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Split verdict for new Airtel

Viveat Susan Pinto  |  Mumbai 


JWT, the creative agency for the new logo, says the feedback has been excellent, but quite a few brand experts are not quite sure

The much-hyped Rs 300-crore revamp of the largest telecom service brand in the country, Airtel, happened on Friday. But the response to the makeover has been mixed. Brand experts see a disconnect between what is on offer and the stated objective of the exercise.

Social media websites such as Twitter, for instance, are abound with messages describing the logo as “ok” and “a mash-up of Vodafone and Videocon”. But there are some congratulatory tweets too. One tweet, in particular, says: “I think their new ad is kinda cute.”

Basically, Bharti Airtel, the brand owner, which provides the service, has done away with the box in which the word Airtel was placed earlier. This was famously called the flag logo because the look resembled just that — the colours red and white alternating with each other. The word ‘Air’, in black, was placed against a white background, while ‘Tel’, in white, appeared against a red backdrop. To keep the continuity going, the dot of the letter ‘i’ in the word, was also red.

Airtel now, as Shripad Nadkarni, Founder Director of MarketGate Consulting, says is “unboxed” having been freed of its rigid boundaries. In a break from the past, the word Airtel has been spelt in lower case. “It’s quite nice,” says Nadkarni. “But it appears too close to Vodafone,” he says. "The use of lower case, the colours red and white appear in Vodafone too. In that sense, I don't think Airtel seems to be differentiating itself from its competitors,” he says.

Another agency head, who declined to be quoted, says, “There’s too much of Vodafone and Videocon in the logo. Red and white is a territory in which Vodafone has invested substantially. Plus the swoosh above the word Airtel appears to be an inverted V. It resembles Videocon’s curvaceous V. Where’s the difference?”

Though JWT is the creative agency that has worked on the new Airtel campaign currently playing out on TV, print, outdoor etc, the logo was designed by London-based Brand Union, a WPP agency. Brand Union, earlier called Enterprise IG, is also the agency that does work for Vodafone. So does that explain the similarity between the Airtel and Vodafone logos?

Rohit Ohri, Managing Partner, JWT India, refuses to be drawn into this argument, and says that Brand Union has done a wonderful job as far as the Airtel logo goes. “The feedback we have received for the new logo and communication is excellent,” he says. “It’s young and vibrant. Above all, there’s a change in positioning, from a voice company to one that provides data. It enriches lives in other words. This shift had to be conveyed, which is why a recast of the identity was felt necessary,” he says.

Technology, says Ohri, is an enabler. “But we did not want to use it in the communication and deviate from the message of life enrichment. Plus the fact that the company has a global footprint now is conveyed through the logo,” he says.

But brand experts are not convinced. Santosh Desai, chief executive officer, Future Brands, says “It is a nice-looking ad, yes. The logo looks neat too. But my issue with Airtel is that they have focused on the external appearance only, not on what lies within. If you think Vodafone, you think of simple connections in everyday life. Their communication suggests that. But what does Airtel stand for? That doesn’t come across in the logo or communication.”

Anand Halve, partner, chlorophyll, says “a logo has to answer a simple question: What do you want to be known as? Vodafone in German means: I am talking. But what does the new Airtel logo stand for? There is no indication.”

Incidentally, the current makeover exercise is one among many that Airtel has undertaken in the last 15 years of its existence. From being one at the cutting edge of technology represented by campaigns such as ‘Touch Tomorrow’ in the year 2000 to getting the “human angle” into its work with campaigns such as ‘Live Every Moment’, which featured music composer A.R. Rehman who also launched the famous Airtel signature tune at that time (the year was 2002), Airtel has donned many new avatars.

“What brought about each change was the shift in consumer preferences and the need to stay ahead of the curve,” says Gullu Sen, executive vice-chairman and chief creative officer, Dentsu India, who worked on Airtel during the 1990s and early part of the 2000 decade. He was national creative director of Rediffusion DY&R then, the agency that handled the business for 15 years before passing the baton to JWT a few months ago. The 'Touch Tomorrow’ campaign, for the record, was created by Sen.

“Cellular technology was a fairly new technology across the world then. We had to communicate that and what it could do,” says Sen of ‘Touch Tomorrow’. But as Halve points - Airtel - a contraption of aerial telecommunications, which was coined by Bharti, not its agency, has gone past the stage of merely communicating the power of technology. “It’s all about what more you can do,” he says.

A point that Ohri or Sen don’t deny either. But has the logo met the cut? Sen says he loves the current look. “The font is conservative, though,” he says.

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First Published: Mon, November 22 2010. 00:23 IST