From an African perspective, the story stays the same. With just 22percent internet connectivity, the continent remains far behind other continents. Experts have highlighted education, little to no electrical infrastructure, income inequalities, and the growth of urban areas due to migration as part of some of the social and political factors that contribute to Africa’s growing digital divide.
In bridging the gaping divide, the World Bank’s vice president for Eastern and Southern Africa, Hafez Ghanem, is quoted as saying, “Let us be clear: No single actor will be able to meet Africa’s 2030 target and carry the burden of a $100 billion investment funding requirement alone.” The World Bank estimates that Africa will require an investment, totalling $100 billion to plug every citizen into the internet by 2030.
In Nigeria, companies like Google, CChub, Andela, StarBridge Africa, Microsoft and Intel, are working in collaboration with government agencies, and proposing governmental policies such as salary enhancement and social security, to get in front of the country’s lag in digital literacy.
Another company at the forefront of the African continent’s digital economy is MTN. On May 16, 2001, Nigeria recorded its first-ever call on a GSM network. MTN Nigeria, then still a plucky upstart, was responsible for this milestone. In the 21 years since then, it has been impossible to tell the story of the growth of Nigerian telecoms and technology without mentioning MTN front and centre. There were incredibly successful marketing promotions such as the legendary “BOGOF” (Buy One Get One Free), which permanently changed the existing perception that mobile telecoms were for rich people.
There were iconic advertising campaigns such as the unforgettable ‘Y’ello Christmas’ and ‘Mama Na Boy’ television commercials, which captured the imagination of Nigerians. There was the introduction of mobile internet services to a Nigerian market that was hitherto pretty much entirely offline. Less recognised but no less important were the steady reductions in call and SMS rates, and later the crashing of internet bundle prices, which eventually brought all but a negligible fraction of Nigeria’s population online.
Through all of this, MTN’s distinctive logo remained ubiquitous alongside the tagline “Everywhere you go.” The inference of the brand messaging throughout this period was an unsubtle reference to the company’s unmatched ability to expand and achieve great value within the previously overlooked African market. Wherever on the continent, one saw the yellow, blue, white and red insignia, one knew that connection to the world existed. Now 21 years later, things are finally changing – and with good reason.
‘Ambition 2025’ and MTN’s new direction
A brand refresh – the process of a company changing its brand identity as part of an organisational refocus – is rarely this eye-popping in this part of the world. MTN’s striking new black and yellow logo, simple and sleek as it looks, was designed specifically to upend this convention for one very good reason. Explaining the reason, Chief Marketing Officer, MTN Nigeria, Adia Sowho says:
“Being a telco is just a small part of who we are. As we execute our Ambition 2025 strategy, we are shifting away from being a telco to a pan-African technology company, with capabilities as an integrated African digital platform company. This brand refresh is for MTN as a telco Masterbrand, which is our connectivity business and foundation on which the other platforms operate.”
So what is “Ambition 2025” exactly? According to the company, this is its strategy to move away from focusing primarily on providing voice, SMS and data services and toward a much wider future as a tech company. Unlike the classic tech startup which solves singular problems, MTN says it intends to build digital platforms that enable Africa’s progress across the telecom, fintech, fibre-data, API and content and messaging ecosystem. In other words, it intends to transition to a digital-first company.
An early preview of what Ambition 2025 looks like in practical terms is Ayoba, a free Android-based messaging app, designed specifically for an African audience. The clear message from MTN is that the challenge of connecting the whole of Africa to the world via telecoms services has been surmounted after 2 decades of hard, painstaking work. Now, in the style of every great institution that realises that it must continuously evolve or stagnate, MTN has found a new set of problems to solve in the African digital ecosystem.
Black and Yellow: What’s in a logo?
MTN’s new logo, which will replace the existing one at all online and offline touchpoints nationwide is more than a striking piece of brand imagery. The new logo has the goal of untethering the brand from its past identity and signifying its new positioning as a youth-driven brand. Out goes the square box, signifying the company’s departure from its previous identity as strictly a telco, and in, comes a sleek, Silicon Valley-style black oval outline.
Out go the italics, the red underscore and the solid blue colour of the oval. In comes a solid simple outline with just three simple letters – MTN. This is a nod to the company’s new focus on African digital spaces, which are entirely youth-driven. Explaining the considerations behind the redesigned logo further, General Manager, MTN Nigeria, Brand and Communication, Emamoke Ogoro says:
“In developing and designing this refresh, we are responding to the reality that whilst we were born into the analogue era, our customers today, spend much of their time in the social and digital world. So firstly, this refresh is to ensure that we respond to the requirements of our customers when they are immersed in their digital spaces. Secondly, our consumers are younger and were asking for a more dynamic, modern, simple and emotive MTN experience. Finally, the refresh is to trigger re-evaluation of MTN as more than a telco.”
Not limited to the logo, the refresh also affects the well-known tagline “Everywhere you go.” While the company will continue using this tagline across MTN’s massive footprint, its meaning will now be contextual, as opposed to simply a signature or payoff line denoting physical network coverage. The new tagline, “What are we doing today?” is a reference to the company’s new mission of building digital platforms to aid Africa’s digital industrialisation. Rather than speaking to a now-solved problem of connectivity across the continent, the new payoff line is a nod to a new era of progress made by Africans in partnership with MTN.
In the meantime, while the brand refresh is ongoing, the company has stressed that there is no impact whatsoever on regular service delivery. MTN customers are also not going to be impacted in terms of cost transfers from the exercise, because according to the company, the refresh itself falls within its annual approved marketing spend.
What is clear in MTN’s trajectory though, is the continuous commitment to providing its customers with top of the line digital solutions. Recent news stories emerged regarding the company’s launch of the Voice over Long-Term Evolution (VoLTE) call service, also referred to as HD (high definition) call. This innovation provides customers who own compatible devices with superior natural-sounding voice quality, reduced background noise and faster call connectivity. This will be a first of its kind from MTN, and it supports the company’s commitment to improving the overall customer experience.
It has been 21 short years since MTN Nigeria’s first-ever GSM call launched a new era of connectivity and economic growth resulting from new industries built around the IT ecosystem. As the company marks the successful completion of the initial challenge it set out to solve and launches into a new African digital era, the only question left to ask is “What are we doing today?”