OPINION: MILLS ON ... BT’S YOUTH STRATEGY

I know it’s a little cruel, but it is hard to suppress a giggle at the thought of agencies as conventional as Abbott Mead Vickers, HHCL, Duckworth Finn and Wieden & Kennedy trying to convince BT that one of them really is the right home for BT’s new youth account. Indeed, there is something risible about the whole idea of BT holding a separate youth pitch. It’s not difficult to imagine the client and account director, both middle-aged, signing off on the latest youth campaign just because it features a clubber in a pair of combats. Think embarrassment, think Rover and Cool Britannia.

I know it’s a little cruel, but it is hard to suppress a giggle at

the thought of agencies as conventional as Abbott Mead Vickers, HHCL,

Duckworth Finn and Wieden & Kennedy trying to convince BT that one of

them really is the right home for BT’s new youth account. Indeed, there

is something risible about the whole idea of BT holding a separate youth

pitch. It’s not difficult to imagine the client and account director,

both middle-aged, signing off on the latest youth campaign just because

it features a clubber in a pair of combats. Think embarrassment, think

Rover and Cool Britannia.



A joke or not, there is nevertheless a serious point behind the BT youth

pitch. Just as the day Microsoft’s market capitalisation overtook that

of General Electric signified the shift from a manufacturing economy to

a service-led one, so too there is a special significance in the

revelation that when its takeover of AirTouch is complete, Vodafone will

be bigger than BT.



Vodafone, we should recall, has been around in its current form for less

than ten years. The mobile phone itself hasn’t been around much

longer.



I mention this because, in many ways, the mobile phone is the product

that best exemplifies the spirit of the restless, information-driven,

communications age we live in. But it is also a product whose explosive

growth only occurred when the likes of Vodafone stopped marketing it to

businessmen and elderly women and positioned it as the vital accessory

for today’s youth. Think of the One2One ads featuring Kate Moss, Ian

Wright and Chris Evans - each of them a hero to today’s youth. In a

sense, the mobile phone is also a physical icon of our age. When they

come to bury those millennium time capsules, the new Nokia 8310 will

surely be one of those items that go in.



It is these forces, then, that must lie behind BT’s decision to hold a

separate youth pitch. The long and the short of it is that the take-up

of mobile phones by young people presents BT with a huge threat. This is

not only a threat in the sense that every call made on a mobile is one

not made on BT’s fixed line system and is therefore a revenue loss, but

also because, as mobile phones are increasingly able to offer non-voice

services (ie internet access, messaging, data unloading and so on), so

BT is in danger of being marginalised.



To this young generation, BT could become rather old-fashioned - as

relevant to telephony tomorrow as Littlewoods and Bhs are to the high

street today.



Those who remember the specially commissioned Dave Stewart pop video (I

vaguely recall a phone box and a swimming pool) will know that BT has

dabbled in advertising to the youth market before, but without any great

conviction. So let’s praise BT for taking a far-sighted view of the

trends, but cross our fingers and hope they don’t make complete fools of

themselves.



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