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Aircel and Airtel bite into the same Apple

Airtel and Aircel make respective appearances in the last frame of the latest iPhone 4 TVCs. afaqs! explores what happens when partner brands create communication that features both parties involved.

The two ad films that Apple rolled out recently, for its latest iPhone 4 product offering, present hard-core product benefits. While one ad addresses the phone's game centre that houses 40,000 games for the user to explore, the other talks about the phone's high resolution retina display that helps fine-tune the whole email and movie experience on the phone.

TBWA Media Arts Lab, USA, is the creative agency that has crafted these commercials.

The format of both the ads is the same, as is the male VO (voiceover) at the end that says "If you don't have an iPhone... well, you don't have an iPhone," underscoring the fact that possessing one is a lifestyle statement, more than just a reflection of one's SEC.

However, the last frames of the films are very different -- one bears the Airtel logo, while the other has the Aircel logo. While these two ads have broken on Indian screens, similar ads that follow the same template have been released overseas as well, albeit featuring the local service provider of the concerned country.

Regarding the 'moolah' involved, sources tell afaqs! that the marketing alliance is such that both Apple, as well as the Indian service providers involved, contribute equally in their own ways. Usually, while the entire media spend amount is shelled out by the Indian brands, the brand from overseas invests in some other form.

Explaining that it works like a smooth barter system, a professional from a leading media agency says, "In this case, the service providers are paying the media platforms, while the handset is making its investment in kind. Other than lending its brand legacy to our Indian brands, Apple will compensate in some other way. It may well provide the Indian brands with iPhones - this information is not circulated." Authorities involved are tight-lipped about the break-up of the marketing spends.

Basking in another brand's glory?

Sure, we're entering an era in which many products and services are closely related, and ride on one another in their communication. However, when the communication for one brand feeds on that of another, the question of who stands to gain more mileage arises. afaqs! asks some industry professionals what iPhone 4's latest communication entails for both its Indian service providers, Aircel and Airtel.

Some are of the opinion that in this particular case, Indian brands Airtel and Aircel are bound to benefit by virtue of being associated with an aspirational brand like Apple. Independent brand consultant Cajetan Vaz has no doubt about the fact that the association of these service providers with the iPhone 4 is a deliberate and well-thought of one, as "Aircel and Airtel will receive a rub-off benefit from the iPhone."

He reminds us that we've seen this kind of association before, with laptop manufacturers that lend the last frame of their commercials to the Intel logo - thus exploiting the equity that Intel has to offer - and banking brands that end their ads with the phrase 'powered by Visa' or 'powered by MasterCard', for the very same purpose.

Others disagree. Ideation consultant Vinay Kanchan feels that the question of Airtel and Aircel leveraging their own credibility would arise if either brand was the exclusive service provider for the iPhone 4 in India. "Besides," he argues, "Exposure to merely the service provider's logo in the ad is meaningless. The service providers need to work on the personality of the brand to gain mileage from this association, and doing so is a step that comes a lot later in the process."

Confused consumer?

Does the joint communication of a product (in this case, the iPhone 4), and a service (Aircel/Aircel) tend to confuse the consumer? Kanchan insists that today, consumers are evolved and sophisticated enough to comprehend the message as is intended.

"Today's it's not about minimalism and 'dumbing down' the core message anymore," he asserts, adding that this is the way business is going forward these days. "When buying a high-end phone, users want to know which service providers are available on it and which is the best possible partner. Such communication works."

In fact, some creative professionals claim that the consumer will be far from confused, owing to the fact that both Airtel and Aircel are treating their individual associations with the iPhone 4 very differently from one another. Though this is not showcased in the near-identical TVCs, the difference is evident in the print and OOH (out of home) communication on the part of Aircel and Airtel.

Ashish Khazanchi, national creative director and vice-chairperson, Publicis Ambience, points out that in the past, when Airtel and Vodafone communicated the benefits of the BlackBerry phone in their ads, both service providers treated the communication very differently. "It will probably be the same in this case, too; maybe Airtel and Aircel will position themselves very differently with the iPhone in the next burst of communication," he says.

Shouvik Roy, director, Brand Planet Elephant, concurs, "So far, Airtel seems to be playing on the 'sexiness' of the iPhone while Aircel appears to be appealing to those interested in getting a fair deal, cost-wise."

A win-win situation?

K V Sridhar (Pops), national creative director, Leo Burnett India, declares that it's a win-win situation for both the gadget and the service provider when the service plans are attached to the instrument. When reminded about how Vodafone's very popular 'We are the BlackBerry Boys' TVC was more about the shift in the phone's main audience than about Vodafone, Pops cautions, "Contrary to popular belief, Vodafone also stood to gain a lot from that ad -- it tried to look 'cooler' with the help of BB's imagery."

He adds that in the case of the iPhone 4, too, it's a mutually beneficial communication set up. "A brand like Apple doesn't need to advertise heavily. It gets whatever little advertisement it needs from its service providers, who in turn ride on the image of the iconic phone brand to gain mileage," he explains.

Pops adds that ultimately, it is the consumer who benefits from such communication because "they get their favourite handsets at affordable prices when they buy them through the service provider."

Follow Ashwini Gangal

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