Friday, November 26, 2010

The repositioning of Airtel

airtel logo for bright sparks blog for PT education Sandeep Manudhane SM sir
We have arrived, world!
All of us have been hit in the face by the new logo and brand identity assumed by Airtel recently. There is no street, no traffic junction, no major hording that's left untouched by the striking red and white combination of its unique new design.

Why is Airtel doing what it is doing? And how is it doing it? What does it hope to gain from this? Here is a detailed analysis.

What's in a name!
Well, nothing really, but surely a lot! The name carries the entire persona of the brand with it. The words used, the colours chosen, and the way the whole thing blends together is a direct representation of the class of the brand itself. Just like situations and circumstances in the real world change, so does a brand's need to stay relevant and contemporary. The latest major upgrade by Airtel to its visual brand representation is precisely this - a desire to stay relevant (in the consumers' minds) in a changed world.

A picture speaks a thousand words

Time for goodbye
As said, the logo becomes the visual depiction of the entire company. The striking visual becomes the live embodiement of everything the company stands for. People may not know the company well, or may not be its customers, but the logo strikes a certain chord in their heads when they see it, and the company ensures that it (it's brand, that is) has ensured a position in the mindspace. At least for now. The large clutter in the brand street also explains why the "red" was chosen - the human mind is hit hard by red. That's why traffic lights are red too (of course, there's the Physics behind it - minimum scattering due to maximum wavelength etc.).

What has changed, really?
Well, Airtel has evolved with changing times quite rapidly. From a very small and loss making telecom company in the late '90s to a mammoth multinational (almost), it has traversed a long distance. The significant challenges it faced on the way were strategic - Mukesh Ambani's entry into Telecom, introduction of CDMA as a rival platform, emergence of newer players, and the need to spread its footprint around the world (not restricting to India alone). To the credit of the company's founders, so far the challenges have been met with ample confidence and style. Reliance could not trample Airtel no matter how hard it tried to, and the myriad & byzantine legal/regulatory apparatus of Indian Telecom sector did not decelerate its growth. It has also entered into all the new-fangled areas of telecom - broadband, 3G, VAS and all such terms most of us fail to fathom! Finally, Airtel rose to the occasion and spread to Africa, thereby becoming the first true Indian Telecom multinational. So now the Airtel head honchos feel that the new look of their company must be very modern, smart, youthful and bright. Remember that India and Africa are both young regions. So, smallcaps + swoosh + red is the combination chosen.

Why smallcaps + swoosh + red?
Small caps - because it represents the internet and email generation, and looks informal
Swoosh - touch of class, speed, modern
Red - aggressive, appealing, visible

Also, if you look at the Zain logo carefully, the element of swoosh (resembling the "a") is there already. Perhaps Airtel had to borrow that (as part of the deal) and fix it into the new existence. So the new airtel is the old Airtel plus the Zain a shape, plus a striking red.

Economist magazine logo for bright sparks blog for PT education Sandeep Manudhane SM sir
Curry for the brain
A problem this creates for Airtel surely is that it is strikingly similar to Vodafone's visuals. But I guess red was indispensable, and that's the explanation. There are 3 major brands now that come to mind that play on this red factor - The Economist magazine, Vodafone and Airtel.

What does this do to a consumer's mind?
Vodafone logo for bright sparks blog for PT education Sandeep Manudhane SM sir
The original?

Well, red being the colour it is, the logos' appeal tend to overlap. When we see "The Economist" logo, we may recall instinctively the other two as well. And if this trend accelerates, and some more mainstream companies decide to go red, it'll be trouble.

Red, red everywhere and not a place to hide..

Operational excellence in executing the change
I would rate the company 9/10 on this. It was amazing to see that the logo was changed almost "everywhere" simultaneously, a gargantuan task given that there must be thousands outlets and locations where the old logo was prominently displayed and the new one had to "suddenly" appear. We all know that telecom companies specialise in such outdoor acrobatics quite skillfully, but this was a very refined game Airtel played. I carefully saw that even on the smallest of shops (sponsored glowsigns) the new design was up and running! Now that's a fairly complex operation. My guess is that work on this change must have begun at least 90-120 days in advance, and a dedicated team of at least 20 to 30 at the Airtel HQ would have directed the pan-India transformation. Maybe even more. But the commitment shown towards this change was intense, and appreciable. Not many companies will do it with such speed and aggression. Now, if only Airtel can transfer the same spirit to the other parts of its operations (customer service, delivery, new products) it would be good.

A few pictures will prove this point!

Bach ke jayega kahan!

Every single point of sales

Gamut of services

Big time!

Why Africa? 
Not just Africa,
middle east too

That's the last frontier for capitalism. It's untapped, unexplored and hugely nascent. Any company that has the 21st century leadership dream on its radar can't afford to miss on that continent. Also, telecom has proven to be the biggest social transforming agent in developing nations. Studies have shown an almost direct correlation between the growth of telecom density and the growth of that country's GDP. Many African nations understand this and are encouraging the telecom sector's spread. Airtel (like many others) sensed this and was trying to enter Africa for a long time. It finally succeeded with the Zain deal.

