Last year, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority barred China Mobile Pakistan (Zong) from running any advertisement that featured 5th Generation (5G) mobile services. The ad could mislead consumers by confusing test service for commercial launch, it said.
The Pakistani arm of the Chinese telecommunications giant obliged the regulator, but it might not have thought the same notification would become the basis of what appeared to snowball into a smear campaign three months later. The hashtag #ZongExposed trended on Twitter Pakistan throughout Thursday, Jan 9, after hundreds of accounts targeted the brand on the basis of the same notification.
What is, however, interesting is that the notification was issued on September 17, 2019 and was covered by prominent news websites and blogs. Why did it resurface to become the basis of a Twitter trend three months later? A quick dig into the hashtag’s timeline shows an inordinate proportion of these tweets were promoting another brand, Jazz, as opposed to simply targeting Zong.
Jazz spokesperson Aisha Sarwari has, however, categorically denied that they had any link with the hashtag. “It is not our company’s policy to pay bloggers or sponsor tweets that target competition,” she said.
Samaa Digital contacted Zong’s representatives on Thursday, but they declined to comment on the subject.
PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran said if a mobile operator is violating any regulation or legal provision by getting involved in unethical marketing practices, other operators can complain about it. “PTA will look into the matter as per law and supporting evidence on the issue,” he added.
Experts say there is no way to say with certainty if this was a sponsored campaign. The case does highlight how hundreds of Twitter accounts can target one brand for no apparent reason. Is this the new cyber face of corporate wars?
Cellular service providers in Pakistan have a track record of poking fun of each other’s ad campaigns—on TV. They have doled out the big bucks for prime time transmissions to increase their share in the country’s hyper-competitive telecommunications market. With razor thin margins, price wars are literally fought down to the paisa. These corporate wars are not limited to this market. In 2016, two major tea brands fought tooth and nail, jousting in commercials back and forth to make the headlines. And of course, everyone remembers the “Tumhara sabun slow hai kia?” ad that spoke of the battle between two other giants.
With the growth of internet users however, these brand wars appear to now be moving onto social media and, as in this case, we saw that it could turn ugly.
It is important to note that the 5G service is being tested all over the world and it may take a few years before it can be launched commercially, but the battle to become the best broadband brand has already entered the next stage.
The two companies have been marketing themselves as the largest networks of Pakistan. The difference comes down to language and thus, how the numbers tally up. One of them boosts being the largest 4G network. The other says it’s the largest data (3G & 4G) network. Actually, both of them are right because one leads in overall subscriber base while the other has more people on its 4G network.