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Please Advise! Burgess Tempers Big Telecom's Verizon Victory

Was the cell despots' jingoistic ad campaign against the US giant a success? Steve's got opinions.

Steve Burgess 5 Sep 2013TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Read his previous articles here.

[Editor's note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

We are Canada's big three cell phone companies. Recently, faced with what we perceived as a threat to our dominant position in the industry via the expected arrival of U.S. giant Verizon Wireless, we mounted a hysterical ad campaign using emotionally loaded nationalistic metaphors to whip up public support for our continued stranglehold on the Canadian wireless industry.

Now it turns out Verizon isn't coming to Canada after all. Did we win?

Sincerely,
Canada's Cellular Overlords

Dear CCOs,

Yes! Our sovereignty is secure and you can take all the credit. Like a three-headed Paul Revere, Bell, Rogers, and Telus galloped across the countryside warning of the foreign invader at the gates. Enough to frighten any Yankee interloper away.

Of course the comparison is not exact. If in 1775 Paul Revere had raced through the night shouting, "British silversmiths are undercutting my prices by 20 per cent! If this keeps up I won't be able to afford that bejewelled snuffbox I've had my eye on!", it is possible that New England freedom fighters might not have leapt so quickly from their beds.

Still, it was brilliant of you to take out full-page ads comparing the broadband spectrum to Canada's water supply. "If the government let a giant foreign corporation buy up half of Canada's water," your ads read, "you would be outraged." (Not even hypothetical, since Nestle Waters Canada currently pays bupkes for millions of litres of water it draws near Hope, B.C. and resells to us at prices that would make a Saudi prince blush. You guys should really get into the water biz.)

The anti-Verizon campaign was sponsored by a group called Fair For Canada, a grassroots organizations made up of ordinary, lunch-bucket Canadians who know what it means to work hard everyday at the PR firm hired by Bell, Rogers, and Telus. These dire warnings about foreign looters and pillagers were supposed to incite Canadians to patriotic anger. Unfortunately their impact was blunted by the fact that they were delivered from high atop Loot 'n Pillage Mountain, an Everest of gold dubloons plundered from helpless Canadian cell phone users by Bell, Rogers, and Telus.

Those ads might as well have read, "If the government let a giant foreign corporation sell half your children into slavery you'd be outraged. Canadian companies should sell them instead."

Frankly we poor plunderees don't much care who is turning us upside down and shaking. We would love to see foreigners give it a try if they'd plunder a bit more reasonably.

But it's all moot, it seems. Verizon will not storm the gates after all. Lucky for you, cellular overlords, since one analyst recently called your effort "one of the least effective lobbying/PR campaigns in history." You guys make Adrian Dix look like Bill Clinton.

That's not to say a foreign competitor won't make a move eventually. And considering the over 7,000 complaints received annually by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission about cell phone company service, you might spend the interim trying to win the favour of all those Canadians you have lately been trying to rally to your banner. You might expand coverage in under-served rural areas. You might try more competitive pricing. At the very least, Rogers, you could try to get Toronto a winning baseball team.

For now, relax. The threat is gone and you are once more free to deal with Canadian consumers as blue whales deal with krill. But at least have the courtesy to take out a new series of full page newspaper ads. These ones can say: "Never mind."  [Tyee]

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