Ask anyone which mobile network brand in Ghana has the worst performance and you are most likely to hear MTN. “Most Terrible Network”, “Mobile Terrorist Network”, “Mobile Telecom Nightmare” are just a few of the many ways in which MTN’s brand name has been mutilated and raped of any dignity. From being described as “fools” to being touted as “thieves”, MTN is easily the most demonised and bastardised telco in Ghana. I am certain even the most restrained Christian in Ghana would easily swear to you that MTN will be the first to be sent to hell when God’s judgement comes.  Any brand expert, who is foreign to the facts, chancing on this mass uproar of disgust against MTN will easily conclude in the most acquiescent jargons of his trade that MTN has stinking equity, a repulsive brand personality and is inevitably set for a brand homicide on a most grandiose scale, never seen since the scandal of Macbeth.

Yet the statistics are unabashedly inconsequential. Registering over 46% of the market share, more than twice that of its closest competitor, MTN continues to register average year-on-year growth. With over 12 million subscribers, it is needless to point out that half of Ghana’s population owns an MTN SIM card.
If MTN is as terrible as consumers claim it is, why do they remain Ghana’s mobile telco market leader, a feat the brand has enjoyed from birth. In the era of Mobile Number Portability, why are consumers still locked in this bad marriage? Even more so, why do they keep increasing that share? If those who are stuck in there are reluctant to move their lazy asses, amidst all the outcry, why are people still joining the network?

My first guess is maybe MTN is not as bad as people claim it is. Anytime I hear of people outdooring their dissatisfaction with MTN, I am quickly reminded of many Ghanaian work places. Everybody think their work sucks, yet no one is too willing to quit their job. Granted, there is no perfect brand. By God, not even the legendary Apple. So maybe, deep down, consumers know that though MTN is not heaven, and sometimes it is hell, mostly it is just earthly. After all, the bigger the ship, the slower it takes to turn, but it’s still a good ship, and mostly better than a smaller one.

Which brings me to my second thought that probably the unspoken consumer belief is that all the networks are equally terrible, so they do not see the need to change. Which one would you change to, anyway? Within the mantra of the devil you know, the optimal heuristic decision will be to stay with the network. Thus, I might conclude that it is a case of making a bad choice because you have bad options.

An existing school of thought is that Ghanaians just don’t like change. This idea is underlined by the assertion that we are suspicious of change, and even when we give change a chance, we are too impatient to let that change materialise, an argument which has been paraded as one of the key reasons why Mobile Number Portability is underused. So long as MTN is what we know, we might just stay with it and have fun at telling ourselves what a disappointment it is. But we won’t change it, no, we are incapable of such betrayal.
Others who disagree with this argument suggest instead that, once upon a time when we could not port and keep our numbers, people resorted to using multiple SIMs to cope with the failures of MTN. So it is needless to dump MTN as we have found a way to change and maintain simultaneously. Relatedly, consumers using multiple SIMs are now able to take advantage of the sales promotions that the different networks offer. Even more so, consumers are able to reach contacts on different networks using the respective network SIMs. We may already have found a solution in multiplicity, and find no need for substitution.

Yet my thoughts seem imprisoned within my earlier propositions.
Is it distantly possible that maybe MTN is rather too sexy a brand to dump? Don’t lose it yet! Consider this carefully. If so many people are with MTN, it might mean that, it just might be like that hot dude who is an asshole, everybody says he is an asshole, but he is still hot, and you just overlook all his flaws just because he is hot.  You may not necessarily agree with me, but it is hard to overlook the fact that MTN has some traits that makes it just fit the bill as the hot guy. Think of anything trendy, young, fun and swag-ish and you will find MTN in the mix. From beauty pageants to reality shows to football, MTN just represents. With such “cool” brand associations, hard though it may be to admit, you cannot ignore that sometimes, it just rocks to be associated with the brand. It does let you down, it lies, it cheats, it occasionally steals but at its romantic best, it probably may be the hottest guy around. Of course, it still is an asshole, but still hot.

In her ground breaking work on brand relationships Susan Fournier proposed that consumers form relationships with brands they consume in their lived experiences like they form inter-personal relationships. But I can wager even she would fumble for words to describe this love-hate relationship MTN has with its customers.
Tigo continues to battle its own demons, Airtel continues to flirt around cheaply, Vodafone still hasn’t shed off the aristocrat image that it inherited from Onetouch, Glo is a failed messiah and Expresso is just waiting for its grave to be big enough before it drops dead. My prediction is that MTN’s dominance has no titanic future, as some seem to suggest. Time is the best prophet, but if current trends tell us anything, then we can be confident that nothing is going to rock the boat.

So go on, have a go at them. Call them whatever you feel. Makes you feel good, right? Good, it’s everywhere you go!