As Etisalat Nigeria Transforms to 9Mobile…


The name change in the brand identity of Etisalat Nigeria to 9Mobile has continued to elicit responses from stakeholders, who are of the view that the move, which is inevitable, may create some financial burden on the telecoms company, but it is not an evolutionary phase that cannot be weathered, writes Emma Okonji

When an organisation with high reputation is faced with the unexpected, which is threatening its continued existence as a corporate body, such organisation must rise to decisively deal with the situation, in order to maintain the confidence reposed in it by its followers, and such is the case with the former Etisalat Nigeria and its over 20 million subscribers, that culminated in a new brand identity, 9Mobile, last week.

Worried that the change in brand identity would pose additional financial burden on the telecoms company that is struggling to address its financial mess, the company has made bold to say that it saw the name change coming. The name change became inevitable, following the withdrawal of Abu-Dhabi-based Emirates Telecommunications Group Company (Etisalat Group), from the shareholding structure of Etisalat Nigeria, leaving the other two core investors, Mubadala Development Company of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services (EMTS), made up of Nigerian group of investors.

Such situation that proved inevitable, forced the former Etisalat Nigeria to change its brand identity to 9Mobile, last week.

Name Change
Last week, Abu-Dhabi-based Emirates Telecommunications Group Company (Etisalat Group), which hitherto owned 45 per cent stake and 25 per cent preference shares in Etisalat Nigeria, gave EMTS a three-week ultimatum to stop using the Etisalat brand name for its telecoms business in Nigeria. The ultimatum, which was announced by the Chief Executive Officer of Etisalat International, Mr. Hatem Dowidar, is sequel to the group’s earlier withdrawal from the shareholding structure of Etisalat Nigeria, following the collapse of negotiations between Etisalat Nigeria and its lenders that are made up of 13 local banks, who had in 2013, gave Etisalat the sum of $1.2 billion loan for its network upgrade and expansion. Citing economic downturn of 2015-2016 and naira devaluation, which negatively impacted the dollar-denominated component of the loan, Etisalat wrote its creditors informing them of its intention to halt the repayment of the loan in installments, until such a time that it was able to raise more money.

Unsatisfied with the excuse from Etisalat, the banks threatened to take over the operations of the telecoms company should it fail to meet its payment obligations.

The situation forced Etisalat to enter into negotiations with the banks, but such negotiations eventually collapsed, leading to the withdrawal of Emirates Telecoms Group, and the resignation of every member of the former Etisalat Board and its former management staff.

Although the ultimatum to stop using Etisalat brand name came barely two weeks after the group’s withdrawal, EMTS told THISDAY that it expected such pronouncement, having pulled out of the shareholding structure. It however said it would not wait till the expiration of the three weeks ultimatum, to adopt a new brand identity for the Nigerian operations.
True to its statement, EMTS, last Thursday, had a meeting in Lagos, where it adopted 9Mobile as the new brand identity for its Nigeria operations.

An insider source, however, revealed that the choice of name, though impromptu, was pretty difficult to decide on, bearing in mind, the philosophy of the telecoms company and its targeted youth audience. The source said 9Mobile was coined out from one of the companies earliest television commercials (TVC), 080-9ja4life, which was used to roll out its commercial service in the country in 2008, making it the fourth entrant of telecoms operators into the Nigerian GSM space.

The TVC, which was released by popular musician, Banky W. on September 29, 2008, made a great hit among Nigerian youths and was used by Etisalat to usher in its brand identity in Nigeria.

It was gathered that EMTS, after a long deliberation on the choice of name, settled for 9Mobile and adopted it as its new brand identity for its Nigeria operation, following the three weeks ultimatum given it.
Some of its subscribers, however, suggested that 9jaMobile would have been an ideal name change, if EMTS had consulted widely.

Worried that the name change in the brand identity of 9Mobile may cost the growing telecommunications company a huge sum of money, some stakeholders are of the view that the situation may further plunge the company into more difficult financial situation, since branding of complete identity, comes with huge financial obligations.

In the first instance, the company will design and launch a new logo, change its brand colour and rebrand all its friendship centres across the country. It will change stationery, branded products, including newspaper and online adverts, to reflect the new brand identity, and all these, come with huge financial obligations, an industry expert told THISDAY.

An insider source said a media campaign break on the telecoms company was due to run on all major newspapers this week, but that the company had to put it on hold, with plans to redesign the artwork to reflect the new brand identity.

In line with the thinking and fears of its subscribers, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, also told THISDAY that corporate brand change comes with huge financial obligations, but said such is the challenge that the telecoms company must face in order to free itself from the situation it finds itself. “It is unfortunate that the former Etisalat Nigeria has to go through the rigour of brand identity, but the truth is that it has to deal with the situation and come out of it, while still in business,” Adebayo said.

He, however, advised the management of 9Mobile to try and cushion the financial effect that will come with it, by addressing the name change in phases, rather than wanting to change everything concerning the telecoms company at the same time.
He wished the management of 9Mobile success in its moment of trials and assured management of ALTON’s support for the brand.

Few hours after the adoption of a new brand identity, THISDAY gathered that contractors have started sending their business quotations to the management of 9Mobile for contracts ranging from supply of stationery, T-shirts, logo design and colour, product branding and the branding of its friendship centres across the country, to reflect the new name.

An insider source, who confirmed it, said although the management is yet to decide on the contract and supplies, it is something that it must have to contend with.