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“Silly” remark by Everything Everywhere chief lets slip truth about T-Mobile brand

An open letter to Everything Everywhere CEO Olaf Swantee (pictured):

‘Dear Mr Swantee

How do these female Telegraph journalists do it? Trap you into saying things you didn’t really mean to say, that is? Not many months ago, coalition government business secretary Vince Cable was silly enough to tell two such hackettes that Mr Murdoch’s empire was thoroughly evil and that he was going to put a stop to it, just when he was supposed to be impartially adjudicating the self-same Mr Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB.

Now you, too, have been very silly. Or, to be more precise, you have been caught rubbishing Everything Everywhere, the brand name of the company where you are chief executive.

Here are the very words you used, as reported by the delightful Katherine Rushton:

“Everything Everywhere is not a brand, it’s a silly name with a stopping effect”, he said, although he maintained it was useful for stores which house the two mobile brands.”

Now I know what you’re going to say; in fact what you have said: just like poor old Vince, you were quoted out of context. His context was entrapment; yours we’re going to work on a bit – just in case there’s any misunderstanding.

The first thing I’d like to say is that we are all right behind you. Not only do we admire the candour of someone in so senior and responsible a position voicing what we have all long since judged to be the case (just, as it happens, we did with Mr Cable). We are also quite prepared to accept that journalists, with their obsession for compression, tend to miss the bigger picture.

I expect, when you were describing your company as “silly”, what you were really doing was employing the time-honoured rhetorical trope of synedoche: using the part as shorthand for the whole. It’s not Everything Everywhere the brand that is “silly” with “a stopping effect”, but the brand strategy behind it. That, surely, is the bigger picture you were searching for, but dared only allude to. (Though how you came to employ such over-sophisticated language in front of a journalist, I cannot imagine.)

Right from the beginning, that brand strategy has been misconceived, hasn’t it?

I mean, the initial idea was all right as far as it went: putting together two failing UK mobile telecoms brands in one brand-new holding company and, overnight, transforming yourself into UK leader by customers, ahead of those snake-oil people at O2. What a clever sleight of hand, and one that avoided Orange and T-Mobile experiencing serious difficulty with the competition authorities into the bargain.

The trouble is, your predecessor Tom Alexander wasn’t allowed to go far enough by his twin masters, France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom, and you’ve been left to clear up the mess. 50:50 ventures never work, do they? Still, you’ve done what you can within the agreed terms. You’ve swept away all those unnecessary backroom boys and girls, stripped out excess infrastructure, rationalised the shops, brushed up the margins, cleansed the boardroom of useless, nay-saying, former T-Mobile executives and ploughed on with a leaner, meaner Orange team. Yes, Sirree, having worked at HP before you joined France Télécom, you know just about everything there is to know about consolidating tired, low-growth companies.

But one thing they haven’t let you do is to slay the elephant in the room. Yes, I know what you said when you took over earlier this year:

“The T-Mobile customers want a flexible payment and usage system. The Orange customers want a predictable amount paid every month. There is a clear difference.”

But the justification for that difference is becoming less and less apparent, isn’t it? Look at your latest, Q3, figures: pre-paid, plummeting; contracts up. It’s as clear as day to the rest of us. T-Mobile’s days are numbered, aren’t they?

Truth to tell, Orange is and always has been much the stronger brand; better serviced too. Maybe, if there hadn’t been all that fudging at the beginning by your corporate masters, then the figures would have been a lot better than they are today. The brand hierarchy certainly would have been. Without T-Mobile to worry about, poor old Tom would never have had a nervous breakdown trying to justify the vacuous sticking-plaster of Everything Everywhere – as the best of all branding in the best of possible worlds, when it patently wasn’t.

No wonder you let slip your frustration with a “silly”, unguarded remark.’

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.
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