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Vodafone Described As Australia’s “Most Toxic” Client

Vodafone has been described as Australia’s “Most Toxic” client after the struggling carrier has again called for yet another advertising agency pitch.

This normally happens when a carrier is losing share or cannot make it through the clutter of their competitors.

According to leading marketing site Mumbrella Vodafone, is well on its way to becoming Australia’s most disliked client, with many agencies now unwilling to put their names forward as it searches for its fifth creative agency in just six years.


After only two years the big red carrier who at one stage was described as one of the worst carriers in Australia after earning the nickname “Vodafail” due to constant network failures, has parted Company with current creative agency Cummins & Partners.

Ironically the appointment of Cummins & Partners is still up in the Media section of the Vodafone web site.

See Here.

Vodafone said when appointing Cummins & Partners in 2014, that the agency had won the pitch due to the clarity with which its team demonstrated a deep understanding of the brand’s strategic direction, supported by a strong creative idea and innovative go-to-market approach.

“Cummins&Partners impressed us with their ability to deliver a strategic, creative idea that can be executed in an engaging way,” said Sarkar. “Most importantly, there’s a great synergy evident between our two teams. We look forward to working together.”

Mumbrella said that the problem is so bad at Vodafone that three of the incumbents have either declined to re-pitch for the business or resigned the account.

Last week saw the departure of Vodafone’s chief marketing officer, Loo Fun Chee, sparking a restructure which sees sales and marketing brought together under the leadership of Ben McIntosh a former Harvey Norman executive.

The big problem for McIntosh is that Vodafone sales are set to come under pressure from Amazon later this year, in the US Amazon is one of the largest sellers of smartphones.

Simon Canning writing for Mumbrella said that the brand may by default end up back with its global agency partner WPP, which has held the local account on no fewer than three separate occasions.

In the past Vodafone Australia, has employed JWT, Moon, One Barrack Street (set up by STW to service the entire Vodafone account), Colenso in New Zealand, Clemenger, Host, Ogilvy and until December, Cummins & Partners.

“It is a pattern of agency turnover that is unparalleled” wrote Canning.

One former agency head put the nature of the relationship in one-syllable terms that MUmBRELLA chose not to publish but it does begin with “F”

Another agency head with experience of Vodafone said the company doesn’t have a clear idea of the space it is competing in.

“The reason is everyone thinks financial services and telcos are like FMCG, but they are not as organised as retailers,” he said.

“With retailers, they know what they are doing a long time out and they tell you. Telcos, want it fast and cheap, but they don’t know when it’s coming.

“It’s like drinking from a fire hydrant, its full on or off and there are too many marketing teams.

“I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.”

The Vodafone rot perhaps began to set in when 3 and Vodafone came together to form a single brand in 2009.

Clemenger had won the Vodafone account in 2008, and then was forced to pitch against 3’s agency, Cummins Nitro, for the merged business, emerging victorious.

However less than a year later another review was called – the third in 18 months – and Clemenger resigned the business angered at having been put through another pitch. It would not be the last time news of the loss the Vodafone account would be greeted with cheers at an agency.

Host emerged with the business, but two years later was stunned by the move of the account to Ogilvy in what was described by Jana Kotatko, general manager of brand and communications, as an “efficiency measure”.

One commentator on the story of Ogilvy’s win said on Mumbrella at the time: “They abandon agencies like they abandon ad campaigns judging by the plethora of mixed messages they send to market. Start your two-year clock now Ogilvy”.

Another observer who has worked with the brand said Vodafone’s direction had been affected by the background of the marketers it used and reliance on a global template.

“They have suffered under wave after wave of non-telco marketers, FMCG marketers,” he said.

Another observer told Mumbrella, that “With the culture internally there is a lack of knowledge about ‘Where does this Vodafone brand stand in Australia?’ It’s really sad, any challenger brand should do well in this market. There is a corrosive culture that starts from wanting to protect a business rather than grow a brand.”

Agency frustration with the client may not be limited to Vodafone.

“You look at Optus and the long-term relationships,” another observer claims.

“Everyone in the village is frustrated and the marketing is fragmented. And Telstra? How quickly you forget. DDB is competing with The Monkeys and the work is what suffers. Agency collaboration is a myth.”

Another long-term agency boss summed up the challenge of working with telcos.

“It’s like having an affair with a mad woman,” he said.

“But a lot of it comes down to who you work with. All the telcos seem to attract poor marketing staff. It’s low calibre. Some of them say they are just taking danger money.”

Twice in its history, Vodafone has been used by agencies to open new offices or entirely new businesses devoted to the brand, only to see the Vodafone pitch clock countdown to another review.

One Barrack Street was a bespoke offer created by STW (now WPP) for the brand, while Cummins & Partners based the opening of its Sydney office on the win.

No agencies are admitting to chasing the Vodafone account now. Not least because of the alarm it might create for staff. However, sources say a number of agencies have decided the account is simply not worth the effort.

As a result, because of its global ties, one of WPP’s myriad of agencies may well emerge with the business – perhaps by default.

But whoever gets the business, set the clock. Two years is the benchmark for Australia’s most toxic brand.

In a comment piece on Mumbrella one former agency executive said ‘I worked with Vodafone long before the 3 mergers. Over a 3-year period they had 5 creative agencies. One time someone at Vodafone asked me to recommend a PR agency. I told them that I honestly couldn’t think of anyone they hadn’t burned already”.

As a media, Company 4Square Media has found Vodafone PR to be toxic and manipulative. If you don’t write a positive story they complain.

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