MTN Versus Etisalat: Is Business Really War?

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By Goke Ilesanmi

Since MTN released the popular portability advert, it (the advert) has attracted commendation as well as condemnation from experts. Though the advert is practically creative and logically communicative, it has elicited expected protest from Etisalat, especially that Hafiz Oyetoro, a.k.a Saka who was formerly face of firm is unveiled in the advert wearing green clothes (the corporate colour of Etisalat) changing to yellow colour (the corporate colour of MTN).

    My major concern here is not about commending or condemning the action or reaction of any of the two warring telecommunications operators. Rather, my article was inspired by the comments of some commentators justifying the advert on the grounds that “Business is war”. The question is: Is business really war (again)?



The theory of “business is war” was propounded by the likes of Gore Vidal who promoted the gospel of “it is not enough to succeed; others must fail”. As I said once, one word that is very critical and often misconstrued in business circles is “competition”. “Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English” (2005 edition) defines “competition” as “a situation in which people or organisations try to be more successful than other people or organisations”. Probably as a result of rigid and negative interpretation of this definition by people and organisations, competition is taken to mean enmity. 


Experts’ submission

     Professors Barry Nalebuff and Adam Brandenburger, co-authors of “Co-opetition”, a book with a blended title realised from the structural fusion of the words “cooperation” and “competition”, affirm that the way people talk about business today, you cannot successfully apply the traditional language of “business is war” and “It is not enough to succeed; others must fail”. Why? The simple reason is that you have to listen to customers, work with suppliers, create teams, establish strategic partnerships, etc. Also, there are few victors when business is conducted as a war.

     The typical result of a price war is surrendered profits all around the industry. For instance, the United States’ aviation industry lost more money in the price wars of 1990 to 1993 than it had previously made in all the time since Orville and Wilbur Wright. This is shocking and disheartening, isn’t it?



   Those who are in the same business with you are rivals not enemies. Through cooperating and competing with them, you may be able to cut unnecessary costs. In the telecoms business for example, nothing stops operators from cooperating when it comes to collectively using a single mast in a particular location to avoid unnecessary duplication of masts and competing when it comes to offering services to subscribers. Competition or business is no longer a war. Therefore, cooperate and compete. It is already happening across the world. Findings show that Fiat and General Motors (GM), the world’s largest automobile makers, are exploring the possibility of setting up a power train-cum-engine plant at the Italian major’s facility in Ranjangaon, Maharashtra while Suzuki, a partner in Maruti is also a partner in the GM-Fiat global alliance, and could use the diesel engines produced in India.


Another advice by expert

    Kirti Desai, author of “101 Great Ideas to Boost Your Business”, the book which I reviewed last week, advises against direct confrontation with competitors. Desai educates that you need to look for other mature and strategic ways of attracting more customers. He says if your competitors are heavy on advertising then go for promotional schemes like free gifts, discounts, lucky coupons, etc. Study your competitors minutely, including their products, business strategy, distribution network, price structure, promotional offers, future planning, etc. Now make comparison segment-to-segment with yours and see where you stand.


Other experts’ perspectives  

    In having a strategy, basically, there is a natural progression of perspectives from rigid competition through a combination of competition and co-operation to a very co-operative point of view. When there are many companies operating in an industry, with all having competitive advantages, definitely opportunities to exploit mutual benefits become a necessary strategy issue.

     As Bruce Greenwald and Judd Kahn, co-authors of the text entitled “Competition Simplified” say regarding the above scenario, elements of competition are still present, certainly, but now there is the possibility of doing better by taking the actions and reactions of others into account. “We explored these situations through the lens of traditional game theory, examining effective methods of balancing competition with the competitive situations most likely to occur…. We turn now to another perspective, looking at these inherently complicated situations purely as opportunities for cooperation,” Greenwald and Kahn expatiate.


Advertising guidelines

     In advertising, for instance, the use of comparatives (“better”, “brighter”, “faster”, etc.) and superlatives (“best”, “brightest”, “fastest”, etc.) is normally marked by linguistic diplomacy. That is, they are used without ignorantly including the correlative conjunction “than” and/or mentioning the names of the other competing brands. By keeping to the rule of advertising, we have for example, “Our public speaking programme is a better one” or “Our public speaking programme is the best”. Also to make great marketing impact, you need to market your strength instead of emphasising the weakness of competitors, which is de-marketing. 


Last note

    Organisations that subscribe to the concept of “business is war” dissipate productive energy on de-marketing of competitors and end up destroying their industry and causing avoidable job losses. They spend the larger part of their precious time on how to drag competitors down instead of concentrating on how to inject innovation into their products or services so as to attract more customers and professionally increase their market share. Knowing what customers want is very easy to determine for organisations that concentrate on how to satisfy customers instead of targeting unrealistic monopoly by de-marketing competitors. We all know that to achieve success in business, you need to keep adding value to your product or service. In fact, the cliché “business is war” is outdated.


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