9mobile:  The  Bone Set to Rise Again


Kasie Abone looks at the recent rebranding of Etisalat as 9Mobile and what this portends for the future of the brand as it strives to come out of its recent travails

Etisalat was a brand that resonated excitement and imagination . When it entered the Nigerian market in 2008 it did so with a lot of attitude and made no excuses about that. At the time, not a few gave it a chance to survive. But its promoters had huge confidence that the brand was set to reshape and redefine the telecom market. Despite the forebears who seemed to have consolidated in the market leaving no room for any late entrant, Etisalat launched into the market with a bragging tagline: ‘now you are talking.’

 The tagline was not only ambitious, audacious, creative and bold, it suggested that prior to its entry Nigerians were not enjoying quality talk time. And with that the network provided alternative services competitors were forced back to the drawing board to device strategies to contain this ambitious newcomer. But Etisalat seemed very prepared for the competition onslaught to follow.

Innovation and creativity the brand claimed were at the heart of its DNA, they claimed. From its theme song, to its unique innovative products to its dalliance with the youth market, to its creative award winning campaigns and other communication materials, Etisalat had within a short period of time penetrated the market to the awe of not a few observers. 9ja for Life became a theme song loved and danced by most Nigerians youth. It popularised the 9ja slogan. Adults too were not left out. 

The way the number 9 was woven in Etisalat campaign was brilliant, magical, innovative and creative said Amos Oladele, a brand strategist.  

And a year after its entrance into the market, Etisalat launched the most ambitious consumer promotions tagged 9Jillions campaign. The promotion promised and delivered millions of naira to winners. When the ultimate prize winner was announced, a University of Jos undergraduate, Kizito, was presented with his $1 million (equivalent of N150 million) at the time, that became a game changer for the brand. That combined with other freebies and innovative services, the network was soon to capture not only the youth market but also eat into the subscriber base of competitors.

Its former Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Steve Evans, at the re-launch of the 9ja For Life campaign had this to say: “We have grown to become one of 9ja’s favourite brands, this we couldn’t have done without meeting the aspirations of our customers. The unveiling of a new campaign theme, he said, is to further reinforce the uniqueness and also reinforce that Etisalat’s difference is not replicable. It is about an attitude and culture and is simply a way of life.

He reiterated Etisalat’s commitment to innovation, customer-focus and quality of service.

“Since our launch in 2008, we have continued to deliver on our promise to offer Nigeria high quality, innovative products and services supported by best in class customer care,” he reassured.

Evans also said that the philosophy of Etisalat has always been to put customers at the heart of its business and they have developed several innovative products and offerings including home zone, bonus on incoming calls, you & me, missed call notification, Easylife, Dotme, Dual SIM phones.

 “Our fast and reliable internet Easyblaze and the first truly low cost 3G Android Smartphone -the Gaga to name a few,” Evans added.

 Speaking on Etisalat’s world-class attitude, he said, as a caring brand, Etisalat, has demonstrated its customer focus through simple products, uncomplicated transparent tariff structures with no hidden costs, world class call centers, best in class retail outlets and partnership with major distributors nationwide to ensure that customers have easy access to the world.

“We have also paid a great deal of attention to building a quality network, and this is evident in the awards and endorsements we have received in the past.”

And the Sun Went Down

With the brand growing exponentially, the Etisalat brand managers went borrowing to meet up its ever changing needs of its growing subscriber base which at the moment stand at over 20 million. That attempt led the taking loan from a consortium of thirteen banks. And the loan was huge taken in both dollar and Naira denominations. The banks involved in the loan and the debt portfolio are Zenith Bank ($262 million and N80 billion), GTBank ($138 million and N42 billion), First Bank ($79 million and N24 billion), UBA ($125 million and N38 billion), Fidelity Bank ($56 million and N17 billion), Access Bank ($131 million and N40 billion), Ecobank ($10 million and N3.1 billion), FCMB ($15 million and N4.5 billion), Stanbic IBTC Bank ($25 million and N7.5 billion) and Union Bank. Sadly, recession crept in. The economic downturn took a huge toll on the brand; with high exchange rate, it became difficult to repay the loan.  

And like the saying goes “who goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing.” Faced with a $1.2 billion debt, its foreign partners, UAE Etisalat and Mudabala, left leaving only its local partner, Hakeem Bello-Osagie-owned Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services, EMTS Holding BV, and the brand to contend with the debt. With the intervention of Nigeria Telecommunication Commission (NCC) and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the brand was saved from total extinction.

The confidence of the promoters of the new brand 9mobile in staging a rebound was shared by DKK Nigeria CEO, Temitope Jemerigbe. In her submission she described the current state of the telecom as déjà vu adding:

“We’ve been here, several times, before. We all recall what happened with ECONET and the many epic name changes the brand went through. In the present case of Etisalat, I don’t think the situation will affect costumers’ confidence or anything like that. Yeah, there might be slow down in brand performance in the market place but as soon as they sort themselves out, the brand will take rebound. As a matter of fact, it might just be what the brand needs to shake off some lethargy and reinvent itself.” 

The Magic in a Number…

The Chief Executive Officer of 9mobile, Mr. Boye Olusanya, at a press briefing in Lagos explained that the choice of the brand name was strategic. The name he said reflects the “0809ja heritage,” “9ja-centricity”, and its “evolution over 9 years of operations in Nigeria. He added that the new brand identity reflects the bold and creative attributes which the brand shared with its valued subscribers.

The telco said that the new name and brand is a deliberate representation and confirmation of its Nigerian heritage and 9ja-centricity.  Although its name and brand changes, it assured its customers that the values on which it operates remain the same. For the new brand, life begins at 9.

“9 is significant with nature, the start of life, time of birth. 

From our entry into the market 9 years ago to our evolution 9 years after, we are still 0809ja. 9 stands for speed, quality, and excellence. If you’re looking to the future, you find it with 9. 9 gets you talking more, doing more, achieving more and living more. We are here for you, rebranded for you because it is all about you.”

He assured that the exit of the foreign partners does not in any way affect the operations of the brand as the local staff had in the past handled most of the functions. “The new logo, a number-themed one, represents resilience and continuity and also reflects the network’s futuristic perspective. 

The colour green, both its light and dark variants, reflects vibrancy, dynamism, life, and youth as well as the brand’s ‘Nigerianness’.”

Rebranding has commenced at all of the company’s offices, Experience Centres, online and physical touch points.