Suits keep flying in wireless service marketing wars
Telus claim that Bell ad is misleading the latest skirmish in cutthroat industry
In the latest round of the wacky wireless marketing wars, Telus Corp. has gone to court over ads in which a Bell Mobility beaver brags it has the most powerful network in Western Canada, without mentioning that Telus owns most of it.
Telus alleges it has suffered unspecified losses and claims Bell has benefited from the ad, which started running in newspapers on March 10, according to filings made by Telus this week in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
A letter to Bell complaining that the ad is misleading did not get results, Telus says in the court documents. So now it is seeking an injunction to stop the campaign.
“The cell industry is highly competitive in Canada, and part of that competition is aggressive marketing and advertising campaigns,” said Shawn Hall, a spokesman for Vancouver-based Telus. “But those campaigns have to be based on fact. And this one is not.”
Bell spokesman Paolo Pasquini declined to comment, saying the dispute is before the courts. But in a letter to Telus included in the filings, Bell said it didn’t claim ownership over the network referred to in the ad.
Building a wireless network is expensive, so Bell and Telus have agreements that let them use each other’s assets outside their home base so they can sell cellphone service across the country.
Butting heads over marketing is nothing new for this industry or for the critters that peddle their products.
Telus itself raised the ire of Virgin Mobile Canada earlier this month when it launched a new ad campaign, starring a monkey, that claimed Telus has the happiest clients. Virgin Mobile Canada, which says it has the happiest clients, sent a letter to Telus, asking it to prove its claim or pull the ads.
Telus, however, hasn’t withdrawn the ads, and Mr. Hall said the company believes the ads are “appropriate.”
Virgin Mobile Canada is considering legal action, according to the company’s chief marketing officer, Nathan Rosenberg.
“We’re disappointed they didn’t respond to our first letter to them and didn’t take this seriously,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
Another marketing dispute last year involved a television commercial that showed a cheetah representing Bell eating and then throwing up a hare representing Rogers Wireless. It was supposed to demonstrate which company had the quickest wireless Internet service. But Rogers took offence and filed a lawsuit, alleging the spot tarnished its brand.
Bell’s ad, one of a series featuring two beavers, in turn, has upset Telus.
In its filings, Telus said it comes at a critical time for advertising, considering that transferable cellphone numbers were just launched last week. The change could lead to an increase in customer turnover, since consumers can now keep their phone numbers when they switch carriers.
“They’re effectively claiming ownership of Telus facilities,” Mr. Hall said. “We just can’t let that go.”
Bell has its own network in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton, and uses the Telus network in the rest of Alberta and British Columbia, according to the Telus filings. The Bell ad doesn’t make that clear, Telus alleges. Telus says it is also concerned the ads make it look as if Bell has made big investments in Western Canada.
(Bell is a unit of Montreal-based BCE, which owns a minority interest in CTVglobemedia Inc., the owner of The Globe and Mail and CTV television network.)
“Bell is riding on the back of the investment that Telus has made and the goodwill that results from it with this advertising,” Mr. Hall said.
The ad wars reflect an industry that is still developing, according to Iain Grant, an analyst at telecom consultancy SeaBoard Group, who described it as a “great theatre.”
Humour, not lawsuits, may be the best way of dealing with such quarrels, he suggested.
“I look forward to the Telus ad that says it has the best network in the East,” he said, tongue in cheek.