MTN Won The Demarketing War


In 2008 when the global financial crisis was brewing, Intercontinental Bank (the bank has been bought over by Access Bank) published a press release across major newspapers for several days. Its grouse was what it called a ‘demarketing’ campaign it claimed was launched by competitors who are bent on destroying the image of the bank.

While Intercontinental Bank ended up in the hands of Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON. It later became clear that the bank had troubles with its books. However, its competition took advantage of the rumours to promote media stories that exacerbated its problems in the court of public opinion.

Well, this is 2016 and the concept and allegations of demarketing has been resurrected in another toga- marketing communications.

In case you are trying to see what demarketing has to do with telecoms market, do not look to far. About three months ago, the telecom category, the most active marketing sector in Nigeria, took a different direction in competitive trends.

The use of commercials to demarketing competition became a free for all approach at getting the word out. Just like creative accounting has no strict procedures on how figures are juggled to perform the magic; the category fashioned out a new strategy to demarket competitors.

The aim is to either win new converts to one’s network or irritate would-be movers to one’s ‘enemy’ that they develop founded and unfounded disdain for them.

While Etisalat had murmured its own darts, Airtel took the first shot at MTN. In a brazen manner, the company did a 60 seconds commercial to scale down the image of MTN as an ineffective network that its users must divorce themselves from to gain their freedom.

PageOne had written about it when Airtel launched the massive campaign. The message was calculated at taking a big shot at the biggest player. Our earliest article described the campaign as below:

With series of TV commercial and billboard advertisements, Airtel portrayed MTN’s customers as frustrated lots with no end in sight to their worries. In the TV commercial attached below, Airtel showed an MTN subscriber whose yellow-coloured bag took off and started running away from him. He followed the bag to an Airtel shop where a red bag was handed over to him.

To make matters worse, Airtel is now using the same recharge code with MTN ‘*555*1#’ telling customers that they can get five times value from their recharge.

While it was expected that MTN will retaliate, it was not clear when and how.

However, the recent Pulse campaign launched by MTN changed the narrative and approach of the response. While Airtel was combative and relatively malicious, MTN commercial was subtle, strategically relevant and domineering targeting all players in the game.

The TV commercial shot in a sci-fi, action and comic style portrayed MTN’s competitors as birds of the same feather  who are always in unison looking for how to scheme the leader- MTN. Individuals in the commercial had discrete and nondiscrete colours on their dressing representing each competitor in the category.

The campaign’s copywriters wrote every spoken word in the script carefully to take individual shots at each competitor.

‘It doesn’t matter if they are popular (Glo) or they are not popular (Etisalat). It doesn’t matter whether they are cool (Etisalat) or ‘razz’ (Airtel). All they know is that they have a network that allows them to show the true character they have’

As regards the strategic importance, MTN’s approach to the game of demarketing finally launched the data war. It would make price of data services more competitive. While Glo, Airtel, Etisalat have all pegged their average mobile data subscription rates at NGN 1,000 for 1.5G, MTN wants to give 1G for 1G for NGN 1,000 for seven days validity. While Glo mobile still offers the cheapest data fares, MTN’s offer is a tempting one that makes it contend with Glo in retaining its customers from moving to Glo.

However, MTN was able to achieve this with a subtle campaign that did not lose the message by merely throwing stones at its competition.

If anyone has learnt any lesson it should be Airtel. Afterall, MTN is not the only one in the market, so why take a shot at them alone. It is even in a bad taste when the company in question is going through series of troubles with the government. But just like in war, in marketing anything is fair.

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