Deconstructing the Bell, Rogers, Telus Wireless Auction Ad

Bell, Rogers, Telus Ad in Aug 21 Toronto Star

Toronto Star Ad Page 2

There was a two-page ad from Rogers, Bell and Telus in today’s Toronto Star attempting to explain their case against the rules for the pending wireless auction.

The idea is a good one, and brave. I can imagine it must have been a Herculean effort to get these three competitors to get into a room and develop and agree upon a message. Unfortunately, their efforts fell a little flat. I’ll explain where I think they went wrong and what they could have done differently.

The three arguments put forward in the ad are that the competition is unfair and favours the US company Verizon; will cost taxpayers money to subsidize foreign companies’ bids; and that rural areas will suffer because US competitors will focus on urban markets, forcing Canadian companies to follow suit.

The fairness argument gets lost in industry jargon and the assumption that consumers will understand the structure of the auction and how the “blocks” that are being auctioned work. In general, the “big, bad Americans” argument misses the mark when the ones putting it out there are considered monopolistic behemoths by many Canadians.

The second point argues that Canadians will be picking up the bill for subsidizing the Verizon bid with their tax dollars. Maybe, but if I don’t know how, I can’t come to judgment and the ad doesn’t give me that information. It is also difficult to get people to consider the implications of tax dollars being spent for one thing versus another in the face of having to pay those taxes anyway. Especially when the counter argument is lower wireless rates, which come directly from consumers’ wallets.

Finally, the argument that rural Canada will suffer basically states that Verizon will focus growing business in big cities and that will force Bell, Rogers and Telus to do the same. That may be true, but the cynic in me wonders if that isn’t where they focus already. Isn’t that where the majority of customers reside?

The call to action is also a lost opportunity. It directs consumers to a website (fairforcanada.ca) to learn more about the issue. The website, by the way, is beautifully designed. Kudos to the developer. But not having made a very compelling case for themselves, I’m not sure it will drive much traffic there (or how they will know if visitors came from this ad without a customized URL).

The flaws in the arguments, though, are not the biggest problem with the ad. By trying to reframe the issue, they have ignored the one issue consumers are certain to care about: what this auction will mean for their own wireless bills.

A better approach might have been to address the short-sightedness of the price issue (presuming it is short-sighted), making the case it will cost jobs and reduce investment in innovation. Follow that with a call to action that encourages participation in the debate, not just education. Maybe next time.

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