While it’s difficult nowadays to write about telecoms or the mobile sector without drifting off into other areas of the TMT industry, Zeitgeist spent an evening last month as a guest of Accenture in Cambridge, discussing the successes and failures of the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It came in the middle of a year so far that has already some significant shifts from mobile companies, in terms of branding, operations and revenue streams.
2013 has seen some interesting news in mobile. The week before last marked, incredibly, the 40th anniversary of the first phone call made from a mobile phone. This year also saw Research in Motion renaming itself to BlackBerry, with shares sliding 8% by the end of the product launch announcement for its eponymous 10 device. It saw Sky acquire Telefonica’s broadband operations, while responding to major complaints about the speed of its own broadband service. It has seen Huawei, which in Q4 of 2012 sold more smartphones than either Nokia, HTC or BlackBerry, come under scrutiny particularly in the US for its lack of transparency. Moreover, after much editorial ink spilled on Facebook’s lack of initiative and innovation in mobile, the release of the ‘super-app’ Chat Heads has piqued interest as it looks to compete with Whatsapp, Viber, iMessage et al., which Ovum reckons cost MNOs $23bn in lost revenue every year. This news mostly pertained to developed markets; JWT Intelligence’s interview with Jana CEO Nathan Eagle features some interesting insights on mobile trends in emerging markets.
Interestingly, 2013 thus far has also been witness to the beginning of more flexible contracts and payments. At the end of March, T-Mobile USA announced it would offer the iPhone to customers for cheaper than its rivals, and customers would not have to sign a contract. It effectively ends handset subsidies – something which Vodafone pledged to do last year and was punished by the stock market when it failed to do so – spreading the full cost of the phone over two years “as a separate line item on the monthly bill”, which may strike many as still quite a commitment. Customers must pay the bill for the phone in full in order to be able to end their tenure with the network. The New York Times elaborates, “Despite T-Mobile’s promise to be more straightforward than other carriers, some consumers might still find it confusing that they have to pay an extra device fee after paying $100 up front for an iPhone.” In the UK, O2 is going a similar route. At the end of last week the company announced similar plans to T-Mobile. While still keeping contracts as an option, the FT explained the company was looking to a plan, dubbed O2 Refresh, “that decoupled the cost of the phone from the cost of calls, texts and data. Customers will be able to buy a phone outright, or pay in instalments over time, and then sign up to a separate service contract that can be cancelled or changed at any time.” Although O2 said in the article that they expected customers to pay the same as they would on a standard contract, the new plans by both network providers will surely add to customer churn. Brands will have to work harder to develop true loyalty rather than relying on the lock-in feeling that adds to switching costs for many customers. Conversely, this added flexibility may make the providers feel less like utilities, creating more choice and differentiation.
At the aforementioned conference Zeitgeist attended last month, Accenture hosted an evening they dubbed “MWC: Fiesta or Siesta?”. It soon became apparent that many of the speakers invited were less than enthused with the conference this year. This was partly because there were no extraordinary leaps in technology or hardware on offer. It was also because of, as one speaker lamented, “the proliferation of suits”. Another speaker complained it was like listening to The Archers: long storylines “that ended up having no conclusion”. The very essence of the conference though is not about trendsetting, or cool new consumer devices. Mobile operators are utilities, the excitement around such an event is not going to be as visceral as that of SXSW or Embedded World. It led some to wonder whether the “real innovation was being developed in such ‘niche’ events, away from the “glitz”. Moreover, perhaps Samsung’s decision not to launch their new S4 handset at the Congress alluded to this lack of excitement, or at least a wish not to be drowned out by other announcements.
Among exciting trends on display at MWC, M2M – something Zeitgeist has written about before – was front and centre at the conference, particularly with regard to cars. Phablets continued to make their foray into the consumer’s view, with bigger screens meaning more data transfer. Zeitgeist wondered whether such a transition would put even more pressure on networks already struggling with large data handling. And although Firefox’s new OS gave some – including those at GigaOm – hope that it could provide more innovation through diversified competition in the marketplace, others, including Tony Milbourn, Executive Chairman of Intelligent Wireless, speaking at the event, thought it “underwhelming” after “lots of hype”. Bendable screens were also to be found at MWC, but those speaking at the Accenture conference like Richard Windsor of Radio Free Mobile said it was early days and much was still to be seen from this new type of phone. Its potential though, he readily conceded, was formidable. Wearable technology was a huge issue at the conference and one that Zeitgeist is particularly interested to see develop, especially as companies like Apple, Sony and Google enter the fray.
