• BURN MEDIA
    • Motorburn
      Because cars are gadgets
    • Gearburn
      Incisive reviews for the gadget obsessed
    • Ventureburn
      Startup news for emerging markets
    • Jobsburn
      Digital industry jobs for the anti 9 to 5!

Noah-gate: Lessons learned from Cell C’s controversial ad campaign

There has already been reams written about the new Cell C campaign, including a whole raft of my own thoughts on the campaign. I wanted to step back and pull it all together after the ad campaign that launched and to look at what lessons can be learned from this whole saga.

If you’ve missed it all, then let me recap. South Africa’s third mobile network operator, Cell C, embarked on a new marketing campaign by creating a fairytale story about how Mr. Lars Reichelt, CEO of Cell C, was so distressed about a comedy skit uploaded on YouTube by comedian Trevor Noah that within days he appointed him as the new Customer Experience Officer, built a website, changed the logo and launched a massive media campaign.

I was initially impressed at the honesty within the campaign – they called “a spade a spade” and then announcing plans to sort out the issues. Subsequently, I was very unimpressed to find out that the campaign was a PR exercise. It totally destroyed my initial judgment on its honesty. After some heated exchanges across the blogosphere, Cell C’s CEO commented that we should all wait and see how things are going to change. And so we wait.

Meanwhile, this is a pulling together of my thoughts:

    1. The media landscape has changed. Customers are connected and vocal. Jay Rosen calls them the “Former Audience” because they have the power to generate as well as consume content. They are active participants in the branding process.
    2. I don’t think that the internet is a channel. The internet changed marketing because it changed how people behave, how they find stuff out, how they interact with each other, how they form opinions.
    3. The first step in new marketing is listening. Listening to what the customers are saying and responding with solutions that add to their experience, as well as with honesty and in an attempt to build relationships based on trust.
    4. The second step is to build an experience for your customer, an experience that they will value and tell their friends about, in other words, build brand fans.
    5. The principle underlying marketing in an “always on/always connected” world is that the customers have control. This could be described as a democratisation of marketing, because in this world your communication is a discussion and not a lecture. Brands can no longer tell customers what they should believe and with enough media spend, shout at them until they believe.
    6. New marketing is really about preparing the environment for the idea (which is what a brand is) to spread. Just like a farmer prepares the field creating the right environment for the crops to grow, the marketer must nurture the brand in a partnership with its fans.

With these thoughts in mind, how has Cell C done?

Strategically:
If you are going to poke the sleeping bear with a pointed stick you had better have a well thought out plan, because it may wake up. The core of this relates to the customer’s experience.

    • Does Cell C have a demonstrably better network than either Vodacom or MTN?
    • Does Cell C have demonstrably better customer service?
    • If not, then they have set themselves up for a very bloody nose?
    • If you want to have a relationship with your customers, the foundation of that relationship is trust. So is it a good idea to try pulling a stunt and spinning a yarn? Is it a good idea to pretend that a new independent customer service system had been set up? And why would I want to “tell Trevor” instead of Cell C?

Executionally:

    • You don’t try to hoodwink your customer, even if you think its funny. Don’t make a fool of him, especially if your intention is to make him a hero.
    • Once you start a relationship with subterfuge it taints the rest of the relationship.
    • Customer service is a company culture thing. Pretending to outsource customer service to a comedian with no record as a consumer champion is bizarre.
    • Is appointing a comedian as your customer experience officer just a message to tell everyone that your customer service is a joke.
    • Cell C has launched a new logo – but their TV ads still carry the old logo, that is just sloppy, and a message in itself.

What I would suggest:

    • Cell C gets its network and outlets working, and makes sure that the customers are getting a superior experience.
    • Your customers don’t care how good you say you are, they care about their cell phone service.
    • Develop the tools to let your customers tell the rest of us about it. Because they are going to do it anyway.
    • Then go on and invite the rest of us in to join the conversation, using all media at our disposal.

I am reminded of an article I read in the Huffington Post called “The dark side of vitaminwater.”
It reveals that Coke’s legal team is defending a consumer protection lawsuit claiming that Coke has misled its customers into believing that vitamin water is healthy, with the argument that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitamin water was a healthy beverage.” What twisted logic! Is Cell C under the illusion that they can treat their customers the same way and follow the same kind of strategy and employ the same kind of defence if they get called out.

