Airtel Kenya takes mass marketing via mobile phones too far

The battle for the hearts and minds of Kenya’s 25 million mobile phone users has literally brought out the worst guerrilla marketing tactics from Airtel.

Even though they do not offer free services, Airtel’s local marketing methods mean that paying subscribers are literally inundated with SMS text messages, and as if this was not effective marketing, Airtel are now calling subscribers and subscribing them (note: there is no opt-in!) to its music service dubbed “Ziki Tunes”.

“Dear Lucky Subscriber” ominous text messages announce to unsuspecting paying customers with the latest exhortation to reply to sign up for a service at a daily or monthly rate. Daily texts from Airtel offer “exciting” music; low rate and free calls (which we don’t mind!); downloadable games (again which some of us don’t mind!); lottery cash draw entries; top up chances to win handsets and tablets, etc

There are also messages that begin “Strictly confidential: A message of high importance is heading towards you! Follow the instructions …!”.

What! Who is their copywriter?

But as if those texts were not enough, consumers are now receiving phone calls from the phone number +254786824711 which on picking runs an automated message subscribing – yes! subscribing the consumer to the music promotion. Again no-opt in allowed.

What Airtel Kenya seem to forget is that theirs is not a FREE service where users are the product. If Airtel was like Google’s Gmail then users would agree that they can be targeted for ads; which indeed they are in a more tasteful manner. Airtel consumers pay their hard earned money for a phone service and do not need to be bothered and spammed by texts and now phone calls. Imagine, you are a young entrepreneur, waiting to hear from that big customer whom you just pitched your product. Now imagine how you feel when you receive a phone call instead from Airtel subscribing you to Ziki! Now imagine that big customer calling you to say that you have the deal, but low and behold instead of the beep to reach your phone they hear some inappropriate music!

Yesterday we called Airtel to complain about these incessant messages and phone calls. We were assured that the complaint was heard and were supposed to be copied on an email to Airtel customer service manager regarding the same. This did not happen and even worse, we received another of those subscription phone calls soon after. Needless to say this morning after receiving yet another call and promptly complaining our complaint has been “logged” and we hope that Airtel take appropriate action.

What if they don’t?

Airtel’s latest non opt-in subscriptions are in contravention of the Consumer Protection Act regarding unsolicited goods and services, which states:

“No supplier shall demand payment or make any representation that suggests that a consumer is required to make payment in respect of any unsolicited goods or services despite their use, receipt, misuse, loss, damage or theft.”

So this means that they cannot automatically subscribe and deduct airtime from phones for these services.

In the meantime, we are searching for a phone app that can act as a spam filter for texts from Airtel Kenya whose promotions will promptly be sent to the trash bin and that’s where they will stay.


About yipe
Yipe an acronym for the Youth Interactive Portal for Enterprise is an organization that assists entrepreneurs to start up and manage their small businesses.

7 Responses to Airtel Kenya takes mass marketing via mobile phones too far

  1. Gaudencia Wasike says:

    Any seasoned marketer would know that as much as this is a ‘cut-throat marketing era’ anticipating/meeting your customers’ needs remains the best way to cut your competition at the knees. And this marketer would have the good sense to also know that this does not involve shoving unpalatable stuff down your clients’ throats but rather to provide a variety of well packaged options for them to pick from. I am an ardent subscriber of Airtel, having stuck through from the times of Kencell Yes!, Celtel & Zain. But I hope my comfort will not be disrupted by these unsolicited messages and automated calls (at my cost!). Airtel may be taking advantage of the lax consumer protection system in the country to exploit wananchi (which is a plus for any savvy marketer) but be warned, Kenyans are very enlightened people and quite litigious as well!

  2. Ghafla!Guy says:

    Yu Kenya are also taking on the same strategy but cautiously. Sending a person 5 texts a day and such to participate in weird competitions. Subscribing you to their skiza tunes and then calling you back to ask you to subscribe. Basically I had to give them an earful for them to stop.

  3. yipe says:

    Thanks @Ghafla!

    Kenyan consumers need to realise that their privacy is being invaded and like you should also give them an earful!

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  5. R K Sachdeva says:

    Good news is that Airtel is the cheapest. Now with bombartment of smses Airtel is showing its cheapness and its darkside of doing business. It looks like they employed a monkey at the SMS Send button.Now the big boss is saying that they will have to increase prices. First mistake Same rates accross all networks gives their own customers no insentive to make sure they they choose an Airtel number if available. Second the hold safcom has over its masses is M Pesa no amount cheap rates will make them move. If they now the increase the rates accross the board people will say we told you so that these desendents of Kencell Celtel and Zain could not be trusted, as they were also not trusted. it runs inthe family..

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  7. Derrick hinga says:

    I need 500k

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