– 7 November 2012

The scene opens in a futuristic type tunnel, where nattily dressed man steps out from a computer generated symbol that appears to be part of a logo. As he starts walking closer towards the audience he’s saying: “When it comes to staying in touch, staying in one place isn’t an option.”

There’s a network of neurons adjacent to him that glow, and almost appear alive. Words flash in Google-esque type frames and a dynamic red orb appears and rotates around the man, who’s wearing glasses because he’s intelligent – you see? But a T-shirt under his casual suit which means he’s smart, yet accessible. Trendy, yet timeless.

The erudite protagonist continues amidst orbs that become liquid, and then immediately resume their more firm form: “Wherever your day takes you. From talking business to catching up on the home front, you need all your devices – laptop, desktop, smartphone and tablet – to work together. Keeping you connected – anytime, anywhere. It’s not complicated. It’s the journey to convergence.”

Telkom TV ad

If you don’t know which brand this ad belongs to, would you be able to guess?

Is it an ad for an ahead of the pack bank that’s enabling special discounts on mobile devices for a consumer market that wants to process payments and take care of their finances on the go? Or is it a new campaign for an internet solutions provider that’s touting that turn of the century catch-all for the brand new digital world, that word ‘convergence’.

Let me put you out of your misery – here’s the pay off line for this week’s advertisement:
“All your communication needs – voice, data, mobile, fixed line and cloud – in one place. Convergence from Telkom – one solution, one service provider.”

There are a couple of serious problems with Telkom’s new ad. First off there’s the fact that we’ve all seen this advert so many times before. Yes it is another variant of the Telkom ‘DO Broadband’ TV ad, and the many, many other ads for internet service providers, banks and telecommunications companies that have used this approach to show some sort of forward thinking positioning.
Secondly it is another in a series of advertisements that doesn’t really position Telkom with any real sense of continuity. Over the years we’ve had the Telkom talking dog which was incredibly endearing, the Telkom closer ad, the musically hip and infections soccer world cup ad, and of course Telkom’s corporate ad which told us all that the telecoms giant was about ‘more than just technology.’ My own personal favourite was the Telkom ‘waya waya’ ad because it was so wonderfully local.

Make no mistake, these adverts have all been superbly crafted, but they’re missing that golden thread that unifies a great, enduring campaign like MTN’s campaigns which are unmistakably created for the yellow network or Vodacom’s perennial campaigns that have been so solidly focussed. This is fairly ironic given that Telkom was a partner in Vodacom’s launch with Vodafone. Telkom sold Vodacom in 2008 and started its own mobile network, called 8ta.

The malady that infects Telkom’s ad campaign is symptomatic of its bigger corporate problems. Since the formerly government owned company privatised and listed on the Johannesburg Stock exchange, it has had five different CEOs. The most recent departure of a Telkom CEO was on Monday 05 November 2012.

Telkom announced that Pinky Moholi was set to leave as the company’s leader and the share dropped with analysts saying that her departure was a blow to the telecommunications giant that was lumbering, and struggling to turn around.

Moholi left, it appears, because of ongoing government interference in the company which made it impossible for her to implement an effective turn-around plan. The government wants to have its cake and eat it when it comes to Telkom. It wants the company to be privatised and listed, but it also wants to appoint whomever it wants as CEO, and on the board. At the time of writing this Telkom is rudderless and doesn’t have a CEO or a chairperson. It is also short of a couple of board members.

Looking at the company it seems like advertising is the least of its problems. The organisation has no clear strategy, its share price is ailing, and it seems to be going nowhere. The advertising for Telkom merely reflects this confusion. And not even the smartest advertising agency in the world could do something constructive about Telkom’s image until it sorts itself out.