composed by music maestro A.R. Rahman. According to Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman and managing director, Bharti Airtel, the idea behind the brand overhaul was to create an identity that would give the telecom major an opportunity to present a single, unified face to its customers, stakeholders and partners the world over.

Over the years, with the maturing of the telecom industry, the advertising and marketing pitches of telecom operators have also evolved. The year 2010, in particular, saw a palpable need among operators to differentiate themselves in the mass perception. Given that there are as many as 14 players jostling for market share in many circles, it was only natural that the competition would spill over into the advertising and marketing space as well.

To stand out, operators and handset vendors extensively leveraged the potential of print, television, radio and billboards to the fullest to ensure that their creative punchlines were seen and heard loud and clear.

According to market estimates, the telecom industry is one of the biggest ad spenders in the country along with fast moving consumer goods and white goods sector. This is a significant change from the situation 10 years ago. According to a study conducted by AdEx India, a division of TAM Media Research, the indexed growth of the volume of advertisements by telecom operators on television increased by 12 per cent in 2010 over 2009 while the figure for the print medium stood at 22 per cent for the same period.

The top advertisers in 2010 on television included Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Nokia Corporation, Tata Teleservices Limited (TTSL), Vodafone Essar, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), Samsung India Electronics, Unitech Wireless, Sistema Shyam TeleServices Limited (SSTL) and Micromax Informatics Limited.

In print, the pecking order with regard to the top advertisers was BSNL, Nokia, Samsung India Electronics, Unitech Wireless, TTSL, Spice Mobiles, Karbonn Mobiles, Xcite Communications, Videocon Industries Limited and LG Electronics India. Towards the latter half of the year, Maxx Mobiles and Zen Mobiles also undertook big spends on advertising.

In terms of spending in 2010, according to market estimates (as companies do not typically divulge their ad spends), Airtel reportedly invested around Rs 9.5 billion in advertising while Vodafone spent around Rs 7.5 billion. Even Idea – a comparatively smaller player – earmarked a budget of Rs 4 billion and BSNL, around Rs 1 billion.

According to marketing heads of various telecom operators, television is the favourite medium of communication (more than 50 per cent of the spend goes to television) for telecom brands, especially those that have gone national. Brands that are strong in the southern or eastern regions rely heavily on regional television.

Creative showcase 

Four years and several awards later, Vodafone Essar’s famous commercial featuring a pug continues to have top-of-the mind recall. This campaign had no celebrity recall value at all, but its stark simplicity created a bond with the consumer.

Thereafter, the company continued its winning streak by introducing the Zoozoos during the Indian Premier League’s second season as characters created specifically to convey a value-added service (VAS) offering. It became an overnight success.

In 2010, Vodafone hit the bull’s eye once again, with its BlackBerry Boys ad campaign. Conceptualised by Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), the television commercial was used to highlight the launch of BlackBerry services for Vodafone’s prepaid customers. The commercial was in the form of a song, “The BlackBerry Boys”, which opened with five men belonging to a company’s top-level management singing the BlackBerry song. They showed the mindset that the BlackBerry added to their already established “coolness”. However, as they sang along, several youngsters were shown joining them. Through the song, the youngsters talked about the chat, email and surfing features available on the move with BlackBerry. The commercial ended with a frame that read, “BlackBerry on Vodafone prepaid, not just for office guys”.

Commenting on the commercial, Rajeev Rao, national creative director, O&M India, said that the brief the agency received from Vodafone was to launch BlackBerry services for prepaid users. By offering a daily recharge option, the operator wanted to make BlackBerry services more accessible.

Thereafter, the operator went back to its lucky mascot, the Vodafone pug, to showcase its readiness for mobile number portability (MNP). The campaign’s tagline, “Everybody’s Welcome”, was designed to attract customers, citing a better network as its unique selling point.

Samaresh Parida, director, strategy, Vodafone Essar, put it succinctly, “Join us because of who we are. Our campaign emphasises that anybody who wants to join our network is welcome.”

While telecom major Bharti Airtel maintained a relatively low profile on the ad front in 2010, it created ripples in November with the unveiling of its new logo and signature tune, and two new ads, showcasing its 3G services. According to a statement issued by the company, the new identity underlines Airtel’s willingness to embrace everything that is new.

It further stated, “The red colour, which is an integral part of the brand, continues to represent the energy and dynamism that have made Airtel the success it is today. The new curved addition to the logo is a symbol that will help to ensure instant recognition across diverse international markets.”

