Fido Rebrand

(apologies for the lo-res screen grab, fido’s press & media section is woefully under-populated)

For years Fido and Rogers were the only two cellular providers running GSM networks in Canada (Bell and Telus run CDMA networks). In 2004 Rogers bought Fido and became Canada’s sole GSM provider. Perhaps due to the public outcry at Rogers’ new monopoly status, the Fido infrastructure was left relatively independent and untouched — the brand, however, evolved.

It seemed for a time as if Rogers was attempting to turn Fido into their boutique brand while widening the Rogers brand’s reach across families, suburbanites, and the lower-middle class. Over the last three years Fido/Rogers has invested significantly in revamping Fido stores with sleek black leather furniture, dark hardwood floors, and other shiny, ‘urban’ design elements. They’ve also been running a very ‘metropolitan’ campaign, positioning Fido as the ‘city’ phone, with ‘city’ plans, for young urban professionals — in stark contrast to Rogers come-one-come-all, broad strokes campaigns.

Perhaps the clearest and most recent example of this dichotomy would be the two brands’ handling of the iPhone launch last July: Fido stores are still plastered with iPhone banners and displays, with the front page of completely redesigned to match the black and silver colour scheme of the phone. On the other hand Rogers, having been publicly trounced over it’s over-priced plans — the very same plans which Fido customers made few complaints about — put relatively little focus on the iPhone post-launch.

All this in spite of the fact that the two brands carry relatively similar phones with relatively similar plans — a real testament to the power of branding.

However, something a little strange happened this week: Rogers/Fido, presumably under increasing pressure from Telus’s budget brand Koodo, and Bell’s budget-and-near-forgotten Solo brand, did a complete 180 and rebranded Fido with ultra simple No Name Brand inspired black-helvetica-on-yellow graphics, and a tagline of ‘giving low prices a good home’.

As a designer uncertain about how the economy will affect my practice, it’s certainly reassuring to see a company use design to differentiate down in the market instead of seeing design as a way to differentiate up. But one has to wonder if it was wise to walk away from all of the time and money invested in turning Fido into a luxury brand when Rogers could just as easily have spun off a low-cost brand just as Telus and Bell did.

Fido has suddenly gone from being Rogers’ urban/luxury brand to an unabashedly budget brand — but will it still be boutique?

There’s a case to be made that the young, hip, boutique crowd that this and other low-budget providers are targeting will probably be the worst hit by the downturn; especially given that they’ve grown so accustomed to living beyond their means that when told to tighten their belts they get confused by the fact that their new skinny leg japanese denim jeans don’t have belt loops.

Perhaps budget is the new boutique.

Although, in our current economic crisis the notion of boutique budget — combining stylish brand elements with superfluous services at prices that, while lower than average, should still be seen as luxury expenditures during a recession — is the branding equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s oft-quoted (but factually inaccurate) ‘let them eat cake’.

It will be interesting to see if these boutique budget brands really do offer substantial savings or if, just like the Fido/Rogers brand dichotomy, it’s all just an expensive wolf in a penny-pinching sheep’s clothing.


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