This month, AFK Sistema, the holding company for Russia's largest mobile operator MTS, will be unveiling the launch of its long awaited re-branding campaign. MTS, Russia's leading cell phone company, suffered a humiliating loss of market share to Vimpelcom's BeeLine following their brand re-launch last year, which involved plastering Moscow with bright ads featuring their new yellow and black striped logo. For months now, the industry has awaited in eager anticipation to see how the cell phone giant MTS would respond.
BeeLine's new look and strategy was the work of London based branding agency Wolff Olins, known for their work with telecom giant Orange, and more locally, with Alfa Bank's rebranding. The BeeLine approach was dead in line with Wolff Olins' way of doing things: make it simple, make it obvious. And, it seemed to pay off. BeeLine's market share in Moscow superseded that of MTS almost immediately after the campaign began. BeeLine hit the airwaves with a new, simple layout, a new simple tariff plan (2 cents per minute) and a series of slogans boasting of this new simplicity.
Sistema, sensing the threat a little late, decided it was time to fight back. So they opened up their checkbooks and hired the one ad agency they believed would best allow them to differentiate themselves from and compete with BeeLine: Wolff Olins. Yes folks, they went out and hired the same people responsible for successfully rebranding their direct competitors. Wolf Olins must have been delighted to receive that particular email. Rumor has it that WO charges in the neighborhood of 60,000 pounds sterling per month, six months minimum, for their services. For those counting, that's nearly half a million pounds. Minimum.
The funniest thing of all is that it appears WO hasn't even bothered trying to be original this time around. When WO re-branded Alfa Bank, they turned Alfa's dated designs into a simple "A" on a flat white background, with a small line underneath it. It gave a sense of New Economy, progress, e-banking. The re-launch program consisted of a month long teaser campaign, followed by a full blown launch.
When WO turned their magic wand onto BeeLine, the result was, once again, a simple design, then a month-long teaser campaign, before turning to a full launch over the whole country.
What we're seeing with MTS so far is the exact same strategy. You'll see the billboards everywhere you look -- a white egg, on a red background Even their slogans haven't strayed too far from WO's original Power Point presentation-esque slogans for Alfa and BeeLine: as MTS's reads, "Ingeniously Simple or Absolutely Simple," playing on the Russian word prosto. BEE-LINE's slogoan is currently prosche govorya (simply speaking).
Think about it. A single Power Point presentation that has wielded WO likely over 1.5 million pounds. That's nearly $3 million, minimum. Not bad, especially if you consider that other branding agencies would charge less that a 10th of that for similar work.
Blurry images leaked on the internet have shown WO's offer to Sistema for their other portfolio companies (MGTS, Stream and others). The layout differs only in the background colors, with the white egg as the single visual identity. Who knows how much WO charged for those designs. Or how long it took them to think them up.
It's difficult to decide where to point your finger and chuckle first. Do you start with Sistema, who, in an effort to differentiate themselves from their key competitor, has in effect managed to create a uni-brand with Alfa and BeeLine, and will continue to both reinforce and dilute their competitors' positions on this market for the immediate future? Do you turn to Wolff Olins, who must be slapping their knees back at their London West End flats, recently purchased thanks to their Russian customers? How about Alfa, for bringing these guys to market in the first place? Tough call here, but we're laying bets that this is far from the end for Wolff Olins in Russia. Five years from now, you can expect WO to unleash their entire arsenal of basic geometric shapes to re-brand Russia into one, big, simple sucker.