have watched TV, read a newspaper or listened to the radio in the past few weeks, you would know about the Reliance Power campaign, which was launched by Reliance ADAG prior to its IPO.
The estimated Rs 20 crore campaign included TV ads, huge print ads, radio spot ads and OOH billboards with the slogan, 'Power On India On'. Interestingly, the campaign was also backed by the group's telecom company, Reliance Communications, which set the 'Power On India On' ad jingle as a caller ringback tone (CRBT) for all non-CRBT subscribers in its 40 million subscriber base across 11 cities.
A CRBT is a paid value added service, which allows a mobile subscriber to choose the music or ringtone he wants people who call him to hear. Apart from a download cost of Rs 15 per CRBT, a monthly rental of Rs 30 is charged for the service by most operators.
The Reliance Power jingle was set as the default CRBT for all Reliance subscribers, except those who had already set a specific CRBT. (It was discontinued on January 18 after the closing of the Reliance Power IPO).
"Through the advertorial ringback tone," says Krishna Durbha, head, sales and marketing, applications, solutions and content, Reliance Communications, Reliance "wanted to popularise the campaign in the few days preceding the IPO and wanted it (the jingle) to be top of the mind with everyone".
Reliance claimed in a statement that the "unique campaign was heard over 10-12 million times a day, reaching millions of people across the world". It also stated that Reliance Communications was "the first telecom operator to use its technology platform to create a brand new, all-pervasive and powerful advertising medium".
Durbha adds, "It has opened a new opportunity for advertisers around the world. It's a direct way of reaching people." Durbha claims that the CRBT generated close to a lakh calls each day enquiring about the IPO. He also claims that none of these calls were complaint calls.
Voices of dissent
A CRBT may be an innovative method of getting your message across to customers, but there's a catch - the customer may not want to hear your message or may, in fact, be irritated by the intrusion. Reliance Communications did not inform its subscribers about the CRBT.
If one is to go by the blogosphere, considered by many marketers today to be a fairly reliable source of customer feedback, there were many dissenting voices.
The author of a blog called The Enigma, Naresh Kodithala, who is a Reliance subscriber, wrote, "The tune, unfortunately, is so incoherent on the phone and makes the caller feel low of the person he has called. The customer was neither consulted nor given an option to opt out of the service after it had begun. It is ironical to see that to copy a caller tune, you just have to dial a '*', but to remove it, you have to wait 72 hours after calling customer service, by which time the due damage could have been done. It is intelligent marketing and money making strategy, but too much of an intrusive one at that." (See post).
"Does Reliance have any right to use my property and advertise their product without any permission of mine?" reads a story on Purdafash.com, a citizen journalism website that allows people to write on the problems they face started by a group of IIT and IIM alumni. (See post)
RimWeb.in, a Reliance Mobile discussion forum has a discussion board created by Venkatiswaran.K.C that complains about the promotional tone by Reliance Power. A number of replies have come on the discussion board by people complaining about the unsolicited tune. In one of the replies by a member with the user ID 'hritik123' said, "It is a headache tune. They should pay us for getting free publicity at our expense.
Is it ethical?
On being asked whether putting up the jingle conflicted with permission marketing principles, Durbha says, "If given a good tune, there is no major objection. It's not a blatant thing that tells them to do this or that. It's a corporate ringtone. We have been sensitive to a lot of people who did not want it. There was no negative effect generated by this. In fact, it was a success."
We spoke to other VAS providers for their opinion on the matter. Asif Ali, chief technology officer, Mobile-worx, says, "Unless we have the user's permission, it's not a very ethical way to market and it can be unwelcome. The user needs to be informed even if it is offered for free. This is not within the permission based marketing principles." Suggesting the right way to go about such a campaign, he says, "A user should be given an incentive like free talktime of Rs 100 for a week or a month for playing a promotional CRBT."
Raj Singh, executive director, ActiveMedia Technology, says the CRBT has been seen as a source of revenue for a long time by operators. "For the operator to put a promotional ringtone without the user's consent is a step too far. But it doesn't break any laws."
Like all other mobile advertising platforms, promotional CRBTs too hold promise. But like all the rest, the CRBT also loses its sheen if it does not adhere to the rules of permission marketing. A marketing message will only be delivered effectively if the user has opted to know about it. Otherwise, it could lead to a backlash from customers who feel their privacy has been invaded. Marketers are still figuring out where to draw the line.