Tuesday, October 26, 2021

From Hutch to Vi – An Endearing History

Vodafone’s recent evolution into “Vi” is the latest step in the brand’s long trail of evolution. Prabhakar Mundkur takes a quick look back

At least in recent times no brand, and particularly a telecom brand, has gone through so many changes in its name and identity as Vi has.

It started in the 1990s with Hutch Essar in Delhi and Max Touch in Mumbai (later became Orange in Mumbai, and then Vodafone). Then Vodafone merged with Idea to become Vodafone-Idea and now the same brand is Vi. Indeed, a long history for a telecom brand. There is one constant though. Ogilvy has always been the brand’s advertising agency through its many avatars. Orange was a brand owned by France Telecom.

In December 1999, the two companies entered into a licensing agreement on trademark use for Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Kalyan. The telecom structure of various circles is partly responsible for the large proliferation of telecom brand names in the Indian telecom industry in the early stage of telecom history.

However, as the industry grew there was consolidation, and mergers and acquisitions have resulted now in a handful of telecom brand names in the country.

One of the most endearing campaigns released by Orange overseas was “The future is bright. The future is Orange.” It was a popular campaign that ran for many years.

But perhaps the most likeable campaign run by the brand was when they changed to Vodafone in 2007.


The pug became a very lovable mascot for the Vodafone brand. In fact, the campaign was so popular that people started adopting pugs as their favourite dog brand. Before Vodafone hardly anyone used to look for pugs in the pet market. The pug in the advertising even had a name – Cheeka.

The brief to the advertising agency, Ogilvy was to demonstrate the speed and reach of the Vodafone network. Early Vodafone advertising had a young boy and his sister following everywhere, signifying the customer and the network. Later the sister was replaced by a pug. I am sure everyone wonders why a pug? But the creative teams did look at other alternatives like Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers and Labradors. But the choice seemed to have finally fallen on a pug which until that point of time at least was not a very popular choice for a pet. Pugs look cute but are not credited with being the smartest dogs in the dog kingdom!

What the pug as a mascot managed to do was to make a tech product very human. The Vodafone brand was able to tell very human emotional stories which brought the brand very close to its customers.

It is easy to predict the brand names that companies can take during mergers. Experience has shown some proven ways to handle branding during merges and acquisitions.

Single Dominant Brand

The merger can decide to go after the more predominant brand if having only one name is a priority. In this case, Vodafone at that time being second largest telco as well as an international brand, one possibility would have been to retain Vodafone and drop Idea but obviously Idea being a very strong partner, this is not the route the new merger could take. When Allied Signal acquired Honeywell, they decided that the new company should be called Honeywell since it was the predominant name with stronger equity.

Sometimes some brands need to distance themselves from the bad PR created by another brand. So when Dow Chemicals bought over Union Carbide they decided to keep away from the Union Carbide name which got bad PR globally because of the Bhopal gas tragedy.

Double Barrel-Brand Name

The other route that most mergers take is to retain both brand names especially if both are relatively strong and have a large equity in the market. So they could go with a name like Vodafone-Idea. Lyondell Basell followed this approach. Lyondell was a US-based company with strength in petrochemicals whereas the European based Basell was strong in polyolefins. Each company, therefore, catered to different markets much like Vodafone and Idea where Idea was stronger in the small towns and Vodafone was stronger in cities.

Similarly, when Vivendi’s Universal Entertainment merged with GE’s NBC, the new entity was called NBC Universal.

When Mittal Steel bought over Arcelor, they decided to name the company ArcelorMittal because Arcelor was a better known global brand with strong European equity. The only constraint that companies face in a double barrel brand name is that the two brand names are different typefaces and the new brand name must have a single unified typeface. each brand name might have its own symbol as in the case of Vodafone and Idea. So if the double barrel brand name requires a symbol that needs to be looked at strategically.


New Brand Name to Signal a New Market Position

Typically a new brand name is considered by merged entities because there is a new market position that makes itself available to the merged entity. This happened with the merger of Ciba Geigy and Sandoz which merged to form a new brand called Novartis. Some chemical businesses of Ciba Geigy were sold after the merger to the new pharma giant.

After the merger, Novartis became the second largest pharmaceutical company after GlaxoWellcome in 1996.

So the final name of Vi is not a surprise. This is the way most companies go after a merger. A new name. Their slug line “ Together for tomorrow” is very promising and I am sure the brand will see some more exciting campaigns in the future.

Prabhakar Mundkur
Prabhakar Mundkur is an advertising veteran, a lateral thinker, storyteller and musician. A coffee aficionado, husband and a father of two, he also describes himself as dogs’ best friend.

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