Brands are fragile things. They are built up over time and their value depends on the attributes that underpin brand equity being protected. In the cellular telephone market this is especially vital. Many users object to the profits the companies make and to what they believe is the high costs they have to pay for what they think is a below par service.
But not everyone thinks this by any manner of means. Vodacom's impressive ranking in the Top Brands' survey attests to this fact. It is a greatly admired brand. Conversely, letters and comments in the media highlight the fact that an unhappy body of users exists.Address grievances
The cellphone companies must address their grievances because any level of discontent with a brand will transform into negative sentiments which if poorly handled swiftly leads to defection with its twin consequences of revenue loss and brand equity erosion. They have to deal with the functional weaknesses and protect the image. Brands are now financial assets and this erosion in brand equity will quickly chip away the value of the asset. I don't think any brand owner can afford to have the brand equity they have carefully constructed over time destroyed by anyone, least of all a competitor.
If commentators think this spat is simply the childlike activity of the marketing industry, they must think again. Our courts regularly hear cases of criminal injuria, libel and infringement of copyright. It is not just the marketing industry that cares for its image or the reputation of its brands; it is business and individuals too.
I agree that no one is gong to take out a Vodacom contract because of the tag line that it is South Africa's favourite network. But that is their line and they have every right to protect it.
Personally I am pleased that we do not permit unbridled comparative advertising here. If we did, this type of spat would be common place and a far greater portion of the marketing budget would be spent on responding unproductively to the latest comparison instead of building the brand. The US media has made a fortune out of the very entertaining, but completely worthless struggle between the two top colas. The consumer has gained little.Public cynicism
I don't know how Moerdyk, in this instance, knows that the majority of South Africans do not take advertising seriously and that most companies do not take marketing seriously. I currently work with many of the leading brand-owning companies in the country and that is not the impression I get.
I think there is confusion with a very healthy public cynicism about many things in our country with a singling out of marketing. I don't think this is warranted although we do lay ourselves open to ridicule every so often as Moerdyk rightly points out. But the letters' pages of the newspapers are full of very robust criticism about all parts of the economy: the national airline, politicians, the cellphone companies, Eskom and Telkom, the Minister of Health among many other targets.
Oddly I cannot recall any concerted opprobrium of the marketing industry. Understandably we are sensitive when marketing does takes a knock, but then we spend R18 billion a year exposing our warts to all and sundry on TV, on radio and all the other media types. But I think it is wrong to assume that our industry and advertising especially, is scorned to the extent that is suggested.
What happened last year at the Marketing Excellence Awards and again this week, is all part of a tough competitive battle. A great deal is at stake from market share to personal reputations. In both instances the action and response has been a sign of a healthy industry doing what marketers have always done: trying to get one over the opposition and being beaten back by a marketer who says: "Oh no you don't!"
Long may it last.Related stories:Time to change the marketing rulesMarketing 'warfare' delays Sunday Times Top Brands publication