Vodafone brand blitz in India

( FT ) - In one of India's largest media blitzes, Vodafone has kicked off the re-branding of its new Indian mobile phone business by buying all the commercials on Star India's cable channels and plastering 80 newspapers nationwide with advertisements.

The world's largest mobile phone operator by revenue has embarked on an aggressive campaign to re-brand Hutchison Essar, India's fourth largest mobile operator, as Vodafone over the next two months.

In a keenly-contested battle, Vodafone this year bought control of Hutchison Essar, commonly known as Hutch, for $10.9bn (?5.5bn). Indian oil-to-steel conglomerate Essar retains a minority stake in the joint venture. The new company has been renamed Vodafone Essar, but its consumer brand in India will be known just as Vodafone.

Harit Nagpal, marketing director of Vodafone Essar, said the re-branding campaign "is probably the largest brand change ever undertaken in this country and arguably as big as any in the world. It is even larger than our own previous brand transitions as it touches over 35m customers, across 400,000 shops."

India is the world's fastest-expanding mobile phone market. In August alone 8.31m mobile subscribers were added, bringing the country's total wireless subscribers to 201m.

In a display of media muscle, Vodafone bought front page ads in 80 of India's biggest newspapers, that are printed in multiple languages, for an undisclosed amount.

Vodafone also bought all the commercial airtime on 13 channels across Star India's cable television network for 24 hours from Thursday evening.

Mr Nagpal declined to disclose Vodafone's budget but said the amount is far less than the sums of about $75m reported in local media. "The scale is so large we have been able to negotiate with suppliers and partners," he said.

Re-branding Hutch to Vodafone will catch on more quickly in cities but change in India's far-flung smaller towns and villages "will take time", said Mr Nagpal.

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