It seemed then that the Mobile World Congress failed to reflect what is turning out to be a tumultuous year in telecoms. Not only is there an increasing desire to address consumer needs – in the case of more flexible contracts and more consumer-facing company names – but as economies sputter their way toward ostensible recovery we are also starting to see M&A activity return to the sector. Time will tell whether new technologies, such as M2M or bendable screens can breathe new life into the sector.
Charles de Gaulle once commented, “China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.” As astute as this observation was (and is), it was hoped that a trip that Zeitgeist paid to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum ten days ago, entitled ‘Going Global: Advertising Works UK China 2010′, might provide a little more insight. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising described the morning as,
A conference in association with UKTI and linked to London Design Festival looking at the value of advertising and how the UK can act as a creative hub to Chinese brands seeking to go global.
Hosted by the IPA, the conference involved talks from a series from numerous luminaries from Ogilvy, BBH, McCann Erickson and JWT. Our emcee for the morning, IPA Director of Marketing Ms Janet Hull, noted that the UK was the fourth largest market in the world for ad expenditure. Ms Hull also talked about the increasing interaction between UK and China advertising; senior BBH and M&C Saatchi people have been on IPA visits throughout China over the past 18 months.
The great Rory Sutherland (whom Zeitgeist has mentioned in previous articles on behavioural economics and neuromarketing) was next up, speaking in an introductory manner to the morning’s proceedings, stressing that “value is subjective”, that it is created at the point of consumption. Added value exists mostly in the mind, he went on, not in the physical atrributes – “the atoms” of your product. He gave luxury brands as an example of this. He also pointed out that China currently has six brands in the top 100 (six years ago they only had one), according to WPP’s BrandZ survey (which Zeitgeist played a small part in helping develop). He foresees many more Chinese brands entering this pantheon in the next few years. One of those brands is China Mobile, and it was the Chief Representative of this company, Henry Ge, who would speak next.
Launched in 1995, China Mobile is now a $53bn brand. A recent survey conducted revealed 74% customer satisfaction with the brand, higher than any landline or mobile provider in the US. Curiously, not only do they have a very high loyalty rate, they also have a very high return rate, suggesting that perhaps of those who do leave, most will come back. Mr. Ge talked next about brand strategy, talking about how the company offered different plans (divided by pricing, services and rewards) in order to exploit customer segementation, while also seeking differentiation from competition and pricing for sustainable growth. Also of interest was to hear the development of the brand’s USP over the last ten years. In 2000, the brand’s selling point was coverage. In 2010, it’s platform, referring to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS, as well as more specifically mobile shops and apps. The future? Well, according to Mr. Ge, the future is all about experience, putting the consumer in control. Nothing new you might think; it will depend on how China Mobile and others execute this. It gels well with a recent article in the New York Times which stated “spending money for an experience… produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff”. Of course, as a company comprised principally of engineers, Mr. Ge confessed that those at China Mobile would be understandably nervous about such a shift in power.
Orlando Hooper-Greenhill, Director of Global Planning at JWT spoke next on HSBC, aka Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, set up in 1865. Any regular traveller would be able to tell you of the bank’s perpetual presence on “jet bridges” – the bits linking the airport to the plane – the idea behind which, Orlando stated, was to say goodbye to you as you left one country, and for it to be the first thing that says hello in a new country. HSBC’s proposition rests on the suggestion that even though their offices are spread the world over, they still provide superior service through their local knowledge. This was exemplified when Orlando showed the room two TV ads for HSBC, one from the US and one from China. Zeitgeist has had a terrible time tracking down the Chinese ad, and at the time of publication Orlando hadn’t responded to our request for where we could get our hands on a copy to post here. Needless to say the ads demonstrated an insight into each audience that it was targeting more than simply laying its cards on the table as to what services the bank could provide. He also presented the audience with a fascinating graphic, which Zeitgeist did manage to track down, see below. It puts into context just what a large audience is waiting out there for your advertising messages (albeit an audience with some maturing to do still).
