It’s a commoditized market, we know, but why are telcos copying each other’s TVCs?


I am not sure these telecom companies can also claim that there was a “confluence” of coincidence of ideas, theme and even imagery that made them say pretty much the same thing in their different TVCs.

  • By Ikem Okuhu

Writing on his online platform, Social Triggers, Derek Halpern, a respected marketer and entrepreneur claimed that copying is not entirely bad for business. As a matter of fact, he presented two scenarios when it is quite OK for a business to copy competition.

He called the first scenario “The Drafting Technique” and according to him, this happens when a business discovers where a competitor has featured in the media or elsewhere and then “finds a hook that allows you to get featured too.”

This is quite common in Nigeria; although I am not sure there was ever a well thought-out plan to “draft.” A newspaper like This Day, for instance, has between 6 – 8 Nigerian banks jostling for attention on the first 6 pages of the newspaper every day.

In many bars and pubs, beer and soft drinks manufacturers have also been falling over themselves for the provision of branded bar tables and chairs as well as chillers for drinks and according to Halpern, this is great marketing.

The second scenario he presented is what he called the “Making Something Better” technique. Here, a business sees what competition has done and works hard to improve on it by adding a few tangible and intangible features of just about the same thing.

Giving an example of this, he referenced an article that profiles the late Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. as a “tweaker” who didn’t invent anything but instead, simply found what existed, and made it much better and more user friendly.

Given these couple of instances, it just may be easy to explain away what is currently going on in the Nigerian mobile communications market where, at the last count, three of the companies are flighting television commercials using the same imageries, same concept and same method of delivery.

It is like it’s a desperate fight among these three and if Halpern is asked, I am certain he may describe what is going on as, well, …Drafting. But a very poor one I must add.

What kind of drafting technique will make three competing companies create commercials with similar message and concept and talking about the same promotion targeting the same market segment?

In case you are yet to get the hang of what we are talking about, this is all about the TVC that Etisalat, Glo and MTN have been showing of late, using the imagery of food to sell their various “bonus-upon-recharge promotions.

The economy is tough and people are making fewer calls. They are also learning to ride on other platforms like IMO, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to make voice calls. It is not a good day in the office for these operators and to encourage people to continue to make voice calls, all of them went into promo frenzy, giving subscribers four times the value each time they recharge their phones.

I know it was Etisalat that was first to hit the airwaves with its Bonus Offer earlier in 2017. In a commercial that stars a young man that looks every inch like he is unemployed and job hunting, Etisalat presented its 250% bonus offer using the imagery of food.

The young man looks every inch hungry and as he walks the street, he fishes out a solitary N200 note from his pocket and walks into a restaurant, making a point to request for just rice. No fish, no meat.

But he is shocked as the attendants begin placing dishes after dishes of sumptuous meals before him. Scared, he reminds the attendant that he only asked for N200 worth of food and that was when the call to action happens and a correlation was drawn between the abundance of food and the opportunities that abound in the Bonus Offer.

In terms of casting, this ad scored quite high. This offer is for the value segment and the lead character typified it quite well. I may have an issue with is over-dramatisation (the way he was sniffing on the rice that was first presented to him was a wee-bit over-exaggerated) but he represented the segment quite well in terms of the cast of his personality.

It seems the campaign was doing quite well for Etisalat in that segment because not long after, Glo and MTN “drafted” themselves into the space, using almost exactly similar concept – food.

Glo called in a couple of stars in their retinue of brand ambassadors for their own TVC, themed “Glo 4Mula.

In the commercial, Pappy Luwe and some other actors sit in a workshop before dishes of food purchased for them by an apprentice. While they were still commending the apprentice for giving them great value for money, they notice another young man nearby confronting four different plates of food. This stirs them into anger as they quickly begin to chastise their apprentice for not getting them as much value.

I do not quite get what Glo wanted to do here. Everyone knows Pappy Luwe and the other guy as Glo ambassadors. So why did they cast these people as leaving their comfort zone to look at the other guy (competition)? Is this an admission even in the commercial that they are being stirred by competition in introducing the promo? Notice even when Pappy Luwe is warning the young man against eating his yesterday, today and tomorrow all at once and the response (click the video).

MTN may have done better than Glo in this “Drafting” business. In its TVC, it also resorted to its ambassador that carries the messages to the value segment. That is the person of Nollywood actor, Nkem Owoh (aka Osuofia).

It is still a restaurant scene and a man had come to request for a plate of eba and soup. He also makes a point to ask for only one piece of meat.

But while at his table, Nkem Owoh, dressed in a top that had MTN’s yellow house colour prominently visible, comes in to make the same request – eba and soup with one meat. But rather than give him what he demanded, the seller serves him four wraps of eba, four times the soup and four pieces of meat. He quickly draws the envy of the other man who even go as far as counting the number of wraps of food on Osuofia’s plate and then later changes into MTN’s yellow apparel and returns to get same value.

Straight tell. That was what MTN did and it did well to draw competition into the fray. But I am not sure this is great, especially since others may have had the promo long before MTN joined.

Honestly if Etisalat had not been first to market with its own commercial, MTN would have had a great day in the market with its own.

But the key question is, are there no other pegs and imageries that could have been utilized in presenting the messages in these commercials other than the food already used by Etisalat? What would make three companies in same market use similar theme and concept for their commercials addressing the same segment?

I recall a few years ago when Maltina, the brand from the stable of Nigerian Breweries came out with a commercial, great commercial for that matter, that was dead on arrival. Why? Maltina found that well before it released its own, Lipton tea from Unilever had released a TVC with the same theme song it also used in the TVC it was to release later.

Lipton had used “I get a good feeling,” a song by American singer, Flo Rida for its TVC and when Maltina released its own with same theme song, the market wondered whether the malt brand wanted people to be thinking Lipton whenever its commercial is aired?

Maltina’s commercial could not live its full life as a result. But even here, Maltina and Lipton are not in direct competition as the mobile communications companies clustering around the same theme and imagery for their commercials.

In a market chiefly driven by innovation and creativity, most would agree that these companies did even copy creatively. When Maltina was interrogated for “copying” Lipton’s theme song, their explanation was that they were already deep into the production process when Lipton released theirs and having spent so much for shoots in South Africa and other locations, there was no way they could have not gone ahead to release the commercial.

I am not sure these telecom companies can also claim that there was a “confluence” of coincidence of ideas, theme and even imagery that made them say pretty much the same thing in their different TVCs.

The best explanation is either lack of creativity or, as Halpern put it, they may just have been “Drafting.” But perhaps in this case, the real intention just may not be to gain where competition had gained but to raise the noise in such a way as to create confusion in the minds of the people and thus dilute competition’s growing success in the segment.




    • Well, brands are the real culprits so long as they are the ones that pay. Its is not the agencies that are seen by consumers but the brands

  1. I’ll add that results like these are a product of client pressure. Some who may have simply played the Etisalat TVC to their agency and said “we want something exactly like that.” I am learning brands command a lot of clout in the creative development process and often like to stick with what has worked. This is even more so for brands in Nigeria.

    Brilliant analysis, Ikem,

    Ps. The Lipton / Matina TVC theme song is Etta James’ “Something Got a Hold on me.” from 1962. FLORIDA sampled it.

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