Seamless?

When an Idea customer dials 12345 from their phone, an exceptionally chirpy female voice tells them that they can “now stay connected while in roaming with Idea seamless coverage”. Of course you can. Ok, no sarcasm.

Problem began when I noticed that whenever I come to Bombay, I am unable to send text messages. In technical parlance, outgoing SMS is not working. Different days that I have come here. Different handsets. Different places in Bombay. No sir, can’t go. And lately, my GPRS connection also refuses to work when in Bombay.

How to solve it then? Call someone for help. Who else but Idea helpline? So I do. I dial 12345. I am greeted with the exceptionally chirpy female voice mentioned above, telling me about the alleged “seamless connectivity”, and then some human being talks to me. The moment I tell them my number and that I am coming from Pune, they respond as if I am a stepchild. How can Mumbai executives be expected to listen to Pune customers? Everytime I call, I am told that I need to call the Pune helpline at 9822012345. Other than that they cannot help me in any way, because procedures do not allow them to help me. These people hung up on me mid-sentence twice. Some customer “service”.

9822012345 is another story. The moment I dial it, select the language, tell the system that I am an Idea Maharashtra customer AND dial my phone number (in this day and age of CLI machines at homes!), I am presented a menu that is definitely a prepaid customer’s menu. Why would a postpaid customer be bothered with recharge options? The menu comprises of 4 options only, like PUK, value-added services, recharge options etc. but never did I hear a “to talk to a customer care executive…”. Once by fluke I got to talk to a human being on this number, and all he could help me with was “Sir please try again after some time, it will definitely go. If not, then try a different handset, it will definitely go.”, 5 times when I told him I did not think it would work. The second time I got to talk to someone, again by the rare coming together of five of the eight planets in one line, he politely tells me that he is a prepaid customer care executive and that I need to dial 9822012345 to reach a postpaid customer care executive! If you were not paying attention so far, that was the number where I reached this gentleman in the first place. He could not help me because he was a prepaid Pune executive, while I was a postpaid Pune customer. Wow!

Idea keeps telling us about “seamless connectivity”, while there are silos in their customer service setup. One area’s executive cannot help a customer from another area. One department’s executive cannot help a customer subscribing to another department. Let alone help me, they cannot transfer my line to the concerned persons!

Wonder when companies would really honour their marketing claims, and when customer care people would really care about customer’s problems and concerns.

Proud & Cute: Airtel on television this season

When you run out of ideas to get across your message, fall back on the most common tactic – use mushy emotions.

Two approaches to mushy emotions top the list – cuteness/relationships/family and pride/patriotism/togetherness.

Airtel has recently released two spots banking on these two.

The cute spot is very sweet. The kid is looking like an angel and you feel for her when she wants to “do drawing” with her father but her father initially expresses inability to do it. It drives the one position that almost all telecom players in India are trying very hard to own – best network. But as all mobile telephony users in the country know, none of them are in a position to honestly make that claim, and until any of them really delivers what they keep promising, these advertisements are not going to help their perceptions.

The pride spot has a message – that a Nokia phone is being bundled with an Airtel connection. But what has pride got to do with it? Why did they waste such a long ad with an expensive celebrity expressing feelings of pride and togetherness for a bundling message? Can anyone help me out on this one?

So what is Airtel’s agency actually adding to the advertisements, apart from execution? Apart from the breaking barriers kids playing football spot from a few months back, Airtel’s campaigns recently have been short of ideas. And even the breaking barriers idea was lifted from a New Zealand telecom company’s ad.

Idea has launched the recent guide at Taj Mahal advertisement, strengthening the “Idea” positioning it has (is it a real position in the market by the way?). Vodafone’s regular value-added-services and ‘magic box’ bundled phone ads keep hitting us regularly. Reliance Mobile is also consistently hitting us with its old but fresh and cinematically brilliant “total network” ads (though as I already mentioned, it is tough to justify claiming that position for anyone). Tata Teleservices’ new avatar Virgin is also starting up with its ATL efforts.

In this scenario, is Airtel not being complacent with its marketing above the line? What do you think?

The Good, The Bad and The Excellent: Recent Telecom Ads

Here I pick three new advertisements from the stables of three Indian telecom houses — Idea, Reliance and Vodafone.

The Good: Let’s start with Reliance, which I’ll call the good. It’s not actually an ad I’m talking about, it’s a campaign — to advertise Reliance’s new caller tune copy service. The advertisements show one person swinging to some popular song that is playing with colourful musical notes surrounding their head. Then the person tells you that this is their caller tune, and you can press * on your Reliance mobile phone to copy it to your number. Then some other person who is in the frame, but not facing the first one hears this, presses * on a virtual keyboard that pops up in front of them and gets the same colourful notes around their head, to denote that the caller tune has been copied. The service has been around for quite some time on some other operators, and if I’m not mistaken, Idea Cellular was the first one to come up with this service and an advertisement (probably made in a south Indian language and dubbed in Hindi/English later on?) to promote it.

The execution is well-done. The camerawork and the graphics etc. along with the choice of songs is good, and the ad grabs attention. The “Hi this is my caller tune…” approach has been consistent in Reliance’s communication regarding caller tunes now, with the first campaign with lots of spots featuring different celebrities.

Interestingly the spots also have a karaoke-style line on the screen while the character is speaking, with the familiar ball-bouncing to denote the word being spoken. This is quite an unnecessary frill in the overall well-done ad, and ironically, this is the one thing where they’ve goofed up. If you look carefully, the words appearing on screen are not the ones being spoken. Why would you have it then? Especially in karaoke-style?

The Bad: Then you have our new Vodafone “musical greeting” promotion. O&M has done some really good spots in the Vodafone VAS campaign, with the man waiting in the lift for his soulmate, the man stocking up on onions in a supermarket, and the cutest one so far – the girl chasing a goat for its milk. But I think they have gone a little too far with the “down to earth, real, slice of life” approach. Three girls, holding a guitar and some other instruments standing beneath a man’s window, singing “pehla nasha”, all out of tune, rhythm and in my opinion, the guitar is being insulted in being handled that way. The idea could have run if the execution was any good. But the execution has left the idea, which is a decent one by the way, struggling. Are the greetings that Vodafone is offering us as “musical” as these girls are? If they are, then thank you very much. I’ll prefer silence.

The Excellent: My favourite commercial from the recent days is the new Idea commercial. Abhishek Bachchan is playing a tourist guide in Agra, who tries to talk to a foreigner lady for selling his services, but she seems not to understand. He assumes there is a language problem so he hands her his card, and turns around. He turns around to see her friend come to her and talk to her in sign language — they were both deaf-mute. Just then he receives a text message from her that they need a guide. We then see Bachchan tell a group of tourists about the Taj Mahal, and along with that he texts the woman whatever he is telling the others. She replies with a text – ‘what an idea’.

Truly, what an idea! To position text-messaging as a communication tool for deaf-mute people and thus increase the user base of mobile phones is truly a marvellous idea. This one is a fitting sequel to the earlier Idea spot, with Abhishek Bachchan playing a village head who replaces the usage of names for people with their mobile numbers, thus solving the caste problem plaguing his village. The spot is executed well, and the actors have played their part well. Hats off to Lowe people for an excellent campaign and another excellent advertisement in that series.