Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Warring telcos need magic touch

Never mind who's legally 'best' - customers just want just want good, cheerful service

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

Anyone who thinks of advertising and marketing as dark arts will find plenty of grist for their mill in the works of magician and author Lionel Snell, aka Ramsey Dukes - the "high saint of Chaos Magick".

Dukes wrote, in his seminal work S.S.O.T.B.M.E (Sex Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed) that the idea of branding being more important than the actual product "is itself a Magical principle of such profundity to almost amount to a definition of Magic itself".

He argued that "marketing specialists feel compelled to justify their advice as 'scientifically sound', when it's pretty obvious that they and many others are actually practising magic".

The type of magic Dukes was thinking of had little to do with incense, barbaric conjurations and ritual sacrifice (though all of those do sound a lot like the machinations of a modern marketing department) and were more about how the human mind attempts to operate upon its world, using feelings and hunches rather than so-called logic and scientific rationality.

Put aside thoughts of animal sacrifice, long beards and tarot cards, and you'll see that this "magical" explanation for the success or failure of various marketing and ad campaigns is right on the money. Someone should tell Telecom and Vodafone New Zealand that attempting to shoot down each other's ad campaigns by clagging up the High Court is the wrong way of conjuring up the "magic" envisaged by Ramsey Dukes, or any worthy marketing practitioner.

To summarise: Telecom is up in arms about a new Vodafone advertising campaign for its SuperNet, which boasts the company's infrastructure is the "best fixed-line network", and it is also in a snit about Vodafone calling its Wellington and Christchurch cable network "Ultrafast Broadband".

In itself, this may or may not be a fair complaint by Telecom, but it has been preceded by such a litany of similar cases by both companies in the highest courts of the land that it is hard to think anything other than "oh bloody hell - again?" when faced with the latest iteration.

True, the Commerce Commission has weighed in several times, adding heft to the various complaints: pinging Vodafone nearly $1.5 million for various Fair Trading Act breaches - and hitting Telecom for breaches of the same act.

But the court cases, I submit, suggest that Telecom and Vodafone are both more inwardly focused on keeping their large contingent of lawyers in employment, and clobbering each other with "objective" arguments, rather than ensuring, say, that their customer service reps are easy to get hold of and universally helpful, or that their costs are fair and reasonable.

There may be some customers who really want to know that they are indeed on the "best network" or the "widest network", but they are outnumbered, I would wager, by those of us who just want to be provided a good service, reasonably cheerfully.

Which brings us back to Ramsey Dukes, who in his wisdom says the job of the rationalist - perhaps in this instance the lawyers representing each company - is to "clarify perceptions, but not to change them". For the more important task of changing perceptions, according to Dukes, what you need is magic.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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