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Cell C responds to Facebook, YouTube jibes with full page newspaper ad

Major South African mobile operator Cell C on Sunday took the unprecedented step of issuing a full page apology in various Sunday newspapers in response to criticism of its service on YouTube and Facebook.

The advertisements, which appeared in the Sunday Times and Rapport, were addressed to popular comedian Trevor Noah, who had earlier joked about the country’s various cellphone networks, including Cell C, for poor service and dropped calls on a popular YouTube clip and in comments on Facebook.

“Dear Trevor Noah,” wrote Cell C CEO Lars Reichelt in the full page advertisement, “I have seen your Facebook page and your video clip about South Africa’s cellular operators, and in particular Cell C.”

“Your criticism about spotty coverage, dropped calls and overall lack of delivery is not unfounded. We know how frustrated South Africans are with the cellular industry, which is why we are so very serious about turning things around.”

A full page advertisement in the Sunday Times is estimated to cost in the region of R200,000.

[ Click for full page ]

In Noah’s YouTube Clip, which shows a rather modest 9,000 views, the comedian referred to the country’s three networks as “horrible” and “monopolies”.

In the clip he devotes time to Cell C, calling the country’s smallest mobile operator the “worst network”.

“If Vodacom is ANC, then Cell C is Cope. That’s disastrous. Cell C drops more calls than Jacob Zuma drops people’s underwear,” quipped Noah in the clip of his stand-up routine to laughter.

Noah’s own website modestly refers to the comedian as “one of the top comedians in the country” with a rise in the comedy realm that has “been nothing short of meteoric”.

On Sunday, Noah’s popular Facebook Page was buzzing with wall posts by fans discussing the Cell C advertisement. Noah’s busy Facebook page has nearly 118,000 fans.

  • Said Patrick Dickens: “Love the full page add from Cell C in the Sunday Times. At least Cell C have the balls to admit how useless they are. It took me 2 years to even get an answer from VodaScam. As for MTN… I maintain it stands for Moerse Treurige Netwerk”

  • Mzwakhe Sitole wrote: “Trevor, you can get this country moving in the right direction. Full page apology from Cell C on Sunday Times. If I had to pick ur next culprit, it would the government officials. Hola baba!”
  • Shoki Mapokgole said: “Just read the sunday times and came across the letter CEO of Cel C wrote to you….NICE”
  • Harold Ngobeni chipped in: “Cell C has made a promise like the ANC.Letter on Sunday Times.”

Noah had been largely silent on his Facebook page on Sunday, but did retweet this comment from his official Twitter account: “RT @sunshineshibs: #Cell C A whole apology 2 @Trevornoah on a full page in The SundayTimes! Interesting.Who’s MTN gonna apologise 2 – th …”

Earlier this year Memeburn reported that Cell C was changing its strategy from being a “price leader” to communicating with its subscribers in “whole new ways”, which meant a major new focus on social media.

Reichelt had devoted some time to talking about social media at a financial results presentation, with the CEO saying he would be tweeting about his day-to-day activities from the official Cell C Twitter feed, @cellc, which is also integrated into the company’s official website.

The operator said it was planning on spending around R5-billion this year on upgrading its network and services, which included rolling out the country’s first 4G network in the 900MHz band with high-speed packet access (HSPA+) technology.

Author | Nur Bremmen: Staff reporter

Nur Bremmen: Staff reporter
Nur is an enigma with a passion for creating words. He recently entered a love affair with technology and chorizo sausages. He travels a lot -- you catch him, if you can, at a Silicon Cape event every now and again. More
  • This is really interesting. Trevor Noah was funny. The response from Cell C is fantastic – firstly they are monitoring what's going on – and by NOT only using an online response they are understanding that people react with all media.

  • Should they not respond through the same channels they were criticised? They surely helped someone's career more than they helped themselves.

  • Agree with Nic. They could have easily spent R200 000 on a FULL digital media campaign. Using “outdated” print media just shows how they are still not keeping up with the digital Jones'.

  • I think I'm going to have to write an entire article on why this is a #fail.

  • memeburn

    not a bad idea rob. but just to let you know, just got a piece from walter
    pike that admires what cell c has done and praising them for listening and
    going up tomorrow.
    maybe read that and then you can respond further in your take on it.
    up to you.


  • Put them up together? A for and against?

  • Hi

    Why do you need to respond in the same medium. People dont live in the medium – they are impacted by many media. I am certain that the press response will add not detract from the “social” engagement.

    This is not a digital world – its just the world. Its a changed world but its still just the world.

