Mobile war intensifies

2011-04-21 00:00

How much damage has Grant Jacobsen done with his disparaging campaign for Cell C poking fun at his former employer – Draftfcb – and former client Vodacom? South African courts are notoriously tight-fisted with defamation claims, but in instigating court action against Jacobsen, Vodacom Group [JSE:VOD] has signalled it takes this case very seriously.

On the face of it, it’s no more serious than numerous other cases that normally end up with a slap on the wrist for the offending agency from the Advertising Standards Authority. But Draftfcb/Vodacom is expected to argue there are a couple of points of vital difference.

For one, Jacobsen worked on the Vodacom account before going to DDB – where he’s working on the Cell C account – and could have taken with him invaluable information about Vodacom’s strategy and thinking. For another, Cell C’s on-screen persona – comedian Trevor Noah – sniffs that the Vodacom rebranding was nothing more than “a lick of paint”, whereas Vodacom could argue it was merely the first stage of a lengthy process. While knowing that, Cell C nevertheless may have portrayed the Vodacom campaign as superficial and unprofessional.

Why is DDB involved anyway? Ogilvy won the R200m Cell C account after ending up with DDB on a shortlist of two. And while Ogilvy is the lead agency, DDB works on individual projects.

Is this the first time in advertising history a creative person parodied his own work? Jacobsen, now executive creative director at DDB, is being sued in his personal capacity. But Draftfcb doesn’t feel DDB has offended. Both parties have decided not to comment further.

Online responses show little sympathy for Vodacom, claiming the re-branding was a badly kept secret. Yet questions were raised about pulling the line “SA’s leading network” – which may point to some inside knowledge.

Cell C CEO Lars Reichelt posted this comment: “Some are faster than others.” He hasn’t been shy to enter public discussions about the cellphone wars on other sites.

The campaign was launched soon after Vodacom unveiled its re-branding, showing its old blue being painted over in its new red. Portia Maurice, chief officer of corporate affairs at Vodacom, says R200m has been budgeted for a range of initiatives designed to improve the customer experience and brand identity.