The COVID-19 debacle of 2020 has been a touchstone for every industry. It has brought forward the existing flaws in many high-value brands and their practices, while also showing us how brave new businesses and marketing strategies can rope in millions.
Much like the entire world, the pandemic has affected the bustling trillion-dollar economy of Dubai and brought to the forefront a new normal, where age-old norms of business, branding or marketing do not apply.
As a social media and marketing agency based in Dubai, we at SocioLoca had to estimate the true impact of the pandemic.
Did the disruption affect every business equally? Were there some anomalies whose businesses withstood the downfall, or rather have come out successful and profitable?
Although there was widespread loss and panic, as we thought, some businesses and startups prospered through the pandemic, swiftly filling up multiple vacuums left behind by discontinued or paused services.
UAE based Etisalat- MENA’s primary telecommunications services provider, is one such success story, who haven’t just survived the COVID-19 recession - they have thrived in it. Founded in 1976 as a joint-stock company, Etisalat became the national telecom carrier in 1983, when the Emirati kingdom bought a majority stake in the company.
By 2018, it had grown into a Fortune 500 company, with business operations in 14 countries apart from UAE.
Our first introduction to Etisalat was via their advertisements. With a rich history of thought-provoking and brilliantly produced commercials, their marketing strategy has always been top-notch.
More impressively, throughout these challenging times, Etisalat has maintained a brave countenance, as its brand voice has been clear and unflinching.
The calm and composed demeanor of its digital presence has been a masterclass of a resilient and panic-free marketing model amidst a global disruption.
- Etisalat used the Facebook Ads platform brilliantly to get a 33% increase in its loyalty app installs. Collaborating with ROI Hunter, they created dynamic carousel ads for this app, Smiles.
- Their endorsement of the UAE Government campaign "Stay at Home" assured millions of people during the initial stages of the outbreak.
- In June, the "Online is Better" campaign highlighted the various aspects of its digital platforms and their benefits.
- In October they tied up with Big Kahuna films and Impact BBDO Abu Dhabi to create an emotional and beautiful ad campaign in "The Sound of Togetherness".
- To celebrate Emirati Women's Day, Etisalat launched a dedicated microsite emiratiya.ae marking pioneering women of UAE and places of significance to their work.
These marketing strategies led to an increase in customer base and revenues, entry into two new markets, as well as Etisalat, winning the prized tag of "Most Valuable MENA brand".
As we dived deeper into the various marketing solutions and strategies that Etisalat applied during the pandemic, we found that the humanitarian causes championed by the brand have not only earned them new subscribers and more revenues; but also have been influential for the global image of the brand.
In its 2019 annual report, titled “A World Without Limits” Etisalat reported total revenue of 52.2 billion AED and a net profit of 8.7 billion AED.
The report was optimistic about the future and projected an ambitious growth model for the next decade. This was precisely when disaster struck as the outbreak of COVID-19 was reported.
In 2020 H1, financial reports suggested a 1% drop in sales and a 17% decrease in capital expenditure on its network.
Any organization facing such unprecedented losses is bound to cut costs and decrease marketing processes or other tertiary expenses. However, Etisalat is no ordinary brand.
The management was not discouraged. Under the leadership of His Excellency Obaid Umaid Al Tayar, Etisalat Mobile promised to keep its customers, employees, and subsidiaries more connected than ever.
The homestay orders by the Emirati government meant telecom solutions such as fast internet connection would prove vital. The company had two big agendas - public welfare and research & development, and it did a splendid job in both of them.
On one hand, Etisalat worked alongside the government on multiple projects, with free internet services and healthcare. On the other increased their infrastructure to be of 5G stature. They funded many public welfare schemes and built the fastest network in the world in 2020.
Here is an infographic detailing a few of their other achievements in 2020.
Partnerships and Global Presence
In 2020, Etisalat also bolstered its global presence by establishing many important partnerships with industry leaders across the globe. Using its wide network of international subsidiaries, Etisalat devised brilliant solutions for many countries across MENA.
This also meant that their fortunes turned around. The relentless efforts of Etisalat management catapulted the company from reporting losses to a sizable growth, as they reported consolidated net profits of AED2.41 billion for Q3- 2020 and a 6% growth over the corresponding quarter of 2019.
The numerous partnerships also helped the company in their research, new talent acquisition and their FinTech ambitions. The future looks bright. Here’s a list of major collaborations between Etisalat and other companies
Lessons and Legacy
There is much to be admired and learned from Etisalat’s 2020 business policies, for not just a leading advertising agency in Dubai, but also businesses of all kinds and sizes.
The staggering achievement during the pandemic which included the significant turnaround in business, and the uniquely creative marketing campaigns, will be remembered in the years to come as an instance of brilliant business acumen and prudent decision making.
We will always refer to the legacy of Etisalat, which will exist forever to serve as an example of how to tackle a global pandemic head-on and still prosper.
Here are a few branding and marketing lessons that we think Etisalat taught the world.
On facing challenging disruptions, a company’s adaptability will always be telling. Etisalat understood very early on that the super-fast internet will be critical in the pandemic. When losses were reported, the company adapted almost overnight and built new infrastructure helping them propel the Etisalat 5G services.
The change in tonality between the advisory commercials during the early and late stages of the pandemic perfectly encapsulates Etisalat’s adaptability.
Tie-Ups with HTC, Ericsson, and Microsoft - all giants of the tech world, gave Etisalat the edge over competitors. The acquisition of Synamedia led to the development of Switch TV. Other collaborations with banks, big-tech, and even startups empowered the business with unique solutions.
They also roped in Impact BBDO Abu Dhabi and Big Kahuna Films, for a collaboration that conceived one of the most beautiful and engaging advertisements in “The Sound of Togetherness”
Etisalat also teaches us an important lesson about how politics and governance shape businesses. Working closely with the UAE government, the Telecom giant built not one, or two, but multiple government services.
As a result, the UAE rewarded Etisalat for its loyalty and provided them with the opportunity to develop Telemedicine and E-Schooling infrastructure. Their pro-government messaging is widely popular and ads such as “Stay-at-home” and “Online is Better” were a massive hit as well.
Any good firm must contribute to nation and society building, and even more so when the world is going through unprecedented times. The firm helped Emiratis tackle the pandemic with umpteen initiatives providing free internet, educational services, healthcare, and e-Wallet services among many others
Research and development are paramount even when you’re cutting costs. Etisalat’s razor-sharp focus on new technologies helped them venture into trending fields such as TV Streaming and Gaming while building their core network so impressively that they become the fastest network in the world.
Their immaculate eye for details is visible, even in their marketing microsite www.emiratiya.ae, where the amount of information relayed is mind-bending.
To us, a success story such as this is exciting and optimistic. As a social media and advertising agency in the UAE, Etisalat for us is the lighthouse whose shining beacon would always guide us in maneuvering through the stormy waters of market uncertainties.