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Brand Building: Innovative offerings and user experience take centre stage

February 14, 2012
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In late 1995, Delhi was overrun by billboards displaying a black logo with uppercase, bold lettering and a baseline, “The power to keep in touch.” Telecom major Bharti Airtel had arrived, bringing mobile services for upmarket professionals and entrepreneurs. With calls priced at Rs 16.40 per minute, the operator positioned itself as an aspirational and lifestyle brand, in a way that trivialised the cost in the consumer’s mind.

This marked the entry of private mobile operators in the Indian telecom market, and companies like Modi Telstra, Max Touch, AT&T, Tata Cellular and RPG Cellular followed suit.

Over 15 years later, India has emerged as the world’s fastest growing telecom sector. Competition is at its peak with 15 players fighting for market share. As a result, advertisements through print, television, radio, etc. have become a major tool for increasing visibility, and advertisement budgets have increased significantly over the years.

According to AdEx India, a division of TAM Media Research, social advertising, toilet soaps and mobile services were the top three product categories that provided business to advertisement agencies during January-September 2011.

Television continued to be the most preferred medium for operators to promote services. The medium accounted for over 50 per cent of the total advertisement spend of these companies.

As per AdEx India, the top 10 telecom advertisers on television in 2011 included Bharti Airtel (21 per cent share), Vodafone India (19 per cent), Idea Cellular (14 per cent), Tata Teleservices Limited (14 per cent), Reliance Communications (RCOM) (10 per cent), Unitech Wireless (5 per cent), Aircel (5 per cent), Sistema Shyam TeleServices Limited (SSTL) (4 per cent) and Videocon Telecommunications Limited (1 per cent).

In 2011, Bharti Airtel was reportedly the biggest spender on advertising, with an expenditure of around Rs 10.5 billion, followed by Vodafone India at Rs 9.5 billion, Idea Cellular at Rs 5 billion and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) at around Rs 2 billion.

In addition, with the entry of new handset players, in 2011, the advertisement arena featured campaigns by indigenous and established handset companies like Nokia, Micromax, Samsung, LAVA Mobiles, Maxx Mobile and Videocon.

The storyboard

With operators focusing on 3G service launch, telecom advertisements on these applications took centre stage in early 2011. Bharti Airtel, for instance, introduced its 3G services with the “Endless Goodbyes” campaign conceptualised by JWT Delhi. The advertisement featured a couple who bid each other goodbye but kept bumping into each other. The idea was to demonstrate the capability of video calls, which is part of the operator’s 3G portfolio.

Airtel continued to highlight the “Connecting People” concept in its 3G  campaigns. Its next advertisement featured a soldier posted in a remote area chatting with his wife via video calling through the mobile handset. The tag line – “Now make video calls from anywhere with Airtel 3G” – not only promoted video calling, but also highlighted the operator’s extensive network coverage.

Vodafone India continued with its ZooZoo concept to drive 3G service uptake. The operator kicked off a teaser campaign at the beginning of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, following which a series of television commercials were aired during the matches. With the tag line “Faster. Smarter. Better. Vodafone 3G is here”, the campaign featured the “Super ZooZoo” character performing heroics to represent the superior quality of the operator’s 3G services. Like the previous ZooZoo advertisements, this campaign was an instant hit, and Vodafone extended the campaign to promote its “Super Week” offering, wherein users could access Facebook, Twitter and Orkut free of cost. Apart from the traditional mediums of print and television, Vodafone utilised the out-of-home (OOH) platform for maximum visibility.

Meanwhile, Reliance Communications moved away from its tried-and-tested formula of promotion by celebrities. It instead launched a 3D mass media advertisement campaign for its 3G wireless broadband service, Reliance NetConnect. Produced by Biscuit Films, the campaign highlighted the speed (28 Mbps) and superiority of Reliance NetConnect’s latest high speed wireless internet product. All three films in the campaign showed how the internet speed offered by the dongle had helped people to overcome situational challenges.

Aiming to take its “Dil jo chahe, pas laye” brand positioning to the next level, Bharti Airtel launched its “Har ek friend zaroori hota hai” campaign. Created by TapRoot India, the commercial has vignettes of different kinds of friends a person has, and how the presence of each of them is important in some way or the other. According to Agnello Dias, co-founder and chief creative officer, TapRoot India, the idea behind the advertisement was to ensure that the Airtel brand remained youthful and contemporary.

Vodafone India’s campaign for the Vodafone Blue handset was based on a similar concept. Created by Ogilvy and Mather, it was developed to support the launch of the handset, which mainly offered seamless access to Facebook.

The advertisement was developed in Broadway style and depicted a typical day in the life of a youngster who spends a lot of time on Facebook.

In this context, a noteworthy advertisement was TATA DOCOMO’s “Keep it simple, silly” campaign. Created by Draft FCB Ulka at an estimated budget of Rs 500 million, the commercial experimented with the concept of stand-up comedy to sell telecom services. The idea was to capture the company’s communication theme and its promise to simplify the telecom experience through relevant products and services.

Operators like Idea Cellular preferred to give their promotional campaigns a humorous twist with an underlying social message. The operator aired several new commercials as part of its “What an Idea, Sirji” campaign. These include the “3G pe busy” advertisement, which highlights the issue of overpopulation.

As Mohammad Chowdhury, executive director and telecom industry leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers, puts it, “The advertisement shows the enormity of our market and the fun side of data services, while focusing on the youth segment.”

TATA DOCOMO highlighted the reliability of its network in a lighter vein. The operator’s “No getting away” campaign, created by Draft FCB Ulka, showed real-life situations in which a phone call is the last thing that the protagonist would expect. Commenting on the rationale of this campaign, K.S. Chakravarthy, national creative director, Draft FCB Ulka, says that the operator was unwilling to make tall claims with regard to its network reach, especially since customers are far from satisfied with the performance of their selected network.

Meanwhile, the new players also pulled out all the stops to keep up with their rivals. Uninor, in particular, was aggressive in promoting its “Unlimited Music” product. After launching a television commercial, the operator hosted a music concert in collaboration with Mudra Max in Bangalore to promote the product.

To mark the 10 million subscriber mark, SSTL launched its new tag line, “A step ahead”. The operator also introduced the MTS Pulse Android smartphone and an OOH campaign, Zoot, to promote the device.

Apart from operators, handset vendors like Nokia, Micromax, LAVA Mobiles and Samsung have gained attention through advertisement campaigns. Samsung’s commercial for the Galaxy Note device with the tag line, “Freedom from multiple devices”, is aimed at highlighting the handset as a one-stop solution for the consumer’s communication requirements. The campaign is aimed at users who require both a smartphone and a tablet but do not want to invest in both.

The road ahead

According to industry experts, diverse advertisement trends are expected in 2012, including viral marketing, an increasing emphasis on customer experience and handset bundling.

Jaideep Ghosh, executive director, KPMG Advisory Services, says that viral marketing will be an important trend this year. “Viral marketing is the buzzword for marketers. The concept is expected to gain prominence with the growing popularity of social networking,” he says.

Industry experts also expect operators to continue marketing some of their niche applications on the 3G platform. Moreover, advertisements for broadband plans and services as well as data cards are expected to shift from billboards to the television.

Going forward, improving customer experience would be the target of all operator advertisements in 2012. Service providers will be focused on attracting customers and encouraging them to use additional services.

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