Top performers of 2003: Campaign of the year - 118 118

The WCRS launch campaign for The Number's directory enquiries service, 118 118, took its target audience by storm and managed to be a media event in its own right.

Got your number! Unless you have been living under a rock for a year, that phrase will be instantly recognisable from WCRS's 118 118 campaign.

WCRS's work for the brand exemplifies the power of advertising. When the agency landed the account last year, it was tasked with creating a brand new company in a low-interest category from the ground up.

Just to make things worse, in order to succeed in the sector, the new kid on the block had to fight against decades of brand heritage and the massive budget of the mighty BT. So it is deserving that the 118 118 runners have - just as they cheekily proclaim in the campaign's apogee ad that spoofs Sylvester Stallone's 70s classic movie Rocky - beaten all contenders to the title.

It all began late last year with a decision by Oftel, the telecommunications watchdog, to deregulate the directory enquiries market and break BT's monopoly. To create a level playing field, Oftel decided that 192 would be switched off on 24 August and all players wanting to enter the market, including BT, would be randomly allotted a six-digit number prefixed by 118.

The US directory enquiries giant InfoNXX chose WCRS and Naked to assault the public with a £17 million ad campaign, called the UK company The Number, and was allotted 118 811.

Chris Moss, the man jointly credited with creating the Orange brand, was brought on board as the chief executive. Alex Lewis, a co-founder of the brand communications agency Myrtle and a former marketing manager at Vauxhall and Orange, was hired to manage The Number's agency relationships.

At this point, two critical decisions were made that defined the course of the campaign, setting it head and shoulders above its competitors.

The first was the bold - and ultimately brilliant - move to convince The Number to sacrifice £2 million of the ad budget to acquire 118 118 - considered to be the most memorable number - from a competitor.

The second decision was to launch months before the switch-off date.

This strategy was considered adspend down the drain by the other players (and there were about 16 of them) with not a single one advocating running ads early. The received wisdom was that there was no point advertising before switch-off because consumers would not care while 192 was still operational. Wrong.

Going early gave the campaign the clear air of an uncluttered media space.

OK, it may have mystified consumers at first, but it worked. WCRS was able to build 118 118 as a brand that the public genuinely warmed to and not just market it as a service.

The quirky runners were not created on a whim. Research showed that 25 per cent of the UK population make 89 per cent of all calls. Those heavy users were biased toward 25- to 34-year-old urbanites with a focus on London and the South East - the perfect demographic to warm to the runners.

WCRS and Naked were able to stretch the media mileage of the characters in a way their competitors could not. An example was the spot that aimed to ride on the coat tails of Wieden & Kennedy's iconic "cog" ad. Honda blocked the ad from airing on TV, but WCRS gave it life as a viral. Media buying for the campaign was handled by OMD.

Naked and the PR company Brazil provided cross-media integration and took the runners to the street. "Geezer" field marketers handed out vests and shirts; 150 actors posing as the runners handed out keepsakes such as moustaches and postcards; 500 washing lines appeared throughout five cities, displaying 3,000 vests; a branded ice-cream truck toured the country at a range of events. The runners infiltrated various high-profile media events, including at Wimbledon during a lull in play, complete with commentary from John McEnroe. The pair has also been brought to life online in tabloid format with their own website, which boasts headlines such as: "I was 118 118's love slave."

A good yardstick for its success is to compare The Number with its major competitors BT and Conduit. Independent research conducted in November showed 118 118 as the first-choice provider for 37 per cent of the UK population, compared with 26 per cent for BT's 118 500 and 7 per cent for Conduit's 11 88 88.

Conduit's performance is a good counterpoint. It pushed the value angle with print ads featuring superheroes as saviours, and TV ads with three dancers in foam outfits. At the time of publication, Nielsen Media Research put The Number and Conduit at £14.5 million and £13 million adspend respectively for the year. Despite the equivalence in spend, the two players are a gulf apart in terms of usage.

There have been reports of poor service by a number of the new providers including The Number. But WCRS can't be blamed for that. The agency's job was to create a campaign that would get consumers to come, and nobody can deny that it has, admirably and with some finesse, achieved that.

An honourable mention has to go to Bartle Bogle Hegarty for the campaign to launch the deodorant brand Lynx Pulse. The integrated campaign - led by the brilliant TV spot featuring the dancing geek - saw sales go through the roof in one of the brand's parent Lever Faberge's most successful variant launches to date. It also spawned yet another UK number-one song for the BBH hit-making machine.

Recent winners: John Smith's (2002); ITV Digital (2001); Skoda (2000); Levi's Sta-Prest (1999); VW Polo (1998).

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