According to Orange, the future is still bright. Now, though, it is open, too. Good things might happen when my phone is on or when it is off; and to cap it all, I now need to start thinking about whether I am a dolphin, a canary, a panther or a raccoon. I am an Orange customer and I am confused. I am also hoping I am not a raccoon.
Orange has had a marketing personality crisis over the past four or five years. Yes, executionally, its advertising has had moments of brilliance - Mother's off/on "blackout" and "Rio" ads were great slices of 60-second storytelling; "dance" was a beautiful call for commitment in a market where one in four customers will dump their mobile company at the end of their 12-month contract. But, one telecoms marketing expert says, the core message - what the brand actually stands for and how it differentiates itself in an increasingly commoditised market - looked in danger of being lost. "Orange can't just be about pretty pictures; about people dancing and being nice in a blackout. The UK marketing had disappeared up its own ethereal passages," he says.
In part, Orange has been a victim of its own success; when it launched in 1994, mobile phones were still the wanker's preferred gadget; most people neither wanted nor saw the need for one. To say mobile communications were the future was a bold claim.
"Dissolve to 2002 and 'The future's bright. The future's Orange' had come true and Orange didn't know what to do next," the VCCP co-founder, Charles Vallance, who worked on the Orange launch with Rooney Carruthers at WCRS, says.
Orange's France Telecom owner will have been aware of the need for a new focus, particularly now it has rebranded Wanadoo as Orange Broadband and launched Europe's first converged mobile communications and internet service provider. It did not spend EUR4 billion on the company to see it wallow in winsome messages and it needs to make Orange's free broadband service work in the face of competition, notably Carphone Warehouse's free Talk Talk Broadband.
The result was the global review that saw the Publicis Groupe agencies Fallon and Marcel take charge of the consumer-facing marketing account, while Euro RSCG snared the business-to-business account. The brief handed out in the pitch was to come up with one vision and one direction for the Orange brand. Marcel and Fallon's winning strategy was "open".
"'Open' is about removing the barriers between people and the things and people they love," Pippa Dunn, the Orange UK marketing director, says.
She claims the strategy is changing because Orange is moving towards becoming a total communications company, though she disagrees that Orange has had anything approaching a personality crisis in recent years. "Orange is consistent in terms of thought, but not necessarily in terms of creative.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing," she says.
"Not only is 'open' an outward-facing consumer rallying cry, it's an internal rallying cry for the company," Robert Senior, Fallon's managing partner, says. "If its reason for being is to break down the barriers between people and things they love, that's quite an inspirational reason to come in in the morning when you're working in what, on the surface, appears quite a commoditised market."
The launch ad for the open strategy was created by Marcel in Paris. It is a metaphor for freedom and features a fish in a bowl floating in the ocean. But in the UK, at least, the ad will run with the "Orange: the future's bright" endline. Won't this serve to confuse customers who are already wrestling with the raccoon conundrum? "Open is the reason why the future's bright," Dunn says. She asks what phone and talk plan I have and tells me the combination makes me a panther.
While "the future's bright" has strong stock with consumers, it has disproportionately stronger stock internally at Orange. France Telecom will want to sweat the assets of such a strong brand, but Orange UK is the brand's custodian and creator and, by all accounts, entered into the review reluctantly.
Retaining a version of the launch strapline is one way for the UK to retain a degree of control over the marketing message, although an insider says the company is "a polite autonomy run by a Gallic autocracy - there's some latitude, but it's very clearly France".
Will France's dominance also be reflected in the Marcel/Fallon partnership?
"At the moment, anything that runs pan-European will be produced by Marcel, and anything that's non-pan-European but running in the UK, Fallon will produce," Senior says. So while Marcel has created the "fish" spot, Fallon is responsible for the launch of Orange Broadband in the UK and will launch a TV spot later in the summer featuring a bicycle that goes off for a ride when its owner is asleep. Now, if someone could just explain why I'm a panther ...