Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Telecoms: Differentiating by making a difference

Published in Jul-Aug 2017
Why telecom companies need to apply imagination to their technology and marketing.

Let me start by appreciating the most dominant force of change of our time; mobile technology. Becoming more affordable and making internet access increasingly ubiquitous with every passing day; enabling social, economic, environmental and political change... everything is happening at the same time. Nothing since the invention of the wheel has influenced peoples’ lives this way. Expression. Communication. Interaction. Mobile technology holds the key to peace, progress, mass movements as well as to discord.

Now, with 4G technology, telecom brands are faced with the choice of either focusing on the functional aspect of this technology or putting the emphasis on more transformational attributes.

They can either talk about their service as being technologically superior or bring out a progressive (window to the world of opportunities for all) or emotional side (connecting hearts) to their marketing.

As a sector, telecoms in Pakistan have become highly commoditised, with brands aggressively fighting for their share of voice 24/7, 365 days. Like any commoditised sector, all the players offer similar services (good network coverage, clear voice, fast internet and value addition), none of which can be seen as a point of differentiation for any particular brand.


Sadly, I have never been blown away by a telecom brand in Pakistan. Looking at the client logos on my wall, let me rephrase that to “I have seldom been blown away by a telecom brand in Pakistan.”


Yet, instead of focusing on creating champion ideas that can act as differentiators, most brands keep hammering us with the same type of ads.

I remember being totally blown away by Idea Cellular’s ‘Walk n Talk’ (2009) campaign, where brand ambassador Abhishek Bachchan urges users to be health-conscious by simply walking and talking when they are on the phone. This was one in a series of ads spread over three years that tackled societal issues such as the caste system, disability, education, democracy and health. Every year they picked an issue and positioned themselves by offering life-changing ideas to address negative influences. And they did this with imagination and creativity. They didn’t just make ads; each campaign was followed up with action. They helped fight deforestation by positioning the mobile phone as an efficient tool to read newspapers, generate e-bills, make payments and issue e-tickets; in short, as a tool to save tons of paper every day.

Sadly, I have never been blown away by a telecom brand in Pakistan. Looking at the client logos on my wall, let me rephrase that to “I have seldom been blown away by a telecom brand in Pakistan.”

Here is an idea. Mobile technology does have a negative impact on physical and mental health. Why has no brand come forward to address this? A huge space is left unexplored at a time when differentiation is hard to find. Why? The most common and dumb answers to this question range from (in no order): “Oh that’s not what our brand stands for” (what does it stand for then?) “That’s not an own-able space” (what space do you own? Red/blue/green?) “This is not a unique positioning; any other brand can say or do this,” (delighted to report that ‘fastest internet and clearest voice quality’ are also not unique!).

However, for the sake of argument, consider this possibility. Imagine that your brand has decided to break away from the norm of promising the moon. What can a telecom brand do to actually contribute to making people healthier and happier? Have a more positive influence over the customer’s life? Make a difference in shaping the country’s future and without compromising on revenue?

Ever heard of TeleMedicine or mHealth – apps that use mobile technology to improve people's health? They include everything from mobile messaging services to encouraging healthy behaviour to medical specifics such as remote monitoring for diabetes patients. Before you dismiss this, know that these apps are more nuanced than just sending text messages to remind people to book a medical appointment. A lot of research has gone into understanding what can motivate healthy living. Take the example of BabyCenter. Their programme sends pregnant women updates about their pregnancy. They do not just provide information about nutrition and exercise; they encourage women to feel good about their pregnancy by sending them messages telling them about the various stages in their baby’s development and then they follow through post-pregnancy with newborn-related messages. Besides helping with chronic disease management, empowering expectant mothers, and reminding the elderly to take their medication, telecom brands have the potential to bring relief to an over-burdened medical system by extending healthcare to people who otherwise would not have access to it – and in Pakistan, that would be a whopping 51% of our population.


For a brand to be truly influential, it needs to do remarkable things. Stand for something. It is not enough to just make ads about social and environmental concerns.


We only spend 0.9% of our GDP on health and according to the Open Journal of Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases, there are only 127,859 doctors and 12,804 health facilities to serve more than 180 million people. Now, if we add 40 million smartphones (and the growing scope of the telemedicine ecosystem) to this healthcare equation, suddenly there is the possibility of brands bridging this supply-demand gap and impacting society in a much larger and long-lasting way. There is huge potential for a telecom company to take the lead here, and this is not about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Healthcare access globally is becoming a revenue source in consumer-driven markets like ours. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Telemedicine can boost revenues and create healthier customers who are actually likely to become more profitable as well. It has never been harder to differentiate; and there has never been more confusion in the telecom industry about how to do so – but the choice is yours. Continue yelling more for less or change the game.

I say this often before closing my presentations: For a brand to be truly influential, it needs to do remarkable things. Stand for something. It is not enough to just make ads about social and environmental concerns. Customers demand authenticity. Look at what Dove did when they redefined beauty and gave women more self-confidence or Airtel, when they announced the Open Network initiative under Project Leap. The most influential people always stand for something, they strive to resolve cultural tensions and act on issues that others around them are passionate about. So what are you passionate about?

Umair Saeed is COO, Blitz Advertising. umair.saeed@blitz.pk