Magazine article Marketing

Telecoms: Less Chill-Out Music, More Ideas

Magazine article Marketing

Telecoms: Less Chill-Out Music, More Ideas

Article excerpt

Orange's change of management underlines the mobile phone operator's need to find fresh marketing ideas. Jane Simms investigates a brand, and a sector, in need of differentiation.

Last month's appointment of Tom Alexander, a founder and former chief executive of Virgin Mobile, as chief executive of Orange showed how eager the telecoms firm is for ideas. The arrival of the man who turned his previous company into the sector's challenger brand is an admission that Orange needs to find a new voice in a homogeneous sector.

He will have his work cut out. Over the summer, his predecessor Bernard Ghillebaert conceded that the UK's third-biggest mobile phone operator had lost its 'sparkle'. The company that shook up the market a decade ago with its clever ads and distinctive service-based positioning has become just another mobile brand. 'Reinvigorating Orange's marketing will be a top priority,' says James Barford, analyst at telecoms specialist Enders Analysis.

The lack of a revival so far is not for want of trying. Last year, Orange launched a range of animal-themed call packages, backed by a major media campaign. Then, in May, it rolled out a pounds 13m ad campaign, created by Fallon, that focused on its range of services, including broadband, with the tagline 'Life, as you like it'. Last week it unveiled its 'Good things should never end' campaign highlighting its 'unlimited' offerings. It also sponsors Glastonbury and continues with its long-running Orange Wednesdays cinema promotion.

Orange, which spent pounds 90m on advertising last year, has more than 15m customers and annual sales of pounds 4.1bn, excluding broadband. In contrast, Vodafone and O2, whose adspend last year was pounds 64m and pounds 50m respectively, have more than 17m customers each and annual sales of pounds 5bn and pounds 4bn.

Operating profits slipped by 8.6% in the first six months of this year, yet Orange claims it is the victim of its own success, with other networks aping its positioning. Where its marketing once stood out in a bland, technology- and price-driven sector, it is now almost indistinguishable from the competition. Almost without exception, all the UK's mobile operators now target the same audience of 16- to 35-year-olds with similar ads - featuring 'urban hippies' who fall into this demographic - touting the same range of voice, text, internet and content services; most also have developed live-music strategies to promote their download services. The big three - Vodafone, O2 and Orange - seem to be distinguished principally by colour: red, blue and orange respectively.

'The mobile network operators are a bit like the main political parties, which have all converged on the middle ground so that you can scarcely get a pin between them,' says Jez Frampton, global chief executive of Interbrand.

Tom Morton, executive planning director at TBWA\London, claims the failure to find a truly differentiated positioning is undermining the operators' marketing. 'They all try to be modern, sophisticated and avant-garde, but in reality they are all bland versions of modernity, featuring washed-out colours and chill-out music, that don't capture people's imagination.'

John Penberthy-Smith, marketing director at 3, which earlier this year ditched ad agency WCRS along with its TV campaign featuring fluffy bouncing clouds and Japanese cowboys breakdancing around a jellyfish, admitted recently: 'In the past, we put our energy into the creativity of our TV ads because we had nothing relevant to offer consumers.' In a bid to portray 3 phones as useful, rather than quirky, he hired Euro RSCG to 'bring the brand back down to earth'. The result is an integrated campaign which takes the brand into the lifestyle territory occupied by the other leading operators.

Justin Billingsley, who left Nokia to become Orange's director of brand marketing earlier this year, admits that the mobile sector has lost its way. …

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