The fairytale is just a fairytale and we now know that. But there is a very positive element. The CEO of Cell C himself has commented personally (we presume) on some of the blogs. Is this an indication that Cell C is indeed committed to engagement and is taking the opinions of the community into account? Mr Reichelt, I will, as you suggested in your comment on my story, “wait and see”, because I would love you to be successful. South Africa desperately needs mobile operators that deliver quality because right now, as Trevor Noah’s original YouTube stated, all our service operators suck.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Noah-gate: Lessons learned from Cell C’s controversial ad campaign | memeburn -- Topsy.com()

  • @Walter: Happy to invite you for a coffee in one of our new stores. Tell me what you think how they compare.

    Best, Lars (yes, it is me)

  • JB

    Walter. Let me be controversial here.

    IMHO, I think the camapaign is great from the following perspective: let's consider the telco market, with 2 dominant players with big pockets. Now you are Cell C and you want to get people's attention to convey one message – I'm changing. You know you cannot compete with big pockets or sponsor the World Cup. You want the attention (which is the scarce thing nowadays), you want people to look at you so you can tell them what you are doing. I think it is brilliant!

    Let's face it: you've blogged about this more than any other stuff in the last year!

    They wanted the attention. They have it. In fact they have not promised anything at all so far, only that they will try their best. Now the funny (and interesting) question is if they can deliver something different or is it just a brand job.

  • Be very pleased to do so – also pleased to see that your response was the first – also to know that you are tracking your online reputation.

    Don't want to put my email here – maybe dm me on Twitter @walterpike to make contact.

  • Michael Cowen

    Very valid points here @Walter. The experience is what counts, not this puffed up media. The most important thing a brand can have is trust and Cell C has shown that they are a not as transparent as they could be.

    And the truth is Lars, I really don't want to come into your store — that's a fraction of the experience.

  • JB – Good point.

    On the brand pyramid – thats the bottom rung – salience. But is awareness the game here? we all know about Cell C they are in the sandpit playing with the rest.

    We now need to understand the other two legs – performance and emotion.

    In new marketing that is created with experience.

    Obviously this is a program – and its the early stage – we need to see what comes next – lets see how flexible they can be.

    Does anyone have an understanding regarding what they are doing on mobile? (other than the photo code thing – which I like)

    Thanks for commenting

  • JB – Good point.

    On the brand pyramid – thats the bottom rung – salience. But is awareness the game here? we all know about Cell C they are in the sandpit playing with the rest.

    We now need to understand the other two legs – performance and emotion.

    In new marketing that is created with experience.

    Obviously this is a program – and its the early stage – we need to see what comes next – lets see how flexible they can be.

    Does anyone have an understanding regarding what they are doing on mobile? (other than the photo code thing – which I like)

    Thanks for commenting

  • JB

    Well, they have announced some changes, so now the trick is to see if they deliver. If it is the same all sh*t, then its a brandfail. If they deliver something different in terms of products or experience, then it will be a hit. Time will tell but what's clear to me is that they have broken the clutter and now everyone is talking about them, incluiding you and me :-)

    As you say, there is a plan and we will see what rabbit are they going to pull out of the hat…

  • When I started drafting my blog post on this it was in celebration of a South African company getting it so right in terms of online engagement. Fortunately, unlike you guys, I got delayed in posting, and had my blushes spared. Oh my what a difference a few days makes to a story. http://bit.ly/cnWrPJ

  • Pingback: Interview: Cell C CEO on blogs, social media and the end of cellphone calls | memeburn()

  • Pingback: IOL moet hulle naam verander na IOzzzzzzzz « Allupintheinterwebz's Blog()

  • Pingback: C for yourself « Media Index Co Za()

  • Simonne

    Hi Walter

    2 Things.

    1. When I first saw the ad I didn't for 1 second believe it was a true story – I thought it was a clever campaign. Just shows you how 2 people watching the same advert can have 2 totally different reactions. How then do you actually ever get it right.
    2. Is this not to launch their 4g network? They're the first to do it. I think thats great!

    Sim

  • How can it be clever? Its not clever to insult your readers by tricking them – maybe you (and the rest of society) have been so conditioned into being tricked by advertisers that you don't believe what they say anyway – so what the point of advertising – nobody believes them anyway – one of the core reasons that less than 20% of advertising has any effect anyway. : )

    Do you believe that they launched a 4 G network?

  • Pingback: Who do I tell… Trevor, Trevor or Don? — Mumz The Word – My Comedy Playground()

  • Pingback: The Power of Social Media to Affect Corporates « Thoughts in the Cloud()

  • Pingback: Transmedia: The missing ingredient in Nando’s CEO campaign | memeburn()

  • Pingback: 5 Must-See African Infographics on Social Media Tech Mobile | Afrinnovator()