How do you make a bad ad campaign even worse? You double down on it, ramping up the mistakes. In theater, this type of thing is called a comedy of errors. In Moscow, we call it the re-branding of MTS, Russia's largest mobile phone operator. Having covered their marketing campaign flaws a few issues back, it's worth having a fresh look at MTS' tactical approach to their recent re-branding campaign - you know, the whole red egg thing you see all over billboards around every city and check in on how it's coming along.
When a ship begins to sink, everyone onboard scrambles to get off, and if you believe industry gossip here in Moscow, then this is exactly what's happening at MTS. One of my favorite rumors has to do with a recent trade promotion initiated by the mobile operator. A key sales channel for MTS is through retailers such as Evroset. As a compliment to their consumer targeted rebranding campaign, MTS decided to provide a series of incentive programs to get their re-sellers excited about their new "red egg" image. One such program was a weekend getaway to Egypt for senior buyers at these retail points. And as everyone knows, there are few better ways to win over an emerging-middle- class Russian's heart than an all-expenses paid trip to wonderful Hurgada.
The buyers all gathered at the airport on a recent Friday, bags packed and ready to fly. They were collectively met by an MTS rep at the airport with a bit of woops!-news: the trip's been cancelled. Russia's biggest mobile operator got their key customers excited about a weekend trip to Egypt, had them pack their bags, polish their embarrassingly Russian brown hybrid sandal/dress shoes with matching murses, make the awful drive all the way to the airport... only to have the whole thing yanked at the departures gate. If this rumor is really true, then really, can anyone think of a WORSE way of trying to win over retail point purchasers to your product than this???
One can only speculate why it happened. It couldn't have been a money issue. MTS has been pissing away hordes of rubles for this re-launch, and they're flush with cash. Some believe that rats are jumping ship - meaning that as the rebranding campaign is faltering, people responsible for keeping it going are backing away and backing out.
There's another great rumor about MTS' first flight of rebranding television spots. In Russia, airtime on television is mostly sold through Video International, a company which holds a near-monopoly on all rights to television time. If you want to be on television, you'd better have booked well in advance, which is what MTS did, to the tune of many millions of dollars.
Most stations require that you submit final spots at the very latest two weeks prior to their air date. Most production companies need 1 - 2 months to produce these spots, meaning that this is not a task for the disorganized or indecisive. Being disorganized and indecisive, MTS, a vertically integrated post-Soviet monster, was unable to get final approval on creatives from their director, and had to cancel two shoots literally a day before the production crews were to board a plane. Ultimately, the spots were shot in Russia, but according to this widely-circulated gossip, by the time the ads were completed, there was no way to meet airtime deadlines, and millions of dollars worth of purchased airtime was pissed away with 10 to 15 second rotations showing off the new egg logo. The spots are starting to air now, well after the launch, and well after their intended effectiveness. What was supposed to be a bang, turned into a flaccid sputter. Um, gee honey, I don't know how to explain this. It's never happened to me before... And speaking of the egg...according to a recent Vedomosti article, the idea of using an egg as the great rebranding symbol is a complete failure. As I noted, the rebranding was led by British firm Wolff Olins, which also did BeeLine's rebranding. As Vedomosti noted, in England an egg represents simplicity - hence the English saying "simple as an egg." Yet in Russia, as Vedomosti wrote, "In Russia an egg means not just simplicity but also a certain body part." As in balls.
This might explain why a recent industry poll showed that only 1% of Russians exposed to the ad associated an egg with "value and reliability" while 28% associated it with "the human anatomy," 26% with cooking, and 24% with "other" - that is, they were ashamed to say "balls." As for respondents' emotional reactions to the ad, such associations as "positive," "clear," and "simple" didn't break the 5% barrier, while 31% had "no emotional reaction," 25% found it "strange," 14% "double-meaning-ed," and 11 % found it just plain "funny." A whopping 70% felt that an egg did not become the image of Eastern Europe's largest mobile operator.
Damn, that is funny!
It's probably best to end this with a photo from a recent MTS end-customer targeted promotion. If there remain any doubts about their poor execution, have a look at the promoters' outfits. If all else fails, you can always fall back on hotpants. Absolutely brilliant.