Editorial: Agencies can learn a lot from the 3 experience

It's been a memorable period at Peter Scott's Engine. Not only did it emerge that it's lining up a media acquisition, but also that the relationship between its WCRS subsidiary and the £40 million 3 mobile phone creative account is to end.

On the face of it, there is no direct link between the two developments. Yet both are reminders of lessons that can't be ignored. The first is that no holding group can have real credibility unless it has media at the heart of its offering. As a former Aegis chairman, Scott knows this. Nevertheless, the move is not without risk, with Scott needing to make enough profit to reduce Engine's debt mountain without causing the group to overheat. The second is so obvious, you wonder why it needs repeating. The most creative advertising will not persuade people to buy something they don't want.

In years to come, it's possible that 3's "welcome to our network" may rank alongside "the wonder of Woolies" as advertising that promised a lot more than the product actually delivered. This is no reflection on WCRS. Asked to express 3's personality - young, fun and a bit cheeky - the agency came up with a campaign that was both surreal and bizarre, but also one that nobody was likely to forget quickly.

Sadly, it may go down as a triumph of style over substance, masking problems that date back to 3's UK launch four years ago. Unlike Orange, 3 found itself up against fierce competition with the likes of T-Mobile and Vodafone.

Then there was the company's 3G offering that was more about locating a niche in the market without enough thought being given to whether there was a market in the niche.

Innovative as the technology is, most people use mobiles for making calls and sending texts, rather than for watching TV. Clients and agencies can learn a lot from 3's experience in the UK. For one thing, a company's ability to produce a dazzling piece of new equipment does not necessarily mean it should do so. The market may not exist. For another, a slick promotional campaign won't work if, as in 3's case, the number of bad customer experiences has been very high.

The first thing WCRS's successor might have to do is give its new client a reality check.


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