Tuesday 12 April 2011

Darren Olivier

Vodacom Re-brand: Seeing Red

Vodacom, RSA’s market leader in the cellular network space with a market share of 58% and 23 million customers (Wikipedia), is undergoing a major re-brand from its traditional blue/green to red. If you live in RSA, you cannot miss it - it is just as well that you do not have to stop your car on the way to work, every time a billboard goes red. However, it is worth pausing, even if the colour is red and not orange.

The rebrand is not just a marketing tinker. It is the much-talked about and delayed alignment of Vodacom’s branding with its parent company in the UK, Vodafone. It’s really a partial re-brand for the time being; Vodafone’s red and "apostrophe" are now evident but the name Vodacom remains, revealing a measure of caution and for good reason too.

Red is a primary, powerful colour but the colour also has other connotations. A fight breaks out during a school rugby derby between an English school that plays in red and an Afrikaans school playing in brown. The headlines the next day refer to the Anglo-Boer war and the annual fixture is subsequently cancelled. It’s a knee jerk reaction but powerful if the colour connotation sticks. Vodafone are looking to spread their influence over Africa where anti-colonial feelings can be very strong. Using red has obvious risks for the UK giant.

Locally, Vodacom sponsors the Blue Bulls based in Pretoria, where the company has a significant subscriber base. The Lions who play in a red/white strip are based in nearby Johannesburg. Does Vodacom reconsider the sponsorship and risk marginalising the faithful or retain it, with all the mixed messages the dual branding could provoke? Vodacom’s sensitivity to this is illustrated in some of its re-branding adverts where the only blue that is retained on screen, depicts the Blue Bulls.

If anyone doubted the ability of a single colour to act as a badge of quality and origin ie function as a trade mark, this re-brand and Vodacom’s obvious advertising spend on educating customers to their new look should convert you. There are even rumours that Vodacom paid off competitor Cell C (whose branding had included red) not to enforce any residual rights they could prove in the colour, against them.

It is difficult to imagine the rumour being true although the telecoms space is no stranger to brand wars over colours. Afro-IP has reported on a number of them, mainly over the colour Orange (stop here! for more information on Neotel, Iburst and Orange Telecoms’ fight over the colour orange, and the difficulties protecting single colours). Now look around at Cell C and their new advertising campaign. It’s directed straight at Vodacom’s new branding and provoked Vodacom into lodging a complaint before the Advertising Standards Authority that the campaign is disparaging to their brand. Is it…or is it [also] just more exposure for both Cell C and Vodacom?

Darren Olivier

Darren Olivier

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13 April 2011 at 18:42 delete

Roon, I found this interesting article (you possibly know about the case):


19 April 2011 at 05:15 delete

Baaarr, thanks for the article. An interesting twist!

It has been dubbed a "spoof" campaign and it will be interesting to see what the ASA make of it - parody or disparagement.

As far as the alleged breach of confidentiality is concerned, everyone has known that Vodacom was going red for some time. I am not a marketing expert but any number of "spoofs" could have been considered up-front. That is not to say that there is not a breach of confidence.

The law caters for situations where breach of confidence can be shown and makes provision for urgent injuctions/interdicts where thresholds are met. I don't believe that self regulation will assist greatly. Rather spend the effort on negotiating good contracts up front, setting up internal confidence guides/procedures and police effectively using good lawyers. Would an agency want to place its credibility with clients in the hands of an industry body?