Vodacom, Cell C spat takes nasty turn

Vodacom's new branding on Johannesburg's Ponte tower

Vodacom’s advertising agency, Draftfcb, has accused its former executive creative director, Grant Jacobsen, of unethical behaviour over Cell C’s new advertising campaign and has warned it may sue him for damages.

The development comes as Vodacom and Cell C prepare to do battle at the Advertising Standards Authority this week over the latter’s latest campaign, which disparages the former’s brand makeover.

Now the tussle is getting ugly, with Draftfcb CEO John Dixon suggesting Jacobsen used confidential Vodacom information in Cell C’s advertising war with its bigger rival. Jacobsen has rejected the accusations, saying they have no basis in fact.

Jacobsen had been involved with Vodacom’s rebranding campaign — the operator changed its brand and colours on 1 April to bring it in line with parent Vodafone — while still at Draftfcb. Jacobsen left the agency at the end of December to join rival DDB SA as executive creative director.

DDB recently signed Cell C as a client. Its campaign for Cell C, launched last week, includes a television ad that disparages Vodacom’s decision to rebrand to red and took flight just five days after the latter unveiled its new brand identity to the public.

Dixon suggests Jacobsen used information he gleaned while working on the Vodacom account at Draftfcb to develop Cell C’s new advertising campaign and says the television ad had to have been produced before Vodacom took the wraps off its new brand campaign.

“Producing a TV ad has a long lead time,” Dixon says. “There is no way that ad could have been produced in response to what they saw in the public domain. The timeline makes us suspect that confidential information has been shared with Cell C.”

He says the timing is “of concern” to Draftfcb. “Grant developed all of the Vodacom ‘red’ stuff that is in the market at the moment. He didn’t produce it — that happened after he left — but he had intimate knowledge of all the scripts and the use of the meerkat and all of the Vodacom characters in the campaign,” Dixon says.

“He knew how simple and central the initial rebranding was — namely, that ‘Vodacom is red’. He understood that and, by implication, could make it appear that [the red rebranding] is insubstantial and that is what he has done.”

But Jacobsen says Cell C’s campaign was produced at very short notice, with three television ads featuring Cell C “chief experience officer”, comedian Trevor Noah, being shot on the same evening Vodacom officially took the wraps off its new brand.

He says Cell C first became aware of Vodacom’s new brand image days before the official launch through marketing material that was already available in community newspapers. Vodacom was also painting its banner at the top of the Ponte tower in Johannesburg red. And websites, including TechCentral, published details of the redesigned brand several days beforehand.

“We shot the ads on Friday, 1 April,” Jacobsen says. “It was one of the most rushed shoots I have done in my career. I was writing scripts on the set.”

Radio ads that form part of the campaign were recorded several days later. “If I was using preexisting knowledge, why didn’t I write and shoot this campaign in February?” Jacobsen asks, adding that he’s prepared to share corroborating evidence showing schedules and bookings for the shoot and edit.

“If I was going to use my knowledge to get one up on Vodacom and Draftfcb, the last thing I’d be doing is shooting in the middle of the night in Cape Town, on Friday, 1 April, and editing on Sunday, 3 April, and post-producing frantically through the night on Monday.”

Jacobsen says he can state “categorically” that he shared no confidential Vodacom information with Cell C executives. He says he continues to “love and respect” the Vodacom brand, which he helped nurture for five years.

“The last thing I want is for a real conversation about network and technological leadership to turn into an in-house fight between a couple of ad agencies,” he says. “That has no benefit for consumers at the end of the day.”

But this is a fight that seems far from over. Draftfcb and Vodacom have written a letter, by way of their lawyers, to DDB asking for answers, Dixon says. He says the agency may sue Jacobsen for damages.

Jacobsen says neither Dixon nor Vodacom has approached him for his side of the story.

Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority is considering a complaint lodged by Draftfcb on behalf of Vodacom against Cell C’s latest campaign. Vodacom has objected to Cell C’s television ad, featuring Noah, in which the operator claims to have SA’s “number one network”.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

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  • John

    @Edwardo – Again, the issue here is not what was going to happen, that was pretty obvious.

