Opinion: Beale on ... 3

Byron said hate is the longest pleasure. Anna Friel has been pleasing me for years. Nothing personal, she's just gloriously, teeth-grindingly slappable. It's the careful winsomeness, the studied wide-eyed-but-no-knickers posture, a vulnerable gazelle with a cheeky-dirty grin. Slap.

I love to hate anything starring Friel, which has been a bit disappointing recently as her telly career seems to have shrivelled a bit. Until 3. Now she's wallpaper and aggression levels on my sofa have frequently reached deeply satisfying fist-balling levels.

Apparently, Friel embodies the qualities 3 aspires to: questioning, cheeky, playful and "just a little bit naughty".

Slap. Now I reckon if you went into Carphone Warehouse and asked for a mobile network that is a bit cheeky and a bit naughty, they'd think you were a bit bananas. On the other hand, if you asked for the one with that irritating little urchin who used to be a Brookie lesbian, there'd be no problem.

And so, hate her though I do, Friel has given 3 an edge, in simple marketing terms at least. She's given them a (want-to-punch-it) face and an identity that the brand was criminally lacking through its crucial launch period.

In a market that is still almost universally struggling for distinctiveness, 3 is now inching towards stand-out.

The big campaign running at the moment is the "evolution" ad from TBWA\London.

Friel has big feet and talks about evolving from a single-celled amoeba to an actress (more a short crawl than a leap).

It's all really just an excuse for some lingering shots of her elfin beauty as she extols the virtue of video phones. "I can now be where I want, when I want (wrinkle sweet little nose, girly giggle). Even when I'm not. I can laugh (naked on a rock swinging arms, that should get the lads interested). I can cry (now covered in mud, all doe-eyes, looking a bit morose ... or is that wooden?)."

It's all a bit of tosh really, but beautifully done, nicely directed.

Turn the sound down and it's got absolutely nothing to do with sending pictures on your phone (a good promo for a decent pedicure, perhaps), all lush images and no ugly, distorted two-inch pics on ugly handsets.

But video mobile is a new thing, a bit confusing, a bit techie; what has laughing and crying got to do with it? 3's original advertising was harsh, cold and impenetrable - it didn't give the product any real-life, human dimension. I think the latest TV work has gone a little too far the other way, leaning too heavily on the nose-wrinkly, tinkly laughy, self-referential personal stuff, rather than making the killer application the star. Friel's simpering obscures the real brand message. There's nothing in this ad that persuades me that I need video mobile, that it will become a cultural imperative (like texting is); too much wank, not enough want.

Analysts estimate that 3 needs more than a 10 per cent share of the UK mobile market by the end of the decade, with each customer paying around £30 a month for its services. While it is aggressively competing on price, it is the sophisticated add-ons of 3G that will rake the money in, and much will depend on the quality (both in terms of editorial choice and watchable reception) of the video services on offer.

The 3 brand has had a bad start. Lack of handsets, patchy coverage and shareholder squabbles have all tainted the product. The new ad campaigns put the brand on a surer marketing footing. It's more identifiable, definitely warmer. But Friel has become very irritating, very quickly and I can't see her working as a medium-term icon. Slap.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Well, I know where I'd stick it, but no chance.

File under ... N for naughty (just a little bit).

What would the chairman's wife say? "How does she get work with feet

like that? The girl needs a good pumice."

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