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Vodafone UK plays the philanthropy card at new tariff launch

UK operator Vodafone combined the launch of its Evo mobile offering with talk of cutting carbon emission and tackling digital poverty.

The announcements were made at a corporate event called Vodafone Reinvent. Evo is a bid to introduce greater flexibility to your classic postpaid mobile contract by introducing more variables. These seem to largely focus on the bundled device, the financing of which is a tried and tested way of getting people to commit to contracts. Now you can decide how much you feel like paying up front and how much time you want to pay the rest over. You can also save a few quid by part-exchanging your old phone.

“In 2019, we shook up the market with 5G at no extra cost and Unlimited data plans,” said Max Taylor, Consumer Director at Vodafone UK. “Now we’re changing the market again. With budgets squeezed for so many people, we’re launching a completely new way of buying a smartphone focused on ensuring our customers are in control and getting the best possible value. Vodafone Evo allows customers to get the smartphone they want at the price they choose.

“We are setting a new benchmark for flexibility, combining the benefits of device contracts of up to three years, a market-leading trade-in service, and the option to upgrade from one year. We’re putting the customer in charge – we’re giving them unbeatable flexibility and value, but making sure they don’t have to compromise on quality, with a great network, a great loyalty programme, and great service.”

That was only the start of a wave of corporate beneficence. We heard about Vodafone’s initiative to connect one million people living in ‘digital poverty’ by the end of 2022, which is part of its commitment to tackle ‘digital exclusion’. We asked how digital poverty is defined and got some vague talk of ‘digital skills and confidence’ along with basic connectivity. How Vodafone will be able to demonstrate it has achieved its aim, therefore, is hard to imagine, but it has apparently sorted out 4,000 of them already.

“We are building a digital future for everyone – a future that’s sustainable, inclusive, and fair,” said Vodafone UK CEO, Ahmed Essam. “Today’s announcements put tackling digital poverty and doing the right thing at the heart of our business. Over the last year, people across the UK have realised just how important connectivity is, and the major role it plays in so many vital aspects of our lives – from working, learning, and accessing healthcare, through to having fun and keeping in touch with those closest to us.

“We have done our best to support people since the start of the pandemic – the NHS, schoolchildren, those out of work. Today we are committing to helping one million more people get connected, and to developing the knowledge and confidence necessary in a society which increasingly demands a digital connection.”

Then there was the inevitable green stuff. ‘As part of its commitment to the environment, Vodafone announced it will eliminate all carbon emissions from its UK operations by 2027,’ said the press release. We spoke to Vodafone’s UK Network & Development Director Andrea Dona after the event and he revealed that, on top being committed to the environment, it’s also in Vodafone’s business interests to get on top of its energy use.

Data consumption has obviously gone exponential in recent years, but consumers expect more for less, meaning operators will lose money unless they find a way of significantly reducing the cost of each byte delivered. Switching to 5G is a big part of that, but so is energy efficiency. It was refreshing to hear an exec tell it like it is without feeling compelled to dress corporate best practice as a bid to save the world.

Claims of moral motivation from commercial organisations (and nearly all other types, for that matter) are not just disingenuous but impossible given their incentive structure. Any attempt to extract brand benefit from such activity only serves to reinforce that perspective. When share price is more sensitive to philanthropic gestures than profit then we will revise that view but, until then we will continue to follow the money. And there’s nothing wrong with that.


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