Vodafone: can ‘kidults’ save a struggling brand?

KidultI have to be honest, I don’t envy the marketing team at Vodafone charged with relaunching ‘the new Vodafone’.

The troubled telco has lost 1.5 million customers since 2011 and is now seeking to reintroduce itself to consumers with a new branded campaign built around a slogan ‘discover the new’ and a TV campaign in which the characters are all ‘kidults‘, a combination of adult human/baby.

Vodafone wants to reconnect with consumers however, the campaign is arguably flawed in that it doesn’t emphasise on the substantial investment Vodafone has made in improving its mobile coverage nor does it address the key issue facing the company: a lack of confidence / trust in the brand among consumers. (Anyone remember: Vodafail?)

Don’t get me wrong the ‘kidults’ are an interesting creative idea, attempting to connect consumers to their childhood wonderment,  and were this a brand where consumers had positive memories (I’m thinking maybe a chocolate or ice cream brand) it could well work.

But that’s not the case here.

The 1.5 million people who left Vodafone didn’t just disappear. They moved to competitors and told their friends about their poor mobile coverage.

These people do not have fond memories of the brand rather they are the brand’s worst nightmare. More than 1.5 million consumer advocates actively telling their friends not to consider Vodafone for their mobile needs.

This TV campaign does not emphasise the positives:  the steps Vodafone has taken to improved coverage, its mobile pricing or Australian call centers.

Rather, as Ogilvy’s Steve Black conceded, the campaign is about changing the conversation to start talking about Vodafone in a positive light. And that’s a challenging proposition when despite the investment in coverage, 500,000 people left in 2013, and Citigroup’s Justin Diddams predicts Vodafone will still lose 250,000 customers over the next six months.

Vodafone is confident the timing of this new campaign is right and that the network’s coverage is now in a position to meet customer expectations. “We have expanded our coverage by 40 per cent and we are not resting here so yes, the timing is right. We’ve relied not only on the science of our network capability but on feedback from our customers” said a Vodafone spokesman.

But the reality is that this message is going to take some time to sink in.

Vodafone clearly wants to stem the tide and the ‘kidults’ are an improvement on some of the “self deprecating” television ads of late. (Note to marketers: comparing yourself to a broken down Datsun might be funny but there is a difference between consumers laughing with you and at you).

As the Mumbrella comment thread noted at the time, the self deprecating ads might have acknowledged the problem and demonstrated that the brand could laugh at itself. But what it didn’t do is win back consumer confidence and trust.

CoveageThis new ‘kidults’ campaign arguably doesn’t do that either, and while there are outdoor materials around 4G speeds and some of the coverage improvements, an outdoor campaign won’t be enough to rewire the view millions of consumers have of Vodafone.

It’s also worth noting that the telco faces an even a bigger challenge on the horizon, from Telstra and Optus, who will in 2015 have 700MHz frequency, allowing them to offer more superior mobile coverage, a point they’ll be keen to emphasise in their advertising.

In the end this campaign may win attention, and even awards for its creative, but I doubt it will do much to fundamentally change consumer perceptions around the brand.

Nic Christensen is deputy editor of Mumbrella


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