Orange has best policy, honestly

Harry Enfied Hula Hoop ad pg 9It is accepted wisdom in advertising that sex sells. But what about honesty? Is it a marketable thing? Or do people simply see it as a cynical exercise designed to make them feel more comfortable about being conned?

Business sectors from electrical retailing to financial services have been lumped together with estate agents, second-hand car and double glazing salesmen – all have been accused of misleading consumers. Advertising itself comes in for criticism for corrupting and confusing. But, with the advent of modern technology, it is the mobile phone industry which has become the Nineties’ black sheep.

Some claim the technology, and the pricing or tariff structures adopted by the industry, have been deliberately used to confuse consumers.

The Office of Fair Trading is in the middle of an investigation into mobile phone contracts. The Government watchdog warned nine mobile phone airtime suppliers to remove “unfair” terms from their contracts in June, which simply reinforced the public perception that buying a mobile phone can be injurious to your wallet.

But a multimillion pound ad campaign from Orange claims it is taking a stand to clear up the confusion – sometimes, it says, deliberately created by rivals – and give the consumer a better chance of buying a phone at an acceptable price.

To that end, Orange has created a “pre-agreement checklist” to arm potential buyers with 20 questions to ask the salespeople when they walk through a retailer’s door. Among the piercing questions are how long is the contract period? Are there any charges for switching tariff schemes? And what additional charges will be incurred?

It follows a campaign earlier this year after Orange won a legal battle with Vodafone over comparative advertising. Then Orange attacked its rivals, and won acres of media coverage, as overpriced and secretive. “The industry has been discussing launching a pre-contract summary for some time,” says Sean Gardner, Orange’s head of campaigns planning, “but it never got off the ground because it represents hidden profits and some people did not want to give that up.”

That is denied by the other major players. But anybody who has tried buying a mobile phone knows it is confusing and over-complicated. But what this campaign seems to illustrate is a shift in Orange’s positioning.

With clear brand positioning it took the mobile phone sector by storm when it launched in 1994. It is now hoping to have the same impact by positioning as the “consumer’s friend” or the “honest broker”.

It is fast becoming the Virgin or the Asda of telecoms – its moral conscience. Where Virgin positioned itself as the small guy in the airline business and later soft drinks, Asda claimed it was fighting for the people against the drugs companies.

But there may still be some cynics out there who believe that the mobile phone operator is simply trying to win more subscribers. However, if it does, it may at least prove that using honesty, can be just as successful as using sex.

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