“Life Without Data.” Easily the most arresting Airtel Nigeria advertising in years.

I have always felt that Airtel Nigeria TV spots were the least engaging amongst all Telco advertising in Nigeria. For a brand that has consistently been in the Top 6 of marketing spenders in that last five years, I’d say this was rather unflattering.

Well, not any more. It’s new TV advertising, ‘Life Without Data,’ seems to be grabbing all the attention, in contrast to the marooned protagonist in the spot.

Given that telecommunication offerings in Nigeria are fast becoming a commodity – consumers struggle to perceive a difference between competing offerings – communication therefore remains one of the strongest ways for companies to differentiate and break parity. Glo and Etisalat have blazed the way in creative and engaging advertising in recent years.

Airtel Nigeria had never really featured prominently in engaging communication. The most memorable Airtel ad I could remember was back in the days of Econet Wireless, the days of Business Partner and Buddie. Remember that Econet spot where some siblings called mum on her birthday to sing for her and mama shed tears of joy? I thought that was a touching spot. That was when, 2001? 2002?

But before we wax too lyrical about ‘Life Without Data,’ let’s assess it from a strategic perspective, shall we. We can no longer solely judge the effectiveness of advertising by its ‘creativity’ and ‘popularity.’ I find the ADPLAN assessment framework developed by the Kellogg School of Management  very useful  in appraising advertising from a strategic perspective.

ADPLAN has six dimensions:

Attention: Does the advertising aid recall? Recall of both the message and the brand. Does it have a clever execution? Is it fresh?

Distinction: Is the advertising distinct from competitions’? Advertising that is similar to competition’s hardly aids differentiation.

Positioning: Does the advertising clearly convey the frame of reference (the category the brand desires to compete in or the ultimate goal the brand addresses) and the point of difference (how the brand is superior to competitors on some attribute). Strong positioning communicates to the consumer how to think of the brand and why it should be used over others in the category.

Linkage: Can consumers link the advertising to the brand and the benefits it offers? Is the advertising creative for ‘creative’ sake?  “Oh, I like the ad but can’t remember the brand” is not where you want to be

Amplification: What and how do consumers think about the advertising? What are consumers saying about the ad? Does the ad have favourable effects on the consumers’ opinion?

Net Equity: Brands develop a history and equity over time. How does the advertising relates to and builds upon the net equity of a brand? Does the advertising reinforce the net equity of the brand?

While a post campaign evaluation may be more helpful in appraising certain elements of the ADPLAN dimensions, we can nevertheless attempt an off-the-cuff assessment of the campaign, acknowledging the limitation of such ‘unscientific’ appraisal.


7/10 on Attention. The ad is humorous and well executed. It’s a comic relief to advertising of data services which tended to focus on bytes and price. The drone and areal shots add to very fine art direction and production values. The soundtrack by Asa was brilliant and fully exploits the comical actions of our beached protagonist. It’s an ad you’d want to watch to the end, even on YouTube.

Importantly, I can recall the message (Airtel gives you data that ‘works’) and the brand, Airtel Nigeria. The brand in the advertising stands out, obviously helped by the fact that earlier Airtel advertising haven’t been that brilliant.

8/10 on Distinction. The spot is clearly distinct from what Glo and Etisalat do or would do. It focuses on a human story whereas data advertising by both Glo and Etisalat tend to be heavy on CGI and technology. Interestingly, ‘Life Without Data’ is the type of spot I see MTN doing. But MTN didn’t do this. So full marks go to Airtel.

7/10 on Positioning. ‘Life Without Data’ clearly conveys the frame of reference (data) and Airtel’s point of difference (“forget the hype around 4G LTE, our data simply works”). By saying that its data ‘works,’ Airtel is depositioning the data service of the other networks that they don’t work. This is brilliant because we all have various degrees of frustrations trying to download, upload or watch a videos on our phones due to poor data speed.

While I suspect that the campaign is a gap-filler pending when Airtel launches its own 4G LTE service,  and a relevant business strategy in the face of declining Voice ARPU, the cumulative implication of touting ‘data service that works,’ plus ‘SmartSPEEDOO’  and ‘The Smartphone Network’ is that Airtel is strongly seeking to get back into the consideration set of ‘great data service providers.’ Data is obviously the next competitive frontier and Airtel is shaping to be a strong competitor.

I’m not sure that consumers regard Airtel as a ‘smartphone network’ though. I believe Etisalat and Glo occupy that space. As such, the claim of ‘the smartphone network,’ while technically true,  may lack credibility from the consumer point of view.

6/10 on Linkage.  Airtel had never really had a strong position in the data space. True, it has a data offering called ‘SmartSPEEDOO,’ true, it has harped on being the ‘Smartphone Network’ for a while now, but MTN, Glo and Etisalat would all rank higher in data consideration. We can only take ‘Life Without Data’ to be a marker set down by Airtel that it wants to be a serious player in data offering.

8/10 on Amplification. The campaign may have been just a few days old, but judging by the buzz it’s gathering on social media and in offline discussions, it is obvious that consumers have a favourable opinion of the message and brand.  A ‘data junkie’ told me that he believed that Airtel’s data speed was the fastest but painfully the most expensive, hence why he believed the line in the advertising that proclaimed ‘data that works.’

6/10 on Net Equity.  In this instance, Net Equity will be the total of ‘data equity,’ ‘voice equity’ and the overall equity of the Airtel brand. As stated earlier , the equity of Airtel as regards data isn’t a very strong one. You don’t find many people who get an iPad or Galaxy Tab and decide to plop an Airtel SIM in it.

However, the overall equity of the Airtel brand is strong. I have heard several people say its  incidence of drop calls is the least among all the Telcos and that ‘they don’t cheat you.’ That if they say calls are 11K per second, that is exactly what you’ll get.

It is this overall net equity ‘data that works’ will reinforce much more than data equity. Over time, if it proves that its data truly works and consistently, then Airtel may then have built a strong ‘data equity.’

So that’s 8.4 over 10 for ‘Life Without Data.’ Not too shabby.

I leave you with this spot from the T-mobile ‘UN-CARRIER’ campaign featuring Drake. Adjudged one of the best spots of the 2016 Super Bowl, I’ll let you judge for yourself.



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