No longer ‘leaving it to beaver’, Bell adopts a suffix as its new brand

Er . . . I just don’t get Bell’s new direction: bye-bye beav, hello er?

On Aug. 8, Bell launched a new brand with the opening of the Olympics. A new logo, tagline, and advertising campaign were initiated to support its new strategy and goal. George Cope, President and CEO of BCE and Bell Canada, said in a company release: “It’s a straightforward and customer-focused brand that directly supports the Bell team’s goal: To be recognized by customers as Canada’s leading communications company.”

In Quebec, they used the tagline “La vie est Bell.” The commonly used phrase translates to “life is beautiful” and means “life is good.” The direct substitution of the Bell logo for the adjective “belle” is indeed very straightforward and very clever.

The English campaign is not so linear. The tagline “Today just got better” is simple enough, but then they also introduced a spattering of words that end in “er” that are supposed to show how our lives are better with Bell. Faster, and easier, seem to work well, however, scratch the surface and the links start to get weaker and weaker. Suddenly the campaign also extends to highlighting “er” in the middle of words such as “Surf anywhere.” If you delve deeper on their website you’ll find gems like “the price is righter.”

Righter? Seriously?

A good campaign has legs, but it seems that this one is already on crutches after less than two months.

The teaser campaign in major markets showed ads hinting at the upcoming launch. Full and oversized billboard ads had nothing but the “er” buried in a corner along with portions of the Bell logo. For a viral campaign to work (people spread the word of it like a virus) it has to get people talking. People have been talking, but it has been quite critical, including being deemed inexplicable, vague, boring, or linked to the television show ER, or Dell. Most agree that it was too subtle.

Even when the full campaign launched, there were still a lot of questions, but the top two were — “what does ‘er’ mean?” And “what happened to the beavers?”

Bell voted Frank and Gordon, the animated beavers, off the corporate island and replaced them with two letters instead. When the beavers were introduced, I think it is safe to say that we all got the link that they were reminding us that Bell is a Canadian company. Beyond that, it seemed they were trying, less successfully, to follow Telus’ well-executed campaign using animals. I worried that when Bell announced the beavers were on their way out they would continue to parade a string of animal in ads to make us feel happier about Bell’s poor customer service, which is legendary in Canada.

Don’t get me wrong, there are positives to the campaign. The new look is very clean, and the website is simpler, but a return to a retro logo and highlighting two letters aren’t reestablishing their relationship with me as a customer.

One of my bigger problems with Bell is how inaccessible effective customer service is. I’m not a fan of Emily, Bell’s voice-recognition system, who greets my calls. I get so frustrated dealing with “her” that I am a little unnerved by the time I reach a real person.

Luckily, once a customer service representative tries to up-sell me on a service completely unrelated to why I called, my frustration is fully justified, I am madder. (I think I’m finally getting a hold on the “er” campaign.)

To connect with me as a customer, Bell would be better off investing in basic customer service. They have started to roll out same-day and next-day service on installations. I would prefer that it simply becomes easier to reach someone at Bell, faster to get resolution to my problems and for the whole experience to be pleasanter (sorry — I had to do it).

Bell isn’t alone in their rebranding and attempts to reconnect with customers lately. On Sept. 4, Microsoft launched their new teaser ad campaign featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. A series of “ads about nothing” led up to the unveiling of their new “life without walls” and “I’m a PC” campaigns.

So far, Microsoft is winning in terms of attempting to interact with users and listening to what they have to say. They have a more straightforward campaign and an innovative contest allowing customers to upload their own commercials. It remains to be seen, however, whether either company will recapture the hearts of their disillusioned users and build long-term, positive relationships with them.

After all, any marketer will tell you that brand is more about what you “are” than about what you say you “er.”

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