    It’s about what was NOT going to happen, and who knew about it. Specifically Vodacom NOT carry on using a specific tagline. Cell C”magically” knew this and built an entire marketing campaign around.

  • Lars P Reichelt

    @John

    No magic here, but simple observation and timing

    a: Vodafone uses the same tagline all round the world
    b: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity

    So please stop spraying manure. Thank you.

  • Ad guy

    Lars

    Chatted to a few people in industry. Neither grant nor yourself are well spoken about

    From what I can tell it’s the case of the reckless creative feeding the ego of the insecure CEO

    Latest figures suggest your share and revenues are still going backward. So get off blogging and sort your network and business out

    I bought you bs a few months ago but have since tossed by cell c data some …..IT DOESN’T WORK!

  • @ Larse

    Some lie in their ads, others don’t.

    Some lie on their coverage map, others don’t.

    Some lie about their speed, technology and number of sites, others don’t.

    Some = Larse = CellC.

  • http://www.itbucket.net pjn123

    At least the Cell C one is funny.

    Red is dead – Black is back

  • John

    @Lars – Did I hit a nerve there? ;)

    Can you categorically state:

    1- You had no prior knowledge of Vodacom-specific marketing activities?

    2- Jacobsen did not use his NDA’d knowledge in any way?

    3- The first time you decided to do the “Who’s the leader now” campaign was after Vodacom flighted their first ads?

    4- Did you know Vodacom would never use “SA’s leading network” again? (If yes, how did you know?)

    A simple yes or no per point, if you don’t mind.

  • OOg

    If one look at this situation differently you will see that Cell C actually did Vodacom a favour!

    Vodacom’s main goal with this campain is (ought to be) to create awareness on the brand’s changes (colour red and logo), Cell C is blindly assisting Vodacom in achieving this goal. Regardless of the content in the campains, the content in Cell C’s ads just proves their ininsecurity…?

    (I have to admit that I saw this coming after the first air of the Cell C ad, and couldn’t help but to laugh it out. It was one of the funniest things since the Nando’s CEO ad ~ Nandos 1 Cell C 1 … who’s next?)

  • murraybiscuit

    so how coincidental was it that around the time that vc would have been starting to plan their rebranding, the other red brand decided to fortuitously change their colour to black. wow. how lucky was that.

    it’s more likely that vc paid cellc a princely sum to change their colours, got kicked in the teeth and now they’ve got sour grapes.

    but that would be collusion and of course we know none of that happens in the mobile industry…

  • kk

    FCB should have had a reasonable restraint of trade. That is simply a huge ball that was dropped.

    It was also pretty common knowledge that the brand was changing, they had to distribute the marketing collateral before the launch. It’s not like any company with a real interest in the market would not have had an inkling this was happening.

  • @kk

    Presumably the guy’s restraint of trade is the basis of the legal action? Can’t see how Draft FCB could take legal action without it?

  • stern

    love the drama… So days of our lives

  • Another Andrew

    Oh come on, I’m not in the industry and even I knew that the Vodacom would rebrand to red in February already.

    It looks to me like a bit of DraftFCB covering their arse because VC is such a big client.

    Heads up to all at Vodacom, DraftFCB, Cell C and DDB SA – nobody cares about your squabble. Maybe if you spent half as much time and money on improving services as you have on rebranding, consumers would care.

  • Mel

    If one looks at the bigger picture; it is simply, from a moral point of view; unethical. It’s seem immature& petty. Is cell c honestly suffering from a such a bad dry spell in their creative department that they feel the necessity to undermine vodacom’s work? Does cell c feel so thretend by vodacom that they have to resort to childish demeaning manners of advertising? It is such a shame that they have resorted to such low standards!

  • Rudi

    Vodacon is getting less and less popular with each attempt to fight of Cell-C’s campaign. Bad karma is just following vodacon every move.

    What happened to the days of ” Rule 1-The customer is always right”

  • Jay

    Nothing better than an inter-agency slap-fest…. Pony-tails at dawn gentlemen! Tally ho! heh heh heh

  • Antfarm

    Please behave, wait for the school bell to ring to settle your differences. Imagine the time/cost wasted – fire the lot of them. Is that way they have to increase our call cost? 8ta here we go.

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