As the management of Airtel Nigeria move to appoint a new creative agency to replace Prima Garnet Ogilvy, which was recently disengaged, Raheem Akingbolu writes on the new development and what it portends for the brand
One week after the management of Airtel Nigeria sacked Lolu Akinwumi's Prima Garnet as its creative agency; leading advertising agencies have started putting papers together to take part in the company's proposed pitch exercise, which may take place anytime from now.
According to recent findings, Centrespreads FCB, Creative Zone, Insights Communications and a few other agencies may slug it out with one another to clinch the plum account.
The telecommunications company concluded to drop Prima Garnet Ogilvy recently to avoid becoming affected by the controversy that is currently brewing between the agency and Scanad, a subsidiary of one of the African leading marketing services group, Scangroup, that made inroads into the Nigeria market last year.
In June 2010, after concluding a $10.7 billion transaction, which gave India's Bharti Airtel the Zain Group's Celtel Africa Unit, the company formally changed its brand identity to Airtel. With the new status, Prima Garnet had an advantage to add the account of the telecoms brand to its array of clients because of the relationship between its Ogilvy network and Airtel Group.
A competent source, who confided in THISDAY, said: "Prima Garnet has just been dropped as a creative agency to avoid dragging the 'brand Airtel' in the mud but I don't have the detail. But if you will be fair in your judgment, you will agree with me that the last two years have been very smooth and successful for the brand compared to past experiences. It will however be a tragedy if we allow the politics and acrimony in the advertising industry to tarnish the good image we have sustained. I think the best is for us to avoid it."
Winner's Determinant Factors
Although a date has not been fixed for the pitch exercise, recent findings revealed that the company may consider a number of factors before settling for any agency.
Among the factors are; understanding of telecommunications brands vis a vis their market and trend of competition, understanding of the Airtel brand, and credibility of such agency to avoid making another mistake.
However, of the three agencies mentioned above, only Creative Zone is not known to have handled any telecommunications brand in the past. This notwithstanding, its rising profile and the fact that the agency's top hands - Messrs Doyin Adewumi and Sola Adegorioye, have worked on similar accounts in their former place of work before they set up their own shop, may be an advantage.
For Insights Communications and Centrespreads FCB, it can be said to be a familiar terrain, having worked on MTN and Etisalat accounts respectively.
How Prima Garnet Lost out
Trouble started last year when the Scan group indicated its interest to open a shop in Nigeria and subsequently appointed a former President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Mr. Rufai Ladipo, as Chief Executive Officer. Before then, the Scan Group had become the sole owner of fifty-one per cent of Ogilvy affiliations in Africa among many strategic affiliations with other global agencies.
The news of Scanad interest in Nigeria quickly unsettled the market, especially Mr. Lolu Akinwumi, who saw the new development as a threat to his business. There was also the feeling in some quarters that the process of entrance of the newcomer was illogical, which made it insulting to local practitioners. It got to a climax when the issue was dragged to court, when it appeared dialogue would not settle the crisis.
If there is anything the crisis has caused it is the division in the industry. While a group is blaming Ladipo for an attempt to aid foreigners to abuse the market and suppress local practitioners, another group that is sympathetic to Ladipo, has dismissed Akinwumi as a selfish individual, who is bent at frustrating Scanad and Ladipo to protect his own interest.
Peep into History
Perhaps, a little of the review of the history of the outfit (Airtel) might suffice here. Initially promoted by a Zimbabwean, it was obvious that the company would always struggle against its then closest rival, MTN, which had heavy financial back-up both within and outside the country.
In fact, three state governments - Lagos, Delta and Akwa Ibom, put down their money to help the company take off. Even with this, it was obvious that the-then Econet would always play second fiddle to MTN in terms of brand visibility. This is without prejudice to the quality of its services.
While the outfit was slugging it out in the market place, especially during those heady days of trying to reach as many locations as possible, there were continuous rumbles in the boardroom. The Zimbabwean was edged out and Nigerians took over, although many corporate players would not spare a tear drop or two for the man from the Southern African country.
To add to Econet's headaches, Globacom was licensed as the second national carrier, adding to the number of competitors that it had to deal with, including some Private Telephone Operators (PTOs).
It was in the middle of this that the idea of some investors coming in, pumping money into the company but with the need to rename it, arose and before you knew it, Econet had become V-Mobile.
Now, something is pertinent here. For reasons that might have to do with push for brand visibility and striking the right chord with its publics, one name, of all the names the telecommunication outfit had borne, that had stayed with the consumer was V-Mobile. Perhaps that is a discourse for another day.
Before V-Mobile as a brand could gain the kind of frequency of visibility needed to make it part of the consumer's idiosyncrasies, Nigerians were informed that V-Mobile would be going under and Vodacom would be the new name. The new name came as a result of investment by some South Africans. This was in 2004 and less than three years since it started operations (ironically the first to roll out). Everyone thought this would be the last name change, but how wrong they were.
The romance with Vodacom did not last. No funds. And Celtel came in. Considering the need to make the brand relevant, Celtel's coming was timely. The build up to its launch and the influence of the conglomerate in many African as well as Middle East countries became a source of inspiration for the brand's supporters in this part of the world.
It must also be added that it sent shivers down the spine of its competitors in the industry. At the point of re-launch, the management used nearly all the elements of marketing mix to tell those who cared to listen that Celtel has come to stay, especially with the way they pumped in needed cash to sustain the brand.
Coming with Celtel then was the brand recall; Making Life Better'. Thus, they began a journey that was conceived to bring goodies to both subscribers and the company.
Then, another development set in, which stakeholders in the company said was not name change per se but a reflection of the then new global brand name change of Celtel to Zain. That was the situation until 2010 when it changed to Airtel. From then on, things have not only smoothened, the brand has made a mark. The next few months would determine whether the brand has gotten it wrong again or not.