Next up was Li Fangwu, Assistant Secretary General of the China Advertising Association. He began by mentioning that it was in 1978 when the ad industry as we know it (or don’t) today was “restored”, presumably as part of the Beijing Spring, currently with 170,000 agencies and over a million employees, which is quite staggering. However, Mr. Fangwu was forthcoming as he showed that year-on-year advertising turnover had declined since 2005, which made Zeitgeist realise that China is not completely immune to the effects of a recession. Most amazing was the advertising law dating from 1994, currently under revision. The levels of bureaucracy involved in getting advertisements legally processed was stupefying. Hopefully the blurry pictures below of the numerous government bodies needed to rubber-stamp their approval of a campaign gives an impression of the dizzying complexity currently involved. The word ‘byzantine’ comes to mind.
Nick Blunden of Profero was up next, who spent part of the beginning of the conference polishing up his presentation sat on the row in front of Zeitgeist and a colleague. Mr. Blunden was full to the brim with interesting, topical statistics proving the oft-proved power of the Internet etc. One of the more interesting stats was that smartphone handsets will find their way into the hands of 250m pairs of hands this year, quite a figure. Among some of the more innovative and intriguing case studies he mentioned were Pepsi’s superb Refresh campaign, Lufthansa’s MySkyStatus and Diageo’s Windsor campaign in Korea. Last but certainly not least was Chris Macdonald, CEO of McCann Erickson did his best to convince Zeitgeist that he shouldn’t shoot off to the Cote d’Azur when the Olympics (and the unwashed masses in their millions) descend upon London in 2012. An informative talk all round, and surely but a taste of things to come as China’s sphere of influence grows.
Shell and Renault might not leap to mind as producers of the most ‘green’ products in the market right now. Hence why both companies are trying to alter this perception by touting their so-called ‘green credentials’. In the past week, one brand has come off better than the other in managing these expectations.
Though unquestionably adept when it comes to social media – having in the past month launched their products on the latest incarnation of the Sims game, as well as the ubiquitous Facebook integration – Renault has fallen foul of the ASA twice over a period of five weeks. At the end of March, seventeen people complained that the company’s strapline for their new electric car, that it was a ‘zero-emissions vehicle’, was a fallacy, as it “did not take the full life cycle of the vehicle into account… the ASA adjudicated that if the car was charged using energy sourced from the UK’s national grid, CO2 emissions would be produced as a result.” The article also mentions a new set of codes by Defra meant to combat ‘greenwashing’ tactics. Yesterday, Brand Republic reported the ASA had banned a second Renault advert, when one person complained “it was using French rather than UK figures to make the claim that one of its electric cars reduces CO2 emissions by least 90%.” The ASA concluded the ad was “misleading”.
Where Renault has stumbled, Shell has not, with those wonderful JWT minds producing a simple but visually engaging advertisement that immediately speaks to the relative cleanliness and quality of its fuel.
One luxury brand not usually associated with such serious things like sustainability is Aston Martin. But then neither was BMW before it recently unveiled its prototype electric car (see headline picture). Campaign magazine reported yesterday that the manufacturer “is looking for an agency to handle the launch advertising for its Cygnet city car”. The project is being managed in conjunction with Toyota, based on that company’s iQ car. “a large proportion of Aston Martin drivers also own a smaller car, such as a Mini or smart car, which they use for their inner-city commutes or to do the shopping. Reports suggest that the Cygnet will cost around £30,000 and feature a low-emission economical engine.” It’s an interesting decision. Although one might initially blanche at the idea of Aston Martin producing a more economical car, as the above quotation illustrates, it is in fact very on-brand. In this case, why sell to half of the consumer’s automobile product purchase, when you can sell to it all? The model will, initially, only be available to those that already own an Aston Martin.
Zeitgeist is most pleased to see efforts being taken by the those industries with an environmentally questionable past to prepare for a cleaner future. Moreover, who’d have thunk it, but electric cars can be cool and fast (although UK hybrid and electric sales are unfortunately slipping). It’s clear from Renault’s example though that people won’t tolerate a greenwash. Perhaps the open-source project “c,mm,n“, will help.