Sometime in the year 2008, six whole years before my career in the Integrated Marketing Communications space began, I got my first lesson in what branding could or could not be, when a popular brand decided to refresh its brand identity.
This multibillion-dollar global brand, which shall remain unnamed, paid over $1 million to have its logo redesigned. The result was a logo that looked nearly identical to a prior logo by the same brand. Many heads – mine included – were scratched as people wondered what the point was.
As it turned out, the brand didn’t seem to know either. CBS News memorably got hold of the logo redesign document and much hilarity ensued as it rapidly became clear that this brand refresh had been oversold, to say the least. An excerpt from the document read as follows:
“The vocabulary of truth and simplicity is a recurring phenomena in the brand’s history. It communicates the brand in a timeless manner and with an expression of clarity.
True innovation always begins by investigating the historic path. Going back-to-the-roots moves the brand forward as it changes the trajectory of the future.”
Some speculated that it was all a planned publicity stunt because if that was not the case, that would mean that a multinational brand signed off on a mediocre brand element.
It turned out to be the latter. Widely panned as “brand equity pop-psychobabble,” this disastrous rebranding campaign became something of a cautionary tale within marketing circles, and it was why when I first heard of a brand refresh by MTN Group a few weeks ago, I was unsure at first.
My reasoning was that there are few things more unwieldy than a behemoth brand trying to appeal to a younger audience by changing a few colours and shapes on its logo. I could not have been more wrong about what this particular refresh is and what it hopes to achieve.
It’s not just a new logo
Now, I am a Marketing industry alumnus and (I’d like to think) a fairly decent journalist, so I figured I would get someone in the know to explain it to me.
I soon found myself speaking to someone who was definitely in the know and the first thing she clarified was that this is way, way more than a simple logo redesign or shifting around shapes and colours on brand elements and collaterals.
According to her explanation, the key factor that distinguishes what MTN is currently doing from what the [unnamed fizzy pop brand] above did in 2008 is that there is actually a need for it.
While the mission of the fizzy pop brand had not changed – and could never change in fact – MTN is apparently in the process of entirely reinventing itself as a new type of business.
Among many reasons for this, the company expects its future to be tied inexorably to the growth and application of digital solutions across the continent.
These solutions will of course use the network infrastructure that MTN has built over the past 20 odd years, but MTN now sees mobile network infrastructure as its floor, not its ceiling.
Being connected in the IMC space and thus having access to embargoed material that mere mortals will have to wait a few more weeks to see, I managed to get hold of an internal company document explaining what the new tagline accompanying the new logo means.
An excerpt from this document reads: “What are we doing today?” talks to how as a group we are ensuring that our brand reflects MTN’s next chapter of building leading digital platforms for Africa’s progress.
In doing so, we are actively shifting the conversation to showcase how progress in Africa is reflected in the actions taken by Africans with MTN.”
Read also: MTN’s 2021 results in five numbers
‘Ambition 2025’ and MTN’s new reality
Once upon a time, the idea that Nigeria would have hundreds of millions of mobile phone lines including over 100 million mobile internet users connected to networks with national coverage and generally at least 3G speeds seemed fanciful, or at least very far.
Due in no small part to the sheer amount of investment from MTN over the past two decades, this is now Nigeria’s reality. In the process, MTN has itself become Nigeria’s undisputed mobile connectivity hegemon, as well as Africa’s largest carrier by a long distance.
That particular fight has been won, which is why the ongoing corporate refresh makes sense when viewed through the lens of a company that is reinventing itself to solve another basic set of problems.
According to the internal documents that I saw, the company is not exactly abandoning its past, but rather spinning it into a part of something bigger.
If one were to make a comparison, it could be compared to how Facebook morphed into Meta and Google morphed into Alphabet.
The “Everywhere You Go” line will remain, but it will no longer refer only to geographical coverage. It will now refer to the full gamut of digital endeavours that MTN expects Africans to increasingly devote their time to over the coming decade. The sum and total of this is the corporate strategy the company recently announced called ‘Ambition 2025.’
Simply put, MTN will continue to have telco services as an offering, but crucially these services will no longer make up its chief strategic focus.
Under ‘Ambition 2025,’ the company has big plans to morph into what it describes as an “integrated African digital platform company” that will provide springboards for solutions in telecom, fibre-data, API, and the growing content and messaging space. An example of this shift is Ayoba, a chat and live-streaming app developed by MTN.
We live in the proverbial interesting times, and I for one am very eager to see how this ambition turns out.