Money, honey?
How much would this have cost the company? A better question would be - how much would it have cost if the change were not made by the company? Many companies delay a change - it's taxing on top management's bandwidth, after all - and pay a big price. In the world of branding, remember the golden rule - Timely change is priceless, Delayed change is worthless.

Having read all this, it's worth reading the company's official line on the change! Taken from their website, we quote

airtel unveils new youthful and dynamic global identity
• Crosses the 200 million customers landmark, reinforces leadership position in global telecom
• A R Rahman composes a refreshed airtel signature tune in line with the new identity and global outlook
New Delhi, November 18, 2010 : Bharti airtel, a leading global telecommunications company, today unveiled a new identity – a shared worldwide vision across its operations in 19 countries in Asia and Africa. airtel also announced that it has crossed the significant milestone of 200 million customers, reinforcing its leadership position in global telecom. Announcing this, Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharti airtel said, “Fifteen years ago Bharti airtel started its journey in India with a promise of delivering world class and affordable services. Today, as we expand on the global stage, this new brand identity gives us the opportunity to present a single, powerful and unified face to our customers, stakeholders and partners around the world. It reinforces our promise to deliver innovative services and a superior brand experience to our 200 million customers across Asia and Africa.” From the birth of the brand as a single city operation in India, airtel has truly gone global today with the creation of a single and unified identity across the world. The new face of airtel is youthful, international, inclusive and dynamic – representing the journey of the first Indian brand to go truly global. The new identity underlines airtel’s willingness to embrace everything that is new. The red colour, which is an integral part of the brand, continues to represent the energy and dynamism that has made airtel the success it is today. The new curved addition to the logo is a symbol which will help ensure instant recognition across diverse international markets. The airtel signature tune has also been refreshed by A R Rahman making it youthful and dynamic in line with the new visual identity. Like the earlier tune, which has made history as world’s most downloaded mobile music with over 150 million downloads, the maestro has once again delivered a master piece. The new tune retains the essence of the original but uses an inspiring musical style, with a universal appeal, that will be loved by listeners the world over. The unveiling of the new identity also marks the 200 million customers milestone for airtel. airtel crossed 50 million customers in October 2007 and 100 million in May, 2009. The company added the next 100 million customers in just 18 months. This further cements airtel’s positions as one of world’s leading telecom companies. For its customers in India, airtel also announced that it was on course to launch its 3G services by the end of the year.

Students of management and marketing (and that includes almost everyone of us!) must pay close attention to these details as herein lie the secrets of building a long lasting empire. All the best!


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Unknown said...

Thanks for explaining the transition in details Sir. One of our class presentation was on Airtel Change and this article has explained the minute details and the exact reason for the change.

satish singh said...

thank you so much for giving wonderfull insight on airtel's repositioning and a great line of change that "Timely change is priceless, Delayed change is worthless.". now this line is engraved in to my mind and i am sure that it'll help me a lot.
thanks a lot sir.

Nilesh Ratilal Patel said...

1. Secret is ........ Airtel is 100% focused on Marketing.
2. Outsourced rest of the operations.
3. Airtel recommends new Entrepreneur to remain focused on core competencies , if you want to thrive in competitive world.

Unknown said...

Dear Sir,


The day I saw Airtel's new logo, I had many questions rather doubts on Airtel's thought behind this. But, now I understand what made them do so, a great analysis indeed!

Observing Airtel's new logo and its closeness with Vodafone's, the later wins here in terms of being original in concept and representing the global presence with a strong positive attitude! But it is good to see from Airtel that they not only changed their logo but they are ready with strong media campaign supporting new theme, and connecting it with common man, which was missing for a long time.

Having said that, I believe evolution of Airtel is true reflection of what Indian entrepreneurs' capable of doing. All the best Airtel.

Ankur Shukla

Jitendra Nainani said...

Dear sir,
Thanks for sharing with us the strategic thinking behind the transformation of brand Airtel.

Jitendra Nainani

Incredible Passions said...

Dear Sir,
Thanks for this awesome post, well articulated and precisely researched. you have always been a source of innovative thinking and inspiration for your students.

Two things about all this re-branding and repositioning campaign are worth notable

First, the logo: To me its just any other logo, it could be a bakery shop, WC company or another chinese cellphone maker. It has no real connect to telecom/global/emotions. To make things worse its ditto Vodafone, don'tyou think sir that this logo violates the most basic of re-branding guidelines which says "Stay away from the colours of the competition brand."

Second, The commercial:
I have seen this on TV but it didnt register as an airtel ad, honestly. Its really a beautiful ad , reminds me of the movie 'Before Sunset' .

And here is some desert after the maincourse.. Sir ,as you say.

This is how the rebranding process would have started!

Sunil Bharti Mittal: I think we should change our logo, I like the Vodafone logo, the red, the font, the presence.

