Battling bans, Huawei goes on an advertising offensive


  • Corporate News Premium
  • Tuesday, 26 Feb 2019

AS a challenge to key U.S. allies seeking to block it from rollouts of 5G networks, China’s Huawei Technologies Co. unleashed an edgy ad campaign.

The ads whipped up controversy from New Zealand to Germany. But it remains to be seen how successful they will be in swaying officials because they focus on Huawei’s technological prowess rather than allaying security fears about its equipment.

Full-page newspaper advertisements and billboard spots in New Zealand this month drew on the country’s world champion All Blacks rugby union football team to argue “5G without Huawei is like rugby without New Zealand.” The move fell flat with the country’s government, which in November joined a line of U.S. allies taking steps to block the world’s biggest telecom-equipment firm from their 5G rollout.

“It’s not helping,” said Andrew Little, New Zealand’s intelligence minister, when the ads first appeared. He has so far refused Huawei’s appeals to reverse the decision to reject local phone company Spark‘s application to use Huawei equipment in its future 5G grid. “They can bark as long as they like, but we have decisions to make about New Zealand’s national-security interests. That’s the only thing upon which we will make a decision.”

An advertisement at Berlin’s Tegel airport late last year sought to burnish Huawei’s reputation for speedy telecom gear by playing on a favorite local gripe, asking: “What will be more widespread in Berlin: 5G or dog poo?” Bild, the nation’s largest newspaper, ran a headline calling the ad a “taunt” to Berlin.

Huawei has for years spent big on marketing campaigns, largely to boost the profile of its smartphones. A-list movie stars such as Scarlett Johansson and Gal Gadot have touted its products and billboards adorn international airports, although not without incident: The company came under fire for using professional-camera photographs to spruik the supposed selfie-taking capability of a new phone.

Americans rarely see the ads because Huawei has been effectively locked out of the market due to cybersecurity fears, which the company has long said are baseless. Huawei has prospered elsewhere, and is fighting Apple Inc. to be the world’s No. 2 maker of smartphones, behind Samsung Electronics Co.

Huawei’s overall image campaigns often take a sharper edge: A 2015 ad displayed ballerina’s feet—one foot poised in a satin shoe and the other bruised and bandaged—to symbolize the hard work behind Huawei’s rise from a small venture to the world’s biggest telecom-equipment maker.

Its latest ads have pointedly challenged unfavorable decisions.

In New Zealand, Huawei tapped into the nation’s religious fervor for rugby to connect with consumers, but drew derisive remarks on social media.

“People can barely be bothered to vote these days. I don’t think they are going to be championing market access for a foreign company,” said Michael Lee, a marketing expert at The University of Auckland.

A Huawei spokesman described it as a quirky way of getting its message across, while security agencies weigh whether to drop the ban.

The ad was conceived by Ogilvy & Mather in Hong Kong with input from Huawei’s corporate communications teams at its Shenzhen headquarters and New Zealand office, the spokesman said. They liked the idea as it fitted Huawei’s strategy of using sport in ads and sponsorship to win over Western countries, including soccer in Europe and cricket in India. Ogilvy declined to comment.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said Friday the rejection of Spark’s application to use Huawei equipment for its 5G grid could be reversed, if Spark and Huawei were able to mitigate security concerns.

In Germany, Huawei hired Cologne-based communications firm Palmer Hargreaves to create the campaign for its first localized advertising in the country. A spokesman for Huawei in Berlin said his office helped develop the ads with the agency, together arriving at the idea to mention dog excrement.

“Of course, headquarters then realized what we came up with and people in Shenzhen then started researching whether dog piles were a thing in Berlin,” said Patrick Berger, the spokesman. The ad was ultimately approved.

Mr. Berger said the company believes it achieved its goal of the campaign.

Berlin also hasn’t yet closed the door on Huawei. In recent weeks, government officials have met to discuss the security concerns ahead of Germany’s planned 5G spectrum auction this spring. The government is inclined to let Huawei bid for infrastructure contracts, according to people familiar with the matter.

“We didn’t want to talk about dog poo,” Mr. Berger said. “In the end we wanted to talk about 5G. And look, we’re still discussing that.” - WSJ

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