The ad campaigns, conceptualised by Adrian Miller, JWT Delhi’s chief creative officer, showcased the brand’s upcoming 3G services. Shot in London, the commercial featured a couple who bid each other goodbye but keep bumping into each other immediately afterwards. The idea was to demonstrate the ability of video calls, which are a part of the suite of 3G-related services the operator is expected to offer, to keep people connected.

Of course, Airtel’s 3G ads came in much later. TATA DOCOMO was the first private operator to launch 3G in the country, which was accompanied by a media blitzkrieg on the internet, television and via outdoor mediums.

To draw attention to the service, DOCOMO planned an aggressive outdoor campaign conceptualised by Madison Outdoor Media Services, Madison’s OOH solutions unit. The campaign was spread over 30 days, covering key cities and towns across Karnataka.

As part of the campaign, 11 foot high balloons were fabricated and installed at three major junctions in Bangalore. Apart from this, strategically located mediums such as hoardings, cantilevers, mobile vans, gantries, bus shelters, traffic booths and pole kiosks were used.

Meanwhile, players like Idea Cellular and Aircel preferred to give a social and environmental slant to their ads. Idea Cellular released several new commercials as part of its “What an Idea, Sirji” series. The films dealt with various themes including the hazards of global warming, education, democracy and health. The ads themselves were straightforward and highlighted the issues with a touch of humour. Its “Use Mobile, Save Paper” campaign, for instance, which showcased how the mobile phone can be used as an efficient tool to read daily newspapers, generate e-bills, make payments and transactions, and issue e-tickets and boarding passes, thereby saving tonnes of paper every day.

Lending its names to worthy social causes, Aircel launched its “Save Our Tigers” campaign in February 2010, in collaboration with WWF India. The tagline of the campaign was, “Just 1411 left”, which highlighted the rapidly declining tiger population in the country, thereby prompting the public to take action.

The initiative was kicked off with a television commercial featuring a tiger cub searching for its mother, which in all probability had been poached. Barely a few weeks after its release, “Stripey the cub” became the face of the campaign and was visible on hoardings across multiple states.

Dentsu Communications, the creative agency behind the campaign, had created four television commercials. While the main film focused on Stripey, subsequent commercials banked on celebrity power and featured cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni, footballer Baichung Bhutia, and actors Amitabh Bachchan and Surya Sivakumar pledging their support to the cause. The brief to the agency was simple: to structure a long-term, all-encompassing, 360-degree public communication campaign, which informs people about the seriousness of the threat and the urgent need for action.

BSNL too jumped onto the bandwagon and sent out a two-pronged message to users. Its ads, which showcased its 3G services, highlighted 3G as an affordable medium to bridge the rural-urban divide. With the theme “Hindustan Bol Raha Hai”, the ads depicted how BSNL’s services for telemedicine and e-education and its comprehensive network are freeing the nation from its worries by connecting people from all walks of life by providing them information and creating awareness.

Idea Cellular beat the competition by becoming the first operator to launch ads aimed at highlighting its MNP readiness. The ads show Idea’s brand ambassador Abhishek Bachchan proposing an idea to unhappy mobile users to switch to a network that offers better services, better network quality, and better products and tariffs through the message, “No Idea, Get Idea”.

According to Anupama Ahluwalia, senior vice-president, marketing, Idea Cellular, the ads have been designed to demonstrate Idea’s strengths in being a pan-Indian operator offering seamless connectivity across the country; its affordable and relevant product and service offerings; accessible and efficient customer care; accurate billing systems; and voice clarity.

Meanwhile, the new players, too, pulled out all the stops to keep up with their nimble-footed rivals. A notable example is Uninor’s aggressive media drive for its dynamic pricing plan, which comprised several ads on television, the internet and the print medium, and via OOH advertising.

According to Nitin Pradhan, executive creative director at Leo Burnett, the agency behind the ads, the creative brief was to communicate the brand’s discount plan in a simple manner. The insight used for this campaign was that consumers today are highly price conscious and aware of the plans in the prepaid market.

The way forward 

In the next few years, industry analysts are confident that operators will focus more on advertising their VAS portfolio through conventional mediums of communication. Also, operators will focus on services other than vanilla voice and attempt to popularise them in rural and semi-urban areas. 

All in all, 2010 was an exciting and eventful year for telecom advertising. Going forward, given the accelerated pace of user growth, advertising budgets will increase exponentially with operators determined to differentiate themselves from the clutter.

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