Chris Moerdyk, one of the top marketing leaders in the country, explained that while “advertising industry regulators argue that SA already allows comparative advertising, in truth, any comparisons made are couched in innuendo and really not allowed to go the whole hog”.
While South Africa’s largest telecommunications companies do not directly engage in comparative advertising, many marketing campaigns take aim at competitors without leaving too much to the imagination.
These ads, where one telecoms player pokes fun at another, often generate a positive response from consumers who seem to appreciate strong competition between companies.
Here are some of the more prominent advertisements where telecoms players promote their products with a thinly veiled reference to their competitor.
Telkom taking on MWEB
MWEB’s uncapped ADSL services, which were launched in May 2010, quickly gained traction in the ADSL market. At the time Telkom did not have any uncapped ADSL products, and decided to launch a marketing campaign against uncapped ADSL products.
In June 2010 a Telkom newsletter titled “Broadband: Put a cap on it” warned consumers that “unlimited and unrestricted” Internet access is not what it purports to be. This was a clear attempt to downplay the success of MWEB’s uncapped products.
MWEB nailing Telkom
If you can’t beat them, join them! Telkom launched uncapped ADSL products the following year, and is now competing head-on with MWEB in the uncapped ADSL market.
MWEB is now taking aim at Telkom in its latest television campaign, clearly showing that its service and support is superior to that of Telkom.
Telkom poking fun at Neotel
Telkom has been very successful in securing billboards close to the Neotel offices, and then placing advertisements on these spots poking fun at Neotel. Here are two examples.
Neotel hitting back at Telkom
Neotel hit back at Telkom in its radio advertisements, highlighting that they pass savings on to their consumers while their biggest competitor (Telkom) does not.
In another advertisement, Neotel tells consumers that “It is cheaper to make a phone call from Neotel to our biggest competitor [Telkom] than it is for our biggest competitor to call themselves on their own network.”
Cell C bullying Vodacom
In 2011 Vodacom re-branded in a campaign which saw the company change its traditional blue and green colours to Vodafone’s red branding.
It did not take Cell C long to launch a campaign which poked fun at Vodacom, while at the same time promoting its new 900MHz HSPA+ broadband network.
After Vodacom lodged a successful complaint against the Cell C advertisement at the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA), Cell C changed its campaign, but the message stayed the same.
Cell C hits MTN and Vodacom
Shortly after Alan Knott-Craig took over at Cell C, the company launched a 99c rate for all calls. Cell C aggressively promoted their deal through a comprehensive marketing campaign, and took aim at Vodacom and MTN’s discounted call promotions in its ads.
MTN hits back at Cell C
MTN downplayed Cell C’s lower rates, arguing that it still offers a better value proposition to customers. MTN launched a marketing campaign to promote its free calls, and at the same time poked fun at Cell C’s new advertising campaign.
Another punch from Cell C
Cell C hit back at MTN’s advertising with its own television advertisement which poked fun at the MTN Zone promotion.
8ta makes fun of Vodacom and MTN
When 8ta launched its Go Big products, which include its 10GB for R199 promotion and its 3GB for R149 pre-paid pricing, no other cellular operator could match these deals.
In one advertisement, 8ta’s Red and Yellow firework display left little to the imagination as to who the company was referring to.
Classic Nandos Cell C ad
After Cell C re-branded in 2009 with Trevor Noah as the new CEO (customer experience officer), Nando’s launched their own parody campaign poking fun at Cell C’s marketing campaign.
Cell C responded to Nando’s copycat ad campaign by sending both the Nandos CEO and Nandos Marketing Director speed sticks (their HSPA+ USB dongles with data included), adding that they hoped Nandos will launch a “fastest chicken” meal in future.