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Telecom flogs dead horse

By Jonathan Dodd

Friday 21st March 2003

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Marketing commentators were worrisomely silent over Telecom's initial, decidedly dull 027 campaign but became incredulous when its bizarre and alienating "TM" campaign was launched.

Media watchers were unanimous as they viewed the second campaign for the telco's problematic 027 mobile network with dropped jaws, thinking "what the hell" or words to that effect.

Telecom mobile marketing manager Kevin Kendrick has been quoted as saying the first campaign was dropped as it failed to capture the hearts of the target audience. But if this were the case, how on earth could the TM campaign have been seen as a worthy replacement?

In the latest attempt, with the catchy moniker GO27, we're being shown "the future" and learning what consumers want from their phone and how Telecom 027 is "with us all the way," to paraphrase some of the PR. Which is interesting on three counts.

First, we're being sold a promise that isn't yet being delivered. Why should a customer who wants streaming video to their handset buy into 027 now when the technology can't yet deliver and will most probably require new handsets when it is?

Second, we're being presented with generally trivial uses for the promised technology. Vodafone shows us how sending pictures by mobile can close business deals ­ the GO27 campaign is about "does this make my bum look big?" That's fine if you're selling to the general public but I can't help but wonder whether Joe Public is willing to spend up to $1500 on a phone to take pictures of fish.

Businesspeople I know are highly insulted to see their high-tech systems presented in this way.

Third, a marketing message has to be believable to work ­ and I suspect a lot of 027 users will be viewing the GO27 ca mpaign with disdain because their experiences to date will be seriously undermining the credibility of the new promotions.

For starters, we know Wap (the mobile version of the internet) is a fairly weak offering, whose launch was closely followed by the "Wap is crap" mantra in IT circles.

So what has 027 given us to date? Basically an endless stream of text-derived services ranging from the occasionally useful (such as traffic, news and sports) to the achingly obvious and dull (horoscopes). These can pretty much all be delivered via 025 and 021 and Vodafone is clearly streets ahead for innovative ideas in this regard. So on a service level, what sets 027 apart?

At this stage it is the services available through Telecom's arrangement with Norway's "djuice" mobile-internet portal, via the re-directed www.djuice.co.nz.

It's a painfully slow and cumbersome site. Accessing djuice through your 027 mobile simply provides "more of the same" ­ games, text alerts and text-gimmicks, for example. Weeks after the event, it's still offering America's Cup updates.

Granted that 027 does offer some nice email features, I decided to resurrect my ancient djuice registration. This is because while my Telecom-recommended 027 phone can send text messages to email addresses, those addresses unbelievably cannot be stored on it and entering email addresses on a mobile requires quite some tenacity.

"No problems," a Telecom-rep told me, "just store those addresses on djuice and you can access them from there." This looked good ­ until on attempting this my mobile was unable to log in.

Why? The cryptic message from Telecom is that "the email advice back to mobile is currently out of action. Djuice, which is hosted in Norway, is investigating."

Requests for further information and an estimated date of a fix have not been answered, some days later. This is not a service I would rely on for business.

So, as Telecom continues its attempts to shed its old image and attitudes, the term "flogging a dead horse" cannot help springing to mind. I love the net, I really do, and I want Telecom to succeed and bring all the promises to fruition. But on current form, I'm holding on to my pennies and it appears many others are, too.

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