Bell & Rogers: couch wars

Typically, the couch is associated with comfort and togetherness, but this summer it became synonymous with conflict and combat.

Typically, the couch is associated with comfort and togetherness, but this summer it became synonymous with conflict and combat.

The former is why Rogers says it featured a couch in a campaign developed by Publicis in Toronto, which launched in May and included television, OOH and online, touting its home phone service. However, when it compared their services to Bell, promising savings of $25 a month for the same quality, the half red, half blue couch became ground zero for an all-out street fight.

Bell struck back quickly with its own TV, OOH, online and print attack ads in June promoting its 3G network and HD channels. Working with Leo Burnett, Cossette and Zulu Alpha Kilo, it featured its own couch with five blue cushions (and one red), and similar price-comparison and product-superiority messaging.

‘It wasn’t our preference to engage the marketing communications this way, but given the opportunity from Rogers we would’ve been remiss not to exploit the opportunity,’ says Rick Seifeddine, senior VP brand at Bell Canada. ‘It was irresistible to take the couch mechanism and jiu-jitsu that on them because it was the most eloquent way to say it. The headline is ‘get more than Rogers for less than Rogers;’ the visual is stunningly clear.’

Where does this leave the consumer? Confused? And most importantly, whose couch reigns supreme? We asked Philippe Garneau, CD at Toronto-based GWP Brand Engineering and Geoff Craig, marketing wiz and former Unilever Canada VP and GM, brand building, to step in and see if they could call this grudge match.

OVERALL STRATEGY

Garneau: Truth be told, the brands are sharing the same strategy: win customers on rational merit based on comparison. Does it work? Don’t ask a behavioural economist if you want a ‘yes.’ Ice beer wars anyone? Attack ads are for politicians, not brands. Competitive price campaigns attract rate hunters, not brand loyalists. The strategy is very risky. I can’t ‘couch’ my thoughts any other way.

Craig: It is a difficult task to deliver a knock-out strategic blow when comparing a tactical pricing attack to a full-force tactical response. Both Bell and Rogers are looking to attract and lock up users before the new rivals hit the market, where voice is becoming a commodity. There is a simplistic beauty to price comparisons that Bell wins, given Rogers’ smart decision not to fully engage.

WHOSE COUCH REIGNS SUPREME?

Garneau: Maybe the real winner is Bad Boy who featured the couch in a print ad with the headline ‘Whose sofa is it anyway?’ Can’t wait to hear from TD’s comfortable green seat next.

Craig: Amidst complete confusion of who landed what blows, I declare the referee, in this case the consumer, to be the winner. We all now know that our mobile devices are too slow and too expensive, our TVs could cost less with more channels, better HD and better picture and our land lines are overpriced. So, it must be time to shop around on price. In this heavy spend category, where consumer delight is far from ubiquitous, top brands that want to stand for value above all risk entering into a new ring of margin-diluting competition – and that’s the unbundled truth!

CONSUMER SYMPATHY VOTE

Garneau: The social media ecosystem and the public press reveal no clear winner. One thing is clear however; both brands want the customer to win. Bell is probably more convincing – by a G. But is that enough? Canadians know product and price parity is probably around the corner, so they’re just waiting.

Craig: You have to give Bell credit for the speed and voracity of the counter attack. However, by engaging in couch wars, they missed a creative opportunity to better brand and position themselves, with confusion being the likely consumer take-away. Therefore, my biggest sympathies go to the good folks at Rogers Wireless who actually want the world to focus on cool stuff like the Mobile Rocket Stick, new Apple iPhone 3G and the Android-driven HTC Dream, but got sucker punched as a result of the original foray, attacking Bell on the home phone front.

OVERALL BRAND POSITIONING FIT

Garneau: It’s axiomatic, when brands talk to each other instead of to their customers, they forsake their brand positioning. They may think they haven’t, but who are we kidding? You’re fighting in front of the kids. And we know what kids do when that happens. They cover their ears and say, ‘la la la la la.’ Where’s the ROI in that?

Craig: No winner here, as Bell gratuitously uses/abuses the ‘just got better’ line and Rogers continues to use features to represent innovation. There is a much greater opportunity to stand out as a communications leader – to create optimism, and indeed own, the exciting future that telecom will enable in all of our lives.