Telecommunications: Vodafone wants to get away from big advertising promises

After weak business and customer losses, the telecommunications provider Vodafone wants to change course in its advertising and say goodbye to full-bodied promises.

Telecommunications: Vodafone wants to get away from big advertising promises

After weak business and customer losses, the telecommunications provider Vodafone wants to change course in its advertising and say goodbye to full-bodied promises. "We often make big promises, but rarely keep them," said Vodafone's Germany boss, Philippe Rogge, of the German Press Agency in Düsseldorf. By "we" he means the global telecommunications industry including his company. "Hardly any industry affords such a large gulf between advertising and reality, i.e. the everyday reality of its customers." He says of the misery: "We at Vodafone are also to blame."

Vodafone is under pressure

The company is under pressure and lost market share at the beginning of the year. This was also due to the fact that customer loyalty was weak - as soon as the contract expired, many customers left again. Gradually, the company wants to strengthen customer loyalty with more restrained advertising and reduce the potential for customer frustration by not raising excessive expectations. Boisterous maximums for discounts are to be omitted in the future.

Consumer advocates and advertising experts see the new course positively. Felix Flosbach from the NRW consumer advice center points out that Vodafone has fared poorly compared to other providers when it comes to advertising. "Consumer complaints that landed with us were related to Vodafone more often than to competitors."

The truth is often hidden in footnotes

However, he sees the entire telecommunications industry critically. "A credit is not as high as hoped, the free information only refers to a short period of time or the Internet speed is slower than expected - customers are always disappointed," says Flosbach. "Although the advertising is not legally contestable, it is questionable: exaggerated expectations are fueled and the truth is hidden in footnotes."

Flosbach sees a fundamental distrust of telecommunications providers among consumers. "Maximum promises are not taken seriously - the industry has long since gambled away the trust of consumers." Flosbach thinks Vodafone's decision to use more moderate information in the future is correct. "But it will be a long time before consumers' distrust of Internet providers has diminished somewhat."

Vodafone wants to be perceived as an honest company

With Vodafone manager Rogge, an industry representative is now also expressing unease - among other things with a view to the previously common formulation "up to". As a fictitious and yet realistic example, he cites a tariff offer in which customers are promised a discount of "up to" 400 euros. Hidden in the footnotes, however, is the small print that this only applies to customers who have been with the provider for a very, very long time. Most of them only get a discount of 100 euros after signing the contract.

Instead of being happy about this amount, they are frustrated - after all, they have the 400 euros in their heads and therefore feel that 100 euros is far too little. That's "a badly invested discount," says Rogge. We will proceed differently in the future. "We want to be perceived as an honest company that delivers what it promises." Vodafone is "part of the problem, but we want to be part of the solution in the future". One wants to gradually get away from the maximum promises with which consumers have been lured so far. However, there will not be an order from above - it is about a "cultural change" that should come from the workforce itself.

That's what the competition says about advertising

And what does the competition think about advertising? Offers are communicated transparently to customers, says a Telekom spokesman. A change is not planned. A spokesman for Telefónica (O2) says the company's goal is "to communicate as clearly, transparently and simply as possible". O2 only uses "up to" formulations "very selectively, for example when buying old devices or in the event that promotions for different customer groups differ".

It is also common practice in the industry that tariffs are advertised as very cheap, but this low price only applies in the first six months and is significantly higher thereafter. The Vodafone manager Rogge sees this just as critically as advertising information on maximum transmission rates, which can be achieved at certain times of the day with little traffic on the network, but are often clearly missed. And the fact that the industry likes to talk about 99 percent network coverage, but network coverage when traveling by train feels very different, is another example for Rogge of the gap between company announcements and consumer reality. Vodafone recently launched advertising with a minimum discount advertised in large letters.

Expert sees course change overdue

Business psychologist Joost van Treeck from the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences considers a change of course in advertising in the telecommunications industry to be overdue. The providers had courted new customers for years, but neglected their existing customers. "Germany's Internet customers have gotten used to the fact that they first have to cancel before they can get better tariffs." That was a big disadvantage for the companies, after all, customers are always relatively expensive in the first year, for example because they often call the hotline and technology is sent.