The big MTN revamp – How a popular brand is trying to evolve for the future

The big MTN revamp – How a popular brand is trying to evolve for the future
MTN is aiming for a fresh, contemporary, young and digitally dynamic new brand identity with its Feet commercial, for example. (Photo: Screengrab)

An agency group that is known for disruption has redesigned one of Africa’s most recognisable logos to help MTN reposition the brand.

Unmistakable, ubiquitous and often surprisingly simple: logos are the cornerstone of a brand’s visual identity. They set brands apart, and help solidify associations and perceptions in the minds of consumers and competitors.

In a rapidly expanding world, brands cannot remain static; they must evolve, be intuitive, and be in tune with their customers.

And when brands are undergoing their own evolution, it’s time to switch up.

Africa’s most valuable brand, MTN, recently launched its new identity, which entails not just a logo redesign but a refreshed platform design that drives simplicity and serves not only to position the brand globally but also to create in-country relevance across all 18 of its markets. It’s only the second refresh since its founding in 1994. The previous rebrand – in 2004 – saw MTN claim “sunshine yellow” as its colour, which became synonymous with the telco.

MTN group executive for marketing Bernice Samuels explained in MTN’s launch positioning video: “We have changed the way we see ourselves in our transformation from a telco to a technology company. We are also living in a completely different world: MTN was born in 1994, into an analogue era. Our customers today live in the social and digital space. And quite frankly, we don’t want to be left behind…

“Our competition has also changed. We don’t only compete with the telco down the road, we are now competing with the biggest digital brands across the planet. So it’s a battle for mindshare.”

The brand refresh also ushers in MTN’s Ambition 2025, which represents its evolution from network provider to technology company, through the development of fintech and digital-services platforms.

The logo redesign is part of an extensive communication platform design, which kicked off with digital and other media elements before the brand aired its positioning in a TV advert – with more to follow.

Committed to the MTN sunshine yellow, the back-to-basics logo now features black lettering framed inside an oval, with a question: “What are we doing today?”

The tagline, “Everywhere you go”, remains, but is now also a creative element. Here is an example of the old style.

Overhauling a full corporate identity is a huge challenge, especially for one of the continent’s most recognisable brands – and for the agency working on the project – because Africa is not a static market: It is geographically, ethnically, socially and culturally diverse, with a population in excess of 1.3 billion in 54 countries, who speak more than 2,000 living languages.

For agencies that have ambitions to do work of this magnitude, these projects require not only an agency with a scale advantage, but also experience in diverse markets such as Africa and the Middle East.

To renovate the brand, TBWA pulled together its agencies Yellowwood, Grid TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, and DDB as a collective, as well as affiliate agencies from across Africa.

“Messing” with a logo can be tricky when it is first released into the market.

“Social media always jumps on it and you inevitably have the brigade of either professional or amateur designers who claim the logo could have been designed in half an hour in Microsoft Word or Microsoft Paint – and they’re not entirely wrong in that assertion,” said Luca Gallarelli, group CEO of TBWA\South Africa. “But it’s the thought process and the reductionist thinking that allows you to get to such a simple place that is fully reflective of the brand.”

Luca Gallarelli, group CEO of TBWA\SA. (Photo: Supplied)

For any agency, such a brand refresh is a once-in-a-career opportunity.

“To reignite a brand like MTN on the continent takes a huge amount of intentional, orchestrated effort, and this brand refresh presented a unique opportunity to demonstrate this. Through the power of our collective, we are able to tap into our in-country teams to get in-depth, on-the-ground understanding of market nuances that resonate in each individual country,” the group told DM168.

Fresh, contemporary, young and digitally dynamic, the new brand identity, including the new energetic TV commercial called Feet, is centred on “doing” and asking: “What are we doing today?” It highlights MTN’s commitment not only to change and harnessing opportunity, but to providing the tools for people across the continent to “do” more.

It’s been a big year for TBWA. Days after being named to Fast Company’s prestigious annual list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2022, ranking No 1 in the advertising sector, among the likes of Canva, Roblox and SpaceX, TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris was also named No 1 agency in South Africa and TBWA\SA as South Africa’s No 1 Group for 2021 by The Creative Circle. Ad Age international has also just recognised TBWA\ as 2022’s Network of the Year. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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