Matthew Miller
Sep 21, 2020

NZ mobile carriers head in dramatically different directions

ASIA's TOP 1000 BRANDS: The divergent fates of 2Degress and Vodafone in this year's top 100 ranking for New Zealand underline the importance of demonstrating solidarity with consumers.

NZ mobile carriers head in dramatically different directions

UPS AND DOWNS IN NEW ZEALAND's MOBILE MARKET

The demand that brands deliver what they promise and support their communities when it counts has never been stronger than it has this year. For proof, just look at the fates of two of New Zealand's top mobile carriers in our ranking of New Zealand's top 100 brands

2Degrees, which is headquartered in NZ but majority owned by a US company called Trilogy, rose 24 spots to reach 50th on the list. UK-based Vodafone, which finished 59th last year, not only crashed out of the top 100 but experienced one of the most dramatic drops we've ever seen, losing 247 spots to end at 306th.

According to market observers, the dramatic shift is due mainly to the ability—or lack thereof—to demonstrate real commitment to the community in a time of need.

The year has galvanised shifts that were already taking place, says Tracey Lee, executive strategy director at Colenso BBDO Auckland. "We’ve been talking with our clients for years about what it takes to be meaningful in a consumer-led brand revolution," she says. "In a world where people wouldn’t care if 77% of brands disappeared. It’s mission critical that brands stand up for what they value, walk the talk and think bigger, as brand citizens." 

During the pandemic, consumer demand for brands to be meaningful has reached a crescendo, she says. "Don’t tell me you’re here for me: demonstrate it in your products, services and actions. And do it all year 'round."

The financial uncertainty for most people during the pandemic meant household expenditures were tightly scrutinized, and yet people arguably needed internet speed more than ever before, says Caleb Watson, regional managing partner at Initiative, who is based in Shanghai but is a New Zealand native. "Based on these factors, 2 Degrees won," he says. "Firstly, they wiped all data caps for their customers, ensuring that any slowdown of speed when the cap was reached did not happen. Also, they did not charge any late payment fees across March through September to provide relief to customers—and importantly to demonstrate they understood their situation."  

2Degrees was already well-suited for this scenario thanks to its brand platform, says Claire Beatson, general manager of group strategy at Dentsu Aegis Network NZ. "2degrees has been embodying their 'fighting for fair' brand ethos throughout COVID-19," she says. "At its core, the brand platform is about challenging the big telcos and calling out their actions which may not be in New Zealanders' best interests."

Even the 2Degrees name helps accentuate its closeness to the community; it references the idea that although six degrees of separation lies between two individuals in the rest of the world, in small and close-knit New Zealand, it's more like two. 

Along with grocer PaknSave, which also did well in the top 100 ranking, 2Degrees' mission as an underdog is to challenge the big competitors within its sector, calling them out for failing to provide consumer value, Beatson says. "To accentuate this point, they have also eschewed the need for big brand campaigns, favouring a minimalist ethos," she adds. "‘We spend less on advertising so you can see more savings’ is a sentiment which Kiwis respect and gravitate towards."

A campaign In March, for example, fits right into this template. Made with TBWA, Ikon and Assembly Films, 'Together we cam' stressed the need for connection during isolation.

Vodafone, by contrast, wasn't as successful conveying concern for the community. "They were slower to manage the financial burden on consumers, with unlimited cap and relief payment processes put in place after competitors," Watson says. "To the customer, they would have felt that Vodafone didn’t understand the situation. Other competitors did, so why not Vodafone?"

In addition, Vodafone has continued to stress that it is prioritising establishing its 5G network. "They're portraying themselves as a telco powerhouse, but neglecting immediate consumer need," Beatson says.

You'd think that a brand that keeps people connected would thrive and grow in a time when people can't be physically together, adds Tony Bradbourne, CEO and CCO at independent agency Special Group. "But Vodafone seem to be lacking the challenger tone of voice that made them initially so appealing," he says. "Their current work is red, corporate and very dull. You can see that their one-dimensional pushing of their 5G network is falling on deaf ears, especially in a Covid-19 world."

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