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Airtel, Vodafone or Idea: Who wins the 4G communication battle?

Airtel, Vodafone or Idea: Who wins the 4G communication battle?

Author | Sarmistha Neogy | Wednesday, Aug 31,2016 8:09 AM

Airtel, Vodafone or Idea: Who wins the 4G communication battle?

The 4G space has become quite heated, with operators dishing out special promos and data offerings to lure customers to their network. While the real war has already started between Airtel, Vodafone and Idea, there is also high demand from Reliance Jio 4G, even before they have commercially launched their services. Hundreds are queuing every day in front of Reliance Digital Stores to get their hands on the free SIM card to avail the preview offer, which allows for unlimited free voice calls, SMS and internet for 90 days.

With customers highly unsatisfied with the service and with numerous complaints that 4G network is not available properly, it has become a task for the operators to innovate their creative strategy to communicate with the consumers.

Airtel, no doubt, had the first mover advantage with its media blitzkrieg featuring its well-known brand ambassador Sasha Chhetri launched last year in July, months ahead of its arch rival Vodafone and Idea. Vodafone this year launched their SuperNet 4G network, for which it got back their popular pug after four years. Aditya Group-owned Idea Cellular launched their maiden communication in June, where they spoke about how 4G can change one’s life for the better.

According to KV Sridhar (Pops), Chief Creative Officer, Sapient Nitro, “Airtel has a slight edge over the other players for being the first one in the race. They have been basically trying to target the younger audience and communicate the widespread reach of the network. Vodafone on the other hand takes a universal appeal and simplistic tone in their communication. For Idea, I feel, their approach is not very clear. They need to find a purpose and create some disruptive communication.”

First mover advantage for Airtel

Airtel 4G campaigns have been trolled, admired and debated, which has also made Chhetri one of the most popular brand advocates in recent times. According to media reports, the unconventional fresh face has helped deliver the brand high recall value and Airtel's revenue market-share even touched a six-year high of 31.4% in December 2015. At the start of this year, during IPL, just when Vodafone launched their SuperNet, Airtel tweaked its creative strategy, and Chhetri was seen to take a dig at herself. These set of ads showed her on a vacation with friends at picturesque locations, each trying to highlight the wide reach of the 4G network. It was widely appreciated as it gave freshness to the brand thought.

Around the same time, people were also trolling and making fun of the speed of the 4G network and memes started getting circulated widely on social media.

In response to this, Taproot Dentsu conceptualised the brand’s recent marketing campaign which talks about the ‘Open Network initiative’ where Airtel’s entire mobile network information is made public to customers through an interactive online interface and asked them for their feedback to improve the network. In this, customers got to know the reason why they were facing low connectivity.

Ramanujam Sridhar, founder & CEO, Brand-Comm said, “I think Airtel is better of the lot. They have been there for the longest amount of time and have managed to create a personality which is different from the other operators. It has adopted a well thought-out and planned approach, which has helped them to be on top in terms of the brand recall.”

Does audience know 4G=Vodafone SuperNet?

Vodafone entered the market with their 4G connection at a time, when Airtel had already managed to create a mind space among the consumers. They launched their maiden campaign this year in March and named their 4G service as ‘SuperNet’. As part of the launch phase, the operator even got their pug back to talk about the network’s 4G connection. Conceptualised by Ogilvy & Mather, the communication captured and reinforced the dependability of its network services. As a follow-up to these ads, the operator launched a series of Super-Dad, Super Brother ads during the IPL tournament this year. The ads were simple, and connected well with the audience highlighting the features of the Super Net-like watch HD videos, get HD movies on demand and reroute maps instantly.

As part of their latest communication, Vodafone has launched two ads to highlight that ‘Conversations will keep flowing with Vodafone SuperNet’. If one still faces any inconvenience with the network, SMS BETTER to 199 and get FREE calls. 

Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Mirum India opines, “Vodafone in their 4G communication uses the term Super Net which the consumer may not understand what the operator is referring to; they need to come out clear with it.”

Brand-Comm’s Sridhar added, “Vodafone’s 4G campaigns looks more like a corporate continuation of their proposition and it is significantly not very different from 3G.”

Idea 4G: exposure not strong enough

For Idea Cellular, the challenge was of a different sort, since they launched their 4G campaign after Airtel and Vodafone; they had to make their communication different in order to stand out. That is when the agency Lowe Lintas found out that while all the other players have spoken about 4G, no one has highlighted how 4G can change your life for the better. So they decided to work on this insight and highlight the message that, even though it might look like a small shift in your life, but it is indeed a big deal for people who live online. The brand has been actively promoting their launch campaign on all the mediums.

Mirum India’s Mehta feels, “Even though Idea makes a direct communication, their exposure is not strong enough. I am sure it will probably pick up as it gets more visibility.”

Customers remain unsatisfied

Pops points out, “The communication in the 4G category is nothing different as compared to 3G. Customer experience is very poor and people are very disappointed with the service. Three years ago, when 3G was getting launched, these players spoke about the same features like -faster download and greater speed. The experiential difference between both the services is very less and there is low excitement among consumers.”

Echoing similar views, Brand-Comm’s Sridhar says, “In terms of the service, 4G itself is a disaster. I guess now all eyes are on Reliance Jio.”

It looks like Airtel has emerged as the winner in terms of effectiveness and brand recall when it comes to 4G communication. However, it will be interesting to see how much excitement the much-hyped Reliance Jio can create in the 4G space when they launch their maiden communication.

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