  • Hi Walter,

    For a number of reasons. 1. People that read print are not bothered with what happens on Facebook (vice versa for people online). 2. Social Media is inherently one-to-one communication, which doesn't translate to print. 3. That specific video only had 10 000 views. Cell C has now highlighted the video to 4 million readers. If they can be bothered to go and watch it (see point 1). 4. What an absolute waste of 200K. Cell C has 1800 fans on FB (almost all disgruntled). Surely spending 200K on growing their Fanpage and addressing their issues, instead of directing a full page newspaper ad at one SA celeb, would do much more for the brand.

    (and numerous other points I have written already in the article… but I'll wait for editorial feedback from the guys at Memeburn. If it doesn't go up here, I'll throw it up on my blog and direct you to it)

    I'm really struggling to see any benefit in the message or execution. The messaging simply states that they are aware that they are delivering a kak service. I'm a customer and I wasn't aware of it. Now I see the CEO admitting in a full page newspaper ad that they are aware that their service sucks. Shit… maybe I should migrate and try out another provider. One that isn't admitting to being so kak.

    Their claim of 4G is also bogus. HSPA+ is NOT 4G. So, now they're also lying to me about their technology. They can't even get the terminology for their new network correct. I was a pretty satisfied customer of Cell C… now I'm left doubting the company. I think that's a pretty big fail.

  • Pingback: Why Cell C’s full-page apology was a marketing ‘masterstroke’ | memeburn()

  • ian carpenter

    @Rob Dickens

    While the Cell C facebook page has 1800 fans, the Sunday Times has a readership of 3,5 million with an circulation of over 1/2 million (per the Avusa web site). If I was trying to reach as many of my subscribers as possible I know where I'd spend my money.

  • Hi Ian,

    If the aim is to reach as many customers, then why is it a personal letter addressed to Trevor Noah… who isn't even a subscriber? It alienates customers. They should be spending money on GROWING their social media presence. As I said, a full dedicated digital agency would be able to work for months for R200K GROWING their digital presence and reputation, or even a full year's salary for a dedicated digital media employee. Not to mention that the “spray-and-pray” haphazardly targeted ads in newspapers are a waste of money. R200K for an ad in a paper for one day? It's insane!

    Anyway, here's my article: http://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/82/5070

  • ian carpenter

    they're acknowledging the problem and committing, albeit in very vague terms, to resolve it. that's all. while it has its uses in this case social media isnt the silver bullet you seem to think it is. i'm with walter on this one.

  • It's not a silver bullet, but it's an essential part of an integrated campaign. They've put all their eggs in one “print” basket. Possibly I've been in marketing and PR too long, but shining a big spotlight on an issue that wasn't exactly an elephant in the room has now created doubt in my mind about the company. I'm a subscriber. My reception is normally not an issue and dropped calls aren't that regular. Or maybe I just don't notice. I'm definitely going to notice now. Confirmation bias (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias#…) will now ensure that next time I have a dropped call I'm going to remember Trevor complaining and Cell C's confessed culpability. Airing your dirty laundry on such a massive public mouth piece was ill-advised in my opinion.

    And yes, I do believe Online Reputation Management would have been a better option. Especially for that price tag. How about publishing a full page ad in the Sunday Times once you've converted unresolved queries and complaints online from a negative bias to a positive bias?

  • Pingback: Cell C – The Joke is on YOU | Marc Forrest.com()

  • Nicole Peter

    I think that your first point is untrue I am on facebook, I read news on-line and still receive my newspaper delivered everyday. Big up to you Cell C it takes a big person(company) to realise your mistakes and apologise(in a big way). What is your issue with Cell C do You have a job!

  • I don't have an issue with Cell C. As a marketing writer I'm obligated to be critical of all marketing campaigns… or praise them. How do you feel now that you realise it was all just a hoodwink and you've been duped? The whole Trevor letter was a teaser scam to announce his affiliation. No heartfelt apologies at all, just a marketing gimmick. Luckily I'm not that gullible.

  • Brandt

    Rob i think you are full of it! What they did was nothing short of brilliant! You keep going on about R200K bla bla bla. The fact is they got you talking, everyone else on this and numerous other blogs too! I see their subscriber base doubling in the next couple of months because of that ad!

  • They got me talking on how KAK their service is. This has done hectic damage to their online reputation, let alone IRL. The apology was not honest, but part of a campaign. Fail. Customers feel duped. lol… subscriber base doubling hahah whatever. The only good things they've done are FINALLY getting Blackberry and iPhone (playing catch up as usual). They should have stuck to those announcements and left this pitiful example of marketing well enough alone. It's a fail in every apect. How NOT to do marketing. Ogilvy apparently. Not impressed. Oh, do you work at Ogilvy by any chance?

  • We've all been had. This was all planned months ago. Check out my blog article “Cell-C PR Lies Exposed” which sheds some more light on the timing of this campaign.

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