14 Sep 2020 20:15 IST

What does the new ‘Vi’ mean for ‘you’ and ‘me’

Instead of heavy advertising, the merger must focus on consumer experience, and fixing patchy network

Two large telecom brands have come together with a new identity and a new communication model. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the new entity and its challenges, let me talk about one of these brands and its origin in India, a small matter of 25 years ago.

In 1995, I was the CEO of a mid-sized Indian agency that was headquartered in Pune. The Birla AT&T was the first mobile brand to be launched in Pune and we won the mandate against larger, more fancied agencies, thanks to the risk-taking ability of the American from AT&T who saw our keenness and Pune infrastructure as a plus and gave us the business. Mobile services were a luxury back in those days, with outgoing calls being charged a mere ₹17 a minute and incoming calls a measly ₹8 per minute. Birla AT&T was the brand that became Idea later.

Over the years the brand has produced some outstanding advertising. And this is the part of the new Vi set up that I spoke about initially with Vodafone now, which was Hutch earlier. Vodafone too had its own share of advertising fame not only with the pug but also with the ZooZoos campaign created for its value-added services.

Consolidation and shrinking choices

Many of the brands that were launched in the early stages in India such as JTM, Docomo, Spice, and Aircel don’t exist today in their earlier avatar. This leaves very few players in the market now and this can always be a problem for the consumers as they might have to choose between the frying pan and the fire when it comes to the quality of service.

Even if the telecom service provider speaks volumes about the clout and the reach, the benefits of this merger are better experienced than spoken about. Trapped in the transition, can we talk about the look of the new brand?

Vi promotes togetherness

Having been in the branding business for longer than I care to remember, I find most of the brand purpose statements as utopian and similar-sounding even as brands try their utmost to be different. The new brand uses the first letters of Vodafone and Idea to cue the lineage of the new brand fairly elegantly.

I really feel it would be premature to talk about design as it’s such a subjective element. You like red and I like black, so where do the twain meet? But there’s a strong colour red which does hint the older look of Vodafone. I expect that, like film music, it may actually grow on you as it hits you during the IPL, at bus shelters, kiosks, and hoardings not to forget the barrage of TV advertising that we are surely going to be subjected to.

High advertising standards

Both these brands have set advertising benchmarks in their own right. Who can forget the Vodafone ad where the school girl forgets her tie and the little pug gallops after the school bus, tie in tow.






We have already spoken about the ZooZoos. I have always maintained that Abhishek Bachchan should have stuck to making commercials and not have done films, as though my opinion matters. But here’s a commercial that I really liked.





This leads me to a fairly important observation about these two brands, that were trying hard to stand out from each other, and which have now merged. Vodafone was smart, slick, global, urbane, and youthful, if the advertising is an indicator of the brand personality. And Idea was street smart, sensitive, more Indian-ness, with perhaps a social conscience.

How do these two diverse entities emerge with a common tone of voice? What will that voice be? A tower of Babel perhaps? But then that’s not my problem. My problem is the focus.

Shift in focus

Too often, mobile services are about pre-paid offers, schemes, and 'buy one get one free' shallow promises. Can the new brand really, really focus less on advertising and schemes, and focus more on the consumer experience? What’s the biggest problem? Call drops? Poor connectivity? Obnoxious service on the phone? Post-paid customers that no one gives a damn about?

Yes, the consumers don't have much of a choice with increasing consolidation in the market. But the pandemic has taught us many new habits, and maybe something will happen that will declare mobile phones lethal in the near future. Maybe the merged entity can plan for a scenario like that where people will not be able touch their phones and that might truly be the mother of all crises!

But seriously and honestly, as a consumer, I am despondent at the poor service I have got from Airtel definitely, and Vodafone. I, like thousands of people, need an assurance that things will change. Not just the logo or the advertising campaign.