Friday 6 October 2006

All’s fair in love, war and business

I was reading over the recent long holiday weekend an article in the Sunday Standard about the so-called “war” between Orange and Mascom. According to the article as a result of this “cellular phone war” there is now “blood on the floor”. Dramatic stuff, eh?

The article goes on to discuss the various advertising campaigns that each company has undertaken that, the paper suggests, are clear but subtle attempts to criticise the other party. Most of us have probably seen the advertisements around our towns and highways. Orange is offering “no hidden costs” which is, according to the article, a dig at Mascom. In turn Mascom advertise the fact that their prepaid customers can roam in South Africa which we’re told Orange prepaid customers cannot do. Mmmm, heavy stuff, how will we all survive?

The article also reminds us of a couple of incidents where each of the two cellphone providers have slipped up. The first one, was just after Mascom had introduced GPRS. This service allows fast internet-like access from cellphone devices. Just after Mascom launched this, Orange started advertising “gprs” which the small print disclosed was actually nothing to do with GPRS and instead stood for “great products, rates and services”. Yes, that was sneaky and, in my view at least deceptive. BTA thought so too and Orange was severely and publicly told off like naughty little schoolchildren.

The other incident was when Mascom recently used a number allocated to Orange during a marketing campaign. Orange complained about this to BTA and Mascom had their turn to get a well-deserved spanking.

Now, clearly we shouldn’t approve of this sort of behaviour. Like children (and indeed adults) companies shouldn’t tell lies, shouldn’t steal and should obey the rules established by whoever regulates their industry. Like school children they should obey the head teacher or suffer the consequences.

I think advertising and the business success that can come from it is like the success of children at school. Some children will do better than others. Not every child will get the same examination results. Some will do better because they are naturally more talented, other because they simply work harder and make the most of the skills they were born with. Some kids are just naturally good at sitting exams. It may not seem fair but then life just isn’t sometimes. Some kids are just brighter than others. Should we hold them back so we can achieve uniformity? Should we forbid children from going the extra mile? Of course not.

So why should we try to do the same in business? Let’s face it. Some companies just have a better product than others. Others don’t necessarily have better products but they just market them better than others.

We all know the stories, whether it was VHS vs Betamax, Coke vs Pepsi, Microsoft vs Apple or any of the other legendary business battles it was often the company with the best marketing team who won, not necessarily the one with the best product.

My point is that advertising, marketing and public relations are all ways in which companies can manipulate our buying decisions and gain our business but this is not a bad thing. In fact the more they advertise their “great products, rates and services” the better placed we consumers will be to take the decision that satisfies us.

Isn’t that what advertising is all about? It’s partially to say that my product is the best, the cheapest or the best value for money, but it is also about implying in usually subtle ways that the other guy’s product is more expensive, less good or lower value for money. I’m not exactly the hugest fan of the advertising industry because so much of what they produce I think is infantile, third-rate and often just insulting to our intelligence. So few advertisements are amusing, stimulating or informative. The exceptions are actually those that are out of the ordinary like the Orange and Mascom campaigns.

Sometimes though they are actually not quite even slightly subtle. For instance there’s a well-known spicy chicken chain that has placed a huge advertisement near one of it’s competitors in Gaborone saying “Oil is for your car, not your lunch”. Not exactly subtle but we all forgive this particular chain because they are known for their sense of humour and somewhat eccentric quality.

I don’t think that this business between Orange and Mascom is something we should criticise. On the contrary I think we should be rejoicing. We have a case of genuinely enthusiastic competition. Each of the two companies is desperately trying to get our business. They are each offering us inducements, special offers and new products that may make our customer experience more rewarding.

So my message to Orange and Mascom, and I’m sure they read everything I say and obey my instructions every week, is get fighting! Don’t lie, cheat or steal but get aggressive with each other. Do you very best to sell us the “great products, rates and services” and work even harder to beat your competition.

Oh and when BTC get liberated (or was that meant to be “liberalised”?) perhaps the competition can be even greater? Well, maybe. It will be interesting to see if BTC have any commercial aptitude.

This week’s stars!
The team at Incredible Connection at Riverwalk in Gaborone for their friendliness, particularly Mothibedi, Kebonye and Victor.
Thati at the new Apache Spur at Riverwalk. Although the place was very busy we are told she was exceptionally friendly and helpful – “everything you could want a waitron to be”!
Everyone involved in the production of Annie. The list is too long for everyone to be included but we have to mention Stuart White, Joe Matome, Shombi Ellis, Refilwe Mpai, Maria Kathurima and Janet!

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