Oh Jazz, what have you done to yourself...? You were so perfect. Price did not matter to you. Neither did perception. No one accentuated your ‘style’ better than Iman Ali. And there was no better ‘partner’ for you than the suave and sophisticated Indigo. Remember him?
Hand in hand, you created not only the pre and post-paid markets in Pakistan, but easily transgressed the boundaries from your initial incarnation as a ‘power’ brand to a ‘premium’ one. Truly admired you were. Truly aspired to.
Your parent company, Mobilink, elicited its vision with pride: “At a time when cellular companies were differentiating their products on tangible features such as price, coverage or technology, Mobilink gave birth to the concept of a ‘brand’ – with a vision to lead and a strategy to promote itself on the basis of image, standing out on grounds beyond the conventional differentiating factors of the local cellular industry.”
And by 1998, four years after the introduction of Mobilink’s GSM services, you, Jazz, were resonating across Pakistan with your celebrated tagline ‘Aur Sunao’.
Your only tangible competitor – Instaphone’s InstaXcite brand – was equally innovative and able at brand image building as you were.
Hence, at the time in the telecom sector, brand creativity was truly unpretentious and far-sighted – all the more remarkable, given the fact that the industry was one with very different challenges compared to today. For a start, in the mid-90s, the mobile phone was strictly for the privileged (those who could afford it). Calls made from a mobile phone were charged on a MPP (Mobile Party Pays) basis which meant that mobile subscribers had to pay for calls made and received.
Cross-network calls were still in the making which effectively meant that if you were with Mobilink, for example, you could only really communicate with another Mobilink user – a relatively small, and as I emphasised earlier, privileged class of users. The Indigo and Jazz brands became all the more adept at emphasising that very same ‘charm’ and ‘privilege’ of ‘belonging’ to a certain cellular network. This marketing tactic became a hallmark of the late 90s leading into the turn of the century.
Two things changed at this point. Firstly, in the third quarter of 2000, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) gave the directive for the CPP (Calling Party Pays) regime to be adopted in Pakistan and secondly, Ufone’s launch was around the corner.
The first change was a decisive one as it meant cheaper local fixed-line-to-mobile calls for customers, while the telecom companies benefitted from a positive expansion rate and a reduction of their fixed cost per minute. The PTA designed a tariff which absorbed the cost of the telecoms on incoming calls, enabling them to terminate those charges on the customer. Furthermore, PTA significantly facilitated the telecoms by reducing the rent of leased fibre from the incumbent PTCL by a factor of 50%.
Additionally, the PTA’s tariff model allowed the telecoms to use the ‘far-end hand-over’ interconnection technique for local long-distance (nationwide dialling [NWD]) calls, which meant that telecoms were allowed to charge local long distance calls from their customers when handing over mobile calls to PTCL’s fixed line network.
The significance of the preceding discussion on tariffs becomes clear when we consider the second change; namely, additional competition with the launch of PTCL’s cellular services under the Ufone umbrella. As a result, telecom sector’s antagonism started to become distinctly tariff or price-focused.
So, while competitors focused on minute or package-driven price differentiation, the management team at Mobilink delivered a master-stroke by doing away with NWD charges altogether.
At the time, this extraordinary move turned cellular pricing on its head with Jazz walking away with the upper hand, while not once faltering on style.
Although still the market leader, Mobilink’s share of the market dropped from 60% in 2004, when it faced competition from Ufone and Paktel/Instaphone, to 43% by mid-2007 (source: PTA). The entrance of Warid and Telenor in 2005 further challenged Mobilink’s dominance and by mid-2007, both newcomers had a 16.5% share of the market. Business Monitor Research (BMR) assessed that this had “significantly changed the landscape” as both newcomers were “controlling a third of the total between them” and it was BMR’s expectation that “both carriers would be pushing Ufone as Pakistan’s second largest operator by end 2007.” Growth rates were indeed astounding: from just three percent cellular penetration in 2004, Pakistan reached a 40% penetration rate by 2007. Telenor and Warid managed to garner over 10 million subscribers, each within two years of launch, at the expense of Mobilink.
Many, including myself, watched with increasing trepidation, and then outright disdain, when a brand with such flamboyance and style started faltering on both strategy and execution.
An extremely bad call was to replace the ‘Jazz Girls’ with Ali Zafar, who failed to do for Jazz what the singer-cum-actor had managed to do very well for Telenor’s Talkshawk with the help of Sonya Jehan; namely, preserve telecom brand identity.
Jazz’s brand image continued to be the victim of price wars and their attempt to win over the ‘young’ never happened with their Jazba brand.
Nevertheless, while indulging in the dual SIM offers of competitors, millions of Mobilink pre-paid users still hung firmly on to what was their first one: namely Jazz. The original branding and cross-country promotion of the Jazz brand had been so impactful that temptations by competitors did not really have a long-term hold. Rural and semi-urban areas especially were still enamoured with the original Jazz brand despite its dismal dilution by Mobilink over the years. The one brand that was on the lips of labourers of Pakhtun origins to taxi drivers of Indian descent was still undisputedly “Jay-zz”.
It is beyond belief then that Mobilink, with its rebranding exercise in 2013, would choose to completely wipe out the one brand name and image that had continued to strike a chord throughout the country. Unfathomable too, how the new management at Vimpelcom/Mobilink, whilst moving ‘from complexity to simplicity’, trampled all over the newly acquired Warid brand equity as easily as they had over the Jazz brand equity. Could they really not see that the extremely loyal post-paid Warid subscriber base would have easily stood the test of time as part of a dual-brand strategy?
A good thing then that the rumoured power struggle between the original founder of the Jazz brand, Aamir Ibrahim, and the Vimpelcom management has resulted in the re-launch of Jazz recently. Many have, and continue to argue that the re-launch had its faults. In part, I agree.
However, one of the Jazz components, namely JazzCash, has already seriously challenged the market leader in the mobile money category, proving that telecom brand building can still reclaim some of its past glory with the sanguine image of Jazz reviving the heartbeat of a sentient nation.
Yasmin Malik is a Telecom Analyst associated with the UK’s Informa Telecoms & Media.