Vodafone Idea: How do two strong telecom brands survive together?

The campaign looks at the growing pressures of maintaining the perfect image on social media
Last month two large and distinct telecom brands officially became one under the combined corporate identity of Vodafone Idea Limited (VIL). On the one hand is the common man’s Idea Cellular which has always sought to be identified with a no-frills image and aimed for mass outreach, right from the days of its “What an Idea Sirjee?” campaign. Then there is the global behemoth Vodafone with its predominantly urban, upmarket consumer base and a brand story that has always emphasised customised service. How do two such strong brands survive together?  

One month down the road, the brands seem to be hinting that the best way to move ahead together is to continue to focus on their traditional strengths and brand power instead of aiming for a common mind space. Yes, the disclaimers and official communications have all changed to Vodafone Idea and there was even a teaser- a campaign called #Strongertogether (a corporate campaign as of now), bringing the two brand colours together. But beyond that, the telecom giant is sticking to two separate identities for its two brands.

Brand expert KV Sridhar, CCO and chairman Hyper Collective is of the opinion that the companies will continue in their existing avatars for some time before, or if at all, they decide to change strategy. “At this point, both Idea and Vodafone have different strengths across geographies. Any abrupt change in imagery or message might alarm their consumer base, so they are likely to figure out regions where either of the brands are doing better and accordingly retain them.” He compares this to the position taken by soft drink giant Coca-Cola with Thums Up (their Indian acquisition) as they battled Pepsi across markets. Each of the brands retained their flavour while gaining market share remained the top priority.

This would also be a strategy followed by digital advertising mogul like WPP which has continued to acquire companies across the globe who are often rivals. Even if they compete at a sector level, the group still profits from their client base. Obviously, with their distinct markets, there is little scope for the brand messages to clash as well. 

Moreover, there is the additional burden of keeping up with the new brand on the block, Jio, and any disposable capital is best allocated in devising new services, technology and products for customers, industry veterans suggest. Already Jio’s emphasis on an app, OTT content and device ecosystem has been garnering them huge market share (largely in Idea’s traditional markets of non-metro regions). 

The recently launched ad campaign by Idea called #MeriRealLife kicked off with two TVCs which went on air during the Asia Cup Cricket tournament. On Vodafone Idea brand strategy, the company stated in the merger announcement that, “Both Vodafone and Idea brands will continue to operate in the market. Both brands have strong consumer affinity across metro, urban, rural and deep interior markets.”

“Both companies have individually spent crores on building these brands and the consumer mind space over years. Changing signages on shopfronts alone would run up a tab of around billions,” said Sandeep Goyal, chairman Mogae Media.  Goyal, however, adds, that brands should be careful about getting preachy through their messages. While a brand like Idea has always focussed on some kind of social initiative even in their “What an Idea Sirjee” days, keeping the sharpness of message execution alive will be key to retaining brand value.

There are over 400 million internet users in India and over 50 per cent are active social media users. Rapid proliferation of 4G has enabled better internet speeds, resulting in Indians now spending almost 28 hours a week on mobile phones which is why Idea says it focused on social media usage for the new campaign. “Idea wants to power an alternate wave of thinking that encourages people to share real, unfiltered stories and drop the pressure of chasing and sharing perfection on social media. It is more than just a campaign; it is an idea, a contrarian way of thinking that India needs for positive social transformation,” Sashi Shankar, chief marketing officer, Vodafone Idea Limited said during the launch.

The campaign will capture the concept through the lens of three people from different walks of life, sharing how their social media lives are different from their real lives. The ads show people talking about a fancy new car, the perfect look and relationship goals on their social media, while in their real lives they are questioning their own shallow behaviour. The campaign is meant to retain the brand’s ethos of being a straight-talker said experts.

The message on the board is clear from VIL, the companies may be stronger together but the individual personalities will not be altered.

Partners in banter

Early last month, just a few hours before the completion of the merger between Vodafone and Idea was formally announced, Idea’s Twitter handle tagged that of Vodafone in a tweet, “Hey VodafoneIn, you know they are talking about us”. Vodafone quipped, "Yeah @Idea. It's time we made it official." But the last word went to Reliance Jio when it implied that Jio’s entry into the market had led to the two joining hands to stay in the fight in its tweet, “Bringing people together since 2016”. Increasingly brands are engaging with each other via social media and digital is the new playground. So much so that social media behaviour has even fuelled the present campaign by Idea that encourages subscribers to stop chasing the perfect image and live life to the fullest, with all its imperfections intact.

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