Towards the end of last year, telecom users in the country were riled up by an advert by Airtel that was interpreted as calling one company a dishonest network, and asked the public to switch to the “honest” network.
There was a mixed reaction, with some hailing Airtel for being so bold and calling out the competitor plus the taste of active competition is something that would be gladly welcomed in this rather dull telecom space while others protested it as unfair and a rather, a punch below the belt.
Anyone who spends a considerable amount of time online knows that for a fact, such direct banter between brands is not a new thing and time and time again, Twitter’s timeline brings us laughter with brands going for each other’s throats.
BMW and Mercedes are always at it, Samsung and Apple every once in a while troll each other, and Wendy’s roasts McDonald’s like it’s a sibling rivalry.
So why were some of us so bothered by Airtel advert? Is it because competition in a space mainly enjoyed by monopolies is a foreign concept or is it also a case of Stockholm Syndrome and those held captive are in some oblivious state, romanticising the very thing that holds them captive?
Besides that, who stands to gain from the two people fighting for your pennies fight over the very same pennies? I dare say we the consumers only needed to pull up a chair, grab some popcorn and sip on a beverage while waiting to see who gives us the best offer.
Whether you enjoyed the banter or not, Airtel’s prices forced rivalto restructure its offers, thereby handing the win to the consumer. And oh, “the guilty run before they are chased” ...Did anyone call the network dishonest or it was rather a case of a shoe that fits far too well?
I must say however, it was quite infuriating seeing the regulator crack their whip at Airtel and order them to back off. In any case, competitor too was punched below the belt even putting out an ad mocking Airtel that week! Is this where I seldom ask why the regulator hasn’t allowed local number portability or should I continue to sip on my beverage and wait it all out?
Until the consumer has absolute freedom to pick who they hand their money to, not worrying about people not knowing their new phone number, we are enabling the telecoms at the expense of the citizenry.
By coming down hard on Airtel, I fear that Rwanda Utilites Regulartory Authority (Rura) could embolden the telco's indifference towards concerns raised by its clientele. If the imagery and wordplay hinted at any particular brand, it is open to interpretation and rather than put an end to it, providing an open and competitive market would be the right way to go.
For as long as one brand does not directly employ the brand elements of another, there is room for interpretation, and if these interpretations resonate with the feelings of a market, then isn’t that a valid argument! As a regulator, open up the competition and allow number portability, let the spoils go to whoever wins over the customers’ hearts.
Afforded the right to switch between networks easily without paying the price linked with the inaccessibility that comes with changing numbers, whoever offers the best deal will own the market.
This would have been a great opportunity for telco called out to answer back with a twitter campaign that would have not only been used to answer the implied allegations but also ride on the online traffic wave.
The author is a medical doctor and a public health practitioner.