29 FEB. 2016
Color Wars: Multi-Branded Strategy in French Telecommunications
Some industries seem to share similar obsessions.
In the last few years of the automotive sector there have been great debates about geographic origins, with the technology of German cars and Volkswagen’s famous “Das Auto” slogan (which is about to disappear), the Latin lifestyle emphasized by Fiat and Seat, or Renault and its “French Touch”.
In the telecommunications sector, brands tend to focus more specifically on colors. Three of the major telecom operators in France have their own specific and differentiated corporate colors: formerly known as France Telecom, the group progressively rebranded as Orange and opted for a dramatic face lift with its bright orange logo. SFR (France’s second largest telecommunications company) has incorporated its corporate color in the name of some of its “Red” packages. Finally, Bouygues Telecom has always kept blue as a dominant color, even if its logo recently underwent some minor modifications.
But since February 16, SFR’s RED offer has unexpectedly gone green.
To better understand this striking change, let’s first have a quick look back.
Everything started in 2011 as the French mobile landscape saw the arrival of a new actor, Free Mobile. Thanks to a clever disruptive strategy, Free rapidly gained market shares and pushed the three well-established operators to offer low-cost, no-contract monthly plans exclusively available online.
This raised several crucial questions for all mobile operators: How to compete with Free Mobile with a low-cost offer while maintaining the existing core offer? Should this new low-cost offer be completely different than what the umbrella brand is already providing or should there be a link between them? Foundationally, the three main telecom providers developed new product brands in line with a House of Brands strategy, creating independent identities for their new offerings. Analyzing their names and visual identities provides useful insights for understanding these three telecom companies’ strategies.
Orange launched Sosh, an unusual name (borrowed from the word “social”, but which essentially evokes a code name or a rallying cry) with a significantly different identity from the original. However, if we take a closer look, there is actually a connection between the two brands: in both cases, the names use white lower case letterforms on a colorful rectangular background. The letter “o” present in Sosh also echoes the “O” in Orange, and the tagline clarifies their relationship. With its blue background, Sosh adopted a complementary approach to its parent brand, showing a more assertive side (with a bold typeface, the capital letter “S” and the name occupying the entire rectangle), shifting from a serious, classic image to something more quirky (for instance, the rectangle in the logo is slightly inclined).
In a word, while they share similar values, Sosh could be defined as Orange’s crazy, unconventional cousin, with its unique visual identity and personality.
Bouygues Telecom unveiled B&YOU during the same period but adopted a different strategy, insisting on the affiliation between the two offers. First, the brand kept the letter B at the start of both names, creating a phonetic and visual link with the original brand. Similarities do not stop here: both logos use blue as their main color even if B&YOU progressively turns into green, and the tagline “an idea by Bouygues Telecom” reinforces their mutual relationship. Just like Sosh, B&YOU is bolder, more connecting and highlights the idea of a social and individual relationship.
B&YOU could be referred to as Bouygues Telecom’s web-savvy, millennial son.
For its initial strategy, SFR’s non-binding offer was strongly associated with the original brand. Called “Red by SFR”, it immediately evoked the parent brand through its bold color identity. Using a similar typeface of white capital letters on a red rectangular pattern similar to the original brand, RED by SFR unambiguously showed its relationship to the parent brand – in this particular market situation, it did not have sufficient differentiating elements to emerge as an independent concept.
Interestingly enough, all three actors adopted different strategies:
- Weak relation: Orange/Sosh: the non-binding offer is complementary of the original brand but has its own distinctive identity.
- Average relation: Bouygues/B&YOU: the non-binding offer is another arm of the original brand but slowly tries to impose its own personality.
- Strong relation: SFR/RED: the non-binding offer is an integral part of the parent brand.
So what is behind SFR’s new green strategy?
By analyzing the new identity, we can notice that the name ‘RED’ creates a link with SFR’s institutional codes: both have similar structures with three capital letters sharing R as a common letter. But the new RED logo asserts its personality by breaking ties with the original red square background, using bright green to create something more open and without any boundaries. The new typography is bold and the brand plays with letters to create a symbol that reminds us of an electric plug or an emoticon. We can feel SFR’s desire to create a unique concept in line with the codes of simple, essential, hassle-free offers emerging in other industries. Choosing green as the main color is also a radical breakdown from both a visual and meaning perspective. This move matches the latest design trends leaning upgrade towards cooler, fresher colors that convey a sense of simple and quiet happiness.
SFR thus managed to create an autonomous brand disconnected from the parent brand. However, when looking at all the no-contract mobile phone offers available on the market today, we can see that the differentiation between the three brands is less pronounced than it used to be since they are now all using surprisingly similar color palettes.
In an effort to differentiate from their parent brands, the sub-brands ironically created a color scheme in tune with each other. Are blue-green hues becoming symbols for a low-cost, simple phone plans in the French market?
See here for more on multi-branded strategy.