young people

Vodafone launches sub-brand Voxi next week which is aimed at young people. But has the mobile goliath managed to tune in to Generation Z or has it burnt out? And what does it mean for MVNOs?


Vodafone is the latest operator to rollout a new offer aimed at the under 25s – in the format of a new sub-brand Voxi which zero rates Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Viber and WhatsApp. This follows hard on the heels of Three’s Go Binge, which offers ‘free’ Netflix, Deezer and SoundCloud streaming. Virgin Mobile has a plan that disregards all Twitter, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp use. While EE offers six months of free Apple Music streaming.

All of this makes it feel a bit like 2010 again. 2017’s zero rated apps are a mere hop from 2010’s all inclusive plans (calls and texts are all inclusive in the Voxi plans).

Vodafone claims to have worked with a focus group of young people to create this offer. Cool. Except they seem to believe that everyone under the age of 25 popped out of some kind of mould – making us identical in every single way. When will they get the message that my kinda cool ain’t the next dude’s? Why are they still lumping us all together rather than seeing us as individuals, or even as interest groups with different behaviours? This is segmentation marketing at its worst. They entirely forgot that little thing called personalisation we’ve all been hearing about for years, instead creating a me-too service that copies what other operators and MVNOs are already doing.

Vodafone could have targeted ‘those into music’ or ‘those into social media’, but decided to go down the predictable route of ‘young people are into social apps and media streaming let’s start a funky cool brand’. Their agenda seems to be: let’s bundle in things they don’t want or use (phone calls) and access to apps that aren’t that data hungry, and charge them for using the data for apps they do really want (YouTube) that are data hungry. On Vodafone’s school report it would say ‘tries hard’. Notice, there’s no mention of WiFi, as though if you say its name you will conjure up the infernal network.

Here’s another problem. If you’re a big mobile firm looking to launch a sub-brand aimed at young people, don’t go plastering all over the media that it’s owned by Vodafone with quotes from middle aged Vodafone executives talking about how they’re down with the kids. This undermines the whole credibility of Voxi on day 1. So it’s just Vodafone marketing to young people then? Cue the canned quotes by CEOs that have never even seen them because they were written by their PR company. The leopard hasn’t changed its spots. Their arrogance is that they believe that young people equate the Vodafone brand with quality – so just mentioning the fact it’s a Vodafone sub-brand will lend some sort of kudos and make them want to buy. (see Tesco Mobile beats all UK MNOs when it comes to complaints)

Within these insightful ‘quotes’ that no-one ever said, there’s this stunning nugget of insight assigned to CEO Nick Jeffery: ‘We know today’s young generation use their phones in a completely different way, with social media at the very centre of their lives. They want services that put their needs first’.  Nick is obviously aware of a segment of customers who want you to put their needs last. Is this a Ratner moment? Some kind of mobile Freudian slip – aha you’re admitting you put your customers’ needs anything but first? (And they don’t mind.)

It also raises the rather funny prospect of what they’re going to do about older people that want to adopt Voxi? Are they going to demand to see passports? Is age verification going to go two ways and those over 25 will be told ‘sorry no, you’re too old to buy this product?’

On a more serious note what we really need to know is has this sub-brand been set up in a way that’s fully transparent and not anti-competitive. eg Will Voxi be paying a fair wholesale rate for all the data it uses – both billed and unbilled? (It has carefully worded its offer to indicate it will be paying for the data on your behalf to be compliant.) And will it be subsidised in any other way by the parent company? Because I’m all for healthy competition, so long as there’s a level playing field.