There were many fine ads made in the UK this year, but only one felt like it had a big campaigning idea behind it: VCCP’s "be more dog" for O2.
Through the campaign, VCCP has given O2 a theme and a philosophy that it can apply across all of its marketing communications and even its own business. The campaign has also given the brand a personality that connects with consumers of all types.
This was vital for O2. In 2013, it faced tough competition from the rival networks EE – which had secured the services of Kevin Bacon to launch its 4G campaign – and Three, which offers cheaper tariffs.
The message of the campaign is essentially that life in the 21st century is pretty great. There are things that should amaze us, but people have become too jaded to appreciate what is around them. One of the places VCCP found inspiration from was the comedian Louis CK, who told a story about someone getting on the first flight that provided free Wi-Fi. Halfway through the journey, the internet stopped working and the passenger cried that it was "bullshit" – demonstrating how quickly he began to feel entitled to something that had only existed for around half an hour.
The way VCCP packaged this idea was equally impressive. The O2 ad takes a cat – an animal known for being lethargic and disinterested – and shows his decision to make a change in his life to become more like a dog, a species known for showing enthusiasm at an almost unbelievable level. Cue scenes of cats fetching sticks and digging holes. The thinking is that, through "being more dog", people will use more technology and services. Good news for O2.
So far, so smart. But selling an idea like this to a client is never easy. VCCP’s executive creative director, Darren Bailes, told Campaign earlier in the year that his team were almost kicked out of O2’s headquarters when they presented the idea – but they stuck with it. This should be applauded.
All this focus on the idea does not mean the spot was badly executed. The actor Julian Barratt does a grand job channelling both the cat’s ennui and enthusiasm, and the soundtrack – Queen’s Flash – lifts the proceedings. The animation, which uses CGI (as opposed to experimental surgery) to put a cat’s head on a dog’s body, is oddly disorientating as your eyes try to figure out exactly where the cat ends and the dog begins, making the spot visually irresistible. Credit there must go to The Moving Picture Company, which created a hit for another mobile network in 2013: Three’s "the pony".
In a way, "be more dog" felt like advertisers’ advertising. Ad folk could appreciate the effort that goes into creating a concept that big and that flexible, and then condensing it into a three-word slogan. Extra points must be awarded for doing all that in a way that incorporates the internet’s favourite animal – never a bad move for brands seeking online views. All this is probably why agencies named it their Pick of the Year to date in Campaign’s half-term school reports.
But the campaign also caught punters’ attention. The Daily Mirror wrote that the launch ad received 385,000 views on YouTube in its first 48 hours (at the time of writing, that figure is closer to three million). In some instances, the activity has been used as a stick with which to beat the telecoms company. One Twitter user wrote: "For a company with a slogan #bemoredog there [sic] having a hard time ‘fetchin’ my phone back from repair…" Even this, though, shows the campaign has burrowed its way into consumers’ minds.
The launch ad for "be more dog" was backed by some nice online work too. Customers could throw virtual frisbees from their smartphones to their PCs, which would be caught by a cat. Another feature allowed people to make "dog bombs" – personalised messages telling cynical people to be more dog. In addition, O2 released new services alongside the campaign, such as TU Go, which allows customers to use their mobile phone number on tablets, laptops and on Wi-Fi to call or text.
Admittedly, none of VCCP’s subsequent TV spots for "be more dog" have lived up to the first, but this campaign has the legs to run for as long as O2 wants it to.
Marmite’s "Love it. Hate it. Just don’t forget it" came closest to pinching O2’s crown. In terms of grabbing people’s attention, the spot did the job just as well as "be more dog", if not better. But the work for the Unilever brand, though brilliantly executed, was just an extension of Marmite’s existing identity with a bit of a twist at the end. "Be more dog" was a change of mindset.
Recent winners: Channel 4 (2012); John Lewis (2011); Nike (2010); Comparethemarket.com (2009); Hovis (2008)