Brand Union (Agency): Aapka Dil jo chahe pass laye but hum zyaada paas nahi ja sakte because ‘same to same’ ho jayega.

(In English) Whatever your heart wishes, bring it closer but we cannot do that because it will look too similar.

Sunil Bharti Mittal: Thode paas chale jao and give me the new logo.

(In English) Get close enough and give the new logo.

Brand Union (Agency): Here is the new logo.

Sunil Bharti Mittal: This is great. And yeah please put the line ‘Dil jo chahe pass laye’ as the new brand message too. Here is 300 Crores. Sab jagah chap do ab. (In English) Post it everywhere possible.

Airtel: Very Happy, Users: Very Angry, Vodafone: Doesn’t matter

Keeping the future strategies and plans in mind, it is definitely an intelligent move from Airtel(oops.. airtel.. sorry). At the same time, they could have added a lot more by backing it with a more appealing logo, unless of course, they were trying to recreate the Gap story. With such a vast presence in India and other countries, this logo will surely find acceptance.
However, Congratulations airtel for the blitzkrieg campaigning.

Thanks and regards
Akash Singh

Move on... said...

Hello sir,

Read your well framed analysis & also precious comments on same...js 1 query i have in my mind...i cudnt come across ny official announcement or any media coverage of them for same. for a sec i thought, it's copy-cat of airtel, coz had no info on ny news channel or newspaper. was it a sudden move or strategic one.

request your inputs on same.


Test said...


Nihit Jaiswal - Nothing new copied from Videocon

'Prajaktta Inamdar' - Good morning sir,Amazing analysis.Was wondering about the change of airtel logo.I interpreted the new logo as showing connectivity all acoss the globe which indeed meant after Africa airtel had plans of expansion in Europe and the western world!

Jitendra Kumar Nainani - Thanks for sharing with us the strategic thinking behind the transformation of brand Airtel.

Shoaib Qureshi - I just love the way Airtel has launched its new logo...never seen something marketed this aggressively

Mohit Chhabra - Sir, chk this out
a funny take on the airtel logo.....:)

Akshay Joshi - new LOGO is GR8 one Sir, but question is , as TATA Docomo already launched 3G services in some cities and also intoducing MNP, still airtel is not enabled with 3G services, is it because of concentration on repositioning or Airtel has to introduce its new look before 3G launch? or anything else...???

Vikram Singh - I think there was no need of changing of logo.New customers will find it difficult to relate to it.New airtel tone is good but can't beat older A.R Rahman tone.

Akhilesh Dubey - Good analysis, Manudhane sahab.

Ankur Chourey - innovation and restructuring at times are necessary and incessant part of a corporate giant.Airtel although was leaading with largest subscriber base in india but it came up with a brand repositioning of Rs300crores which will undoubtedly refresh the airtel brand in the minds of consumers..

Ritesh Sharma - Very deeply and sharp analisys.. Thank you very much for such invaluable approach for marketing and Branding. ...I asked many "why Aitel chaged its Logo" but nobody has given ,even some faculty also.....thanks once agaiN!!

Test said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Vivek - wonderful observation really. My take on this is that Airtel did undertake a national launch (official press meet) when the top bosses including Mr Sunil Mittal made the announcements etc., but surprisingly the whole thing was subdued. Maybe they wanted their actions on the street to speak for the change, or maybe they were strategically too tied up in other things (that would be surprising) or maybe the season is just not right for any major corporation to attract too much limelight to its bosses (maybe the brand is ok, but not the people). Remember the media is full of negative news for more than 2 months at a stretch now, and the stink is growing deeper.

PROTON Shraddha said...

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your great insight!

As per my perception Airtel want to established its brand logo as a Visual logo not alphabetical logo.

Prior logo- AIRTEL is written there, if anyone don't know English then they can not read and understand. Only red and white color was the visualization texture by which illiterate people can also understand it. But Vodaphone has same red color in its logo. so better to change for new launching and grabbing new market.

New logo- Attractive, Red color(High Wave Length), Youthful etc.

When I talk about music then I was a fan of last one which was composed by A.R. Rahaman. I didn't like new music. But sometime changes are required in branding for attracting the consumer. Nowadays this is a matter of discussion that Airtel has changed its logo.

Logo- Thumbs up
Music- Thumbs down

Lets see mass reaction.

Thank you!

Shraddha Agrawal


Respected Sir,- Badiya tha Jisko kehte hai Enjoy reading waisa hi tha aaccha laga badh kar

Anonymous said...

Hello sir,

Thank you for sharing your wisdom pearls with us. we got a tremendous insights about repositioning of a brand from this post. i would like to request you to please write one post on wikileaks and geopolitics. the reason is that the concept of both topics are quite subtle, so i am facing problem while understanding. hope you will understand me and helping me out from it.

Thank you.

Unknown said...

Hello sir,very well placed sir.i am visiting your blog for the first time.its really sparkling.thank you:)