Editor’s blog: Vittorio Colao’s big idea

You need some nerve as a boss to admit that the 600 million you spend each year on marketing isn’t really working that well. With an admirable directness not frequently noted among Italians, Vodafone’s CEO Vittorio Colao thinks his whole brand and marketing requires a revamp. It is not the big power, said Colao of his new brand identity. It is not the power of top down. It is bottom-up power. It really means that Vodafone puts the customer at the centre of what we do. Never a bad starting point.

Vodafone started off with the tagline How Are you? which was a bit of a yawn, frankly. (Well, I’m fine, thanks and just happy with my contract with One2One.) Then it moved onto Make the Most of Now which had me dozing-off in its blandness. Now it’s ditching that as it plumps for the sizzling Power To you. Well, sorry, but the first thing that made me think of is Cliff’s Power to All Our Friends which even in his execrable litany of pap was enough to make you chuck.

But you have to feel sorry for Vodafone because they are faced with the familiar problem of making advertising travel and then earn its lunch across so many borders. Thus it winds up with slightly dismal lowest common denominator solutions. So it plasters its logo across sporting events from Bergen to Beijing and hopes for the best. And a fat lot of thanks it gets for its support. Vodafone once very kindly organised an interview for me with Surralex Ferguson at Manchester United which in organisational grief was like a cross between taking on the Taliban in the Swat valley and getting a class of seven year olds to cross the road. It showed in a nutshell how tortured the relationship can be between sponsor and the sponsoree. And if you think football is a difficult business to get into bed with then Formula One is an utter nightmare.

But the crux of the problem is that they actually spend too much. The problem with Vodafone marketing is that it’s everywhere – utterly ubiquitous. And like the air that you breath you just stop noticing it after a while and are grabbed by something more interesting. That’s the terror of modern marketing – out there in world of trillions of messages nobody can hear you scream.

Colao knows this and what he yearns for is for Vodafone to become sexy and desirable like Apple. (It would help if he were actually allowed to sell a few iPhones himself- the exclusivity contract with O2 is up shortly.) It could be done – Vodafone is a muscular brand with a lot of clout and amazing reach. But what he really needs is the Holy Grail of a great idea which cuts through the wall-to-wall noise of 21st century global marketing. That’s what he needs to put that big McKinsey-trained brain of his to work on finding.

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    I have a brainwave …… why not ask the customer if they would like a better service for less money rather than loads of advertising they aren’t reading anyway?

    Might even encourage new customers – who knows?

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    Having worked for Vodafone in Marketing, I agree with your article completely. It is a very difficult trick to get right; a brand that is sexy, that stands out and also works across continents.

    Is Apple’s “Think different” really any better?

    If you’re a niche player you can get across something unique, if you’re trying to be all things to all people, then it’s going to only resonate with some of the people, some of the time.

    Mark