Vodacom’s storm in a paint bucket

2011-04-09 09:16

Not since my 17th paintball birthday party has so much of the stuff been flung around for such a meaningless purpose.

Every time we switch on the telly or flip though a paper we see red paint being daubed, splattered and hurled on a wall, all in a ­multimillion-rand communications ­effort to tell us that one of the country’s major cellphone ­network providers has changed its livery. Vodacom, now part of the British Vodafone company, has been told to switch from blue to red... and boy have they gone large.

Characters we’d long consigned to that place where old advertising faces go to die have been resuscitated and have joined the mega paint party, at a humongous cost.

Vodacom insiders didn’t balk when I suggested close to R400 million. Its yellow rivals, who have been very muted in the past week, whisper that the cost is probably close to a billion.

They may be right, especially when considering that everything from billboards to business cards and spaza shops in between have to be made over. It’s enough to make anyone green at the gills.

First off all: is all this brand ­redecoration necessary? Absolutely. The British parent will ­inevitably use this country as a bridgehead into the rest of Africa, and use its superior brand value and entrenchment to claim a stake in a very competitive market.

It stands a much better chance of growth using the red identity and pedigree to play catch-up.

There is no argument that rival MTN is streets ahead on a trans-continental strategy. Locally, though, does it make a jot of difference? Is our perception of value proposition really going to change because of a change in colour? I suspect not if Vodacom is changing its demographics strategy.

A senior marketing staffer told me the brand was generally viewed as an older consumer’s choice and opportunities lay in the 18 to 30 age segment – a group the brand has to now entice.

Trouble is this group is not brand loyal. Most are on a pay-as-you-go option and often buy and replace SIM cards depending on the week’s or weekend special.

As one young consumer told me: “Vodacom could have gone pink, I’m more concerned about free SMSs and free minutes.”
I’m also surprised at the slow brand-reveal strategy. Apart from all the paint and the relighting of the Ponte tower in Joburg, we’ve not seen a big, bold, brand ­commercial that articulates a new proposition.

The ad agency says the softer approach is to get people used to the change. I think a big-bang ­approach might have worked ­better... and saved on paint.

I’m told the new campaign is coming. I wait with bated breath. Then there’s the new payoff line, “power to you”, which sounds ­similar to Cell C’s “the power is in your hands”.

I understand that UK advertising authorities are looking at the matter already and I suspect the issue will be adjudicated upon by the local Advertising Standards Authority at some point.

It is confusing and I’m ­surprised that Vodacom didn’t raise this more energetically with its parent company.

In time, of course, all of this will die down as attention-challenged consumers forget all about it. But I hope two things come out of this launch phase: that the Vodacom meerkat ends up drowning slowly in a vat of red paint, and that a well-known rugby team changes its name to the Vodacom Red Bulls. Can you imagine how they’ll ­perform then?

» Maggs is a journalist, radio host and TV presenter

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