Mobile phone advertising is, on the whole, dreadful. It typically
comes in one of two forms: the supposedly meaningful but, in fact,
vacuous and inane "lifestyle" ad or the over-excitable,
technology-obsessed "future is here" spot.
This second approach, talking about what the product can actually do,
seems the more sensible of the two. However, it's all too easy for a
creative team to get carried away and try to convince the punter that
they are not only buying a phone, but a device that will dematerialise
them and transport them to another dimension.
According to Perdita Patterson, the editor of What Mobile magazine, this
is where the industry has gone wrong. "WAP is regarded as a marketing
disaster because it was heavily sold at the beginning, particularly by
the BT Cellnet surfer ad which led people to believe that they would be
able to surf the net on their phone in the same way as they would on a
PC," she says.
"This led to a consumer backlash because when they saw that all they
were getting was teletext on their mobile, they felt hard done by. This
is a typical mistake that has happened again and again in the mobile
This backlash has led to what is known in the industry as WAPathy.
People are jaded by claims of fantastic innovations on mobiles and now,
with the coming of third-generation phones when we actually do have
something to shout about, agencies and clients have already shot
themselves in the foot. They have cried wolf, not delivered on the
advertising promises and now it's very hard to get people to listen.
This is the main problem that TBWA/London will have to overcome now it
has been appointed by Hutchison 3G to come up with its launch campaign
Hutchison successfully bid for the largest block of 3G spectrum, paying
a handsome £4.4 billion. The Government managed to trouser £22.5 billion from the entire auction, which saw five players set to
compete in the 3G arena: Hutchison, One2One, Orange, Vodafone and BT.
Hutchison seems to be the unknown in this field but it's no stranger to
the mobile market.
Hutchison Whampoa, the parent company of the 3G arm, began its European
operations and investments back in 1989. In 1994, Hutchison Telecom
launched the Orange brand. In November 1999, Hutchison sold its entire
stake of 44.8 per cent shareholding in Orange to Mannesmann AG and, as
part of the agreed deal, Hutchison also became Mannesmann's largest
The company then sold its stake in Mannesmann to Vodafone for a small
percentage in the company and then sold some of these shares.
These machinations have left Hutchison in a rather comfortable position
compared with its rivals. Along with £2 billion from outside
investors buying a 35 per cent stake in the company, Hutchison's share
dealings paid for the UK 3G licence. By selling out at the top of the 2G
market (the kind of phones most of us have now), it supposedly doesn't
have to hit customers hard to recoup its investment costs.
But, according to Patterson, the mobile market is slowing down. There is
a glut of handsets out there and no-one is upgrading. GPRS, or general
packet radio service phones (termed 2.5G phones), passed consumers by
without a blip. Telecoms companies were reluctant even to profile the
new technology in the wake of the WAP disaster.
And the unfamiliarity of the Hutchison name could yet prove a
How will the company manage to persuade Joe Public to sign up to its
network rather than that of an established and "trusted" brand?
"There's an enormous amount of cynicism regarding the whole area and
uncertainty about future business models," Neil Dawson, TBWA's executive
planning director, says. "But Hutchison is not tarnished with the
associations that the other established brands are. Without giving
anything away, we are looking at recommending an entirely different
approach from the conventional players."
"Historically, other brands have taken a grandiose and visionary
perspective on technology and perhaps there's an opportunity to change
the tone and the content of communications," he adds. "A more honest,
humble approach to technology. A more tangible and realistic approach to
Hutchison also intends to create desire for content services. Content
people want and are prepared to pay for. In July, for example, the
company signed a deal, thought to be worth £35 million, to supply
exclusive FA Premier League content to its mobiles.
"We have no legacy," a Hutchison spokesman says. "We can build a system
that is best practice with the best technology and is completely
scalable so we can cope with growth. We can put in the best systems for
internet protocol. This is a real advantage."
Jason Coward, the managing director at WCRS, the agency that handles
Vodafone, says that agencies have to avoid the mistakes made when
advertising earlier innovations: "Mobile companies will have to work out
at what point they are confident enough that they can deliver something
that won't disappoint. You can have the greatest ads in the world but if
you're going to disappoint you shouldn't be doing it."
Coward feels that Hutchison has a head start because it has been
thinking about 3G for a year where others have had to maintain their
existing services as well.
Another plus for the new kid is an impressive management line-up, headed
by the managing director and former Orange executive, Colin Tucker, that
includes most of the team that launched Orange. "Orange came from
nowhere into a market dominated by Cellnet and Vodafone," Coward says.
"Within a year-and-a-half it became the consumers' champion. A lot of
the people at Hutchison were the people at Orange when it launched."