How do you get a nation interested in a product they don’t know they want, for a brand that doesn’t exist, and in a market that nobody cares about?
We started with Britain. This would be a uniquely British technology brand – not a child of Silicon Valley, nor a global mobile behemoth. But, to be successful, this brand also needed to understand the Britain it would be born into – a tale of two nations. On the one hand, we were beset by pessimism, austerity and deep cynicism; on the other, we were building up to a game-changing Olympics, with a population excited by technological innovation.
We needed to launch a brand that felt as British as the day is long – one that was an enthusiastic ambassador for the possibilities of new technology but, in uncertain times, also behaved with clarity and certainty.
And that presented a small issue when it came to 4G. We were aching to tell people about it, since EE had pulled off the masterstroke of delivering full 4G months ahead of the rest of the market. But if no-one knew what 3G was (it was Google’s third-most-searched "what is" in the UK in 2012), then we needed to find a way to make 4G simple enough for the whole nation while still exciting the denizens of Shoreditch about the significant step forward mobile technology was taking. And, although we had first-mover advantage on 4G, we knew the others would get their acts together eventually.
So, instead of building a 4G brand, we decided to build a brand that embodied what 4G meant. EE would be the first network brand built for your whole digital life and the first that puts you at the centre of your digital universe.
And that’s where Kevin Bacon came in. If anyone was the living embodiment of connectivity, it was Kevin – Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and all that. He could also help us explain things to people. We wouldn’t need obscure metaphors about the capabilities of EE.
The only thing was Kevin is not British. But what if this Hollywood A-lister knew the minutia of British cultural life? We know Britain takes celebrities who love our country and take on our culture to its heart. Kevin would be the globally connected celebrity who was more British than we are, with an edge of eccentricity – that rare kind of American we Brits would be proud to call our own.
How we conceived the campaign
Rob Potts, creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi: EE is the new network for your digital life and we needed a vehicle to explain exactly what that meant. We needed a spokesman. We didn’t want just anyone – we wanted a spokesman who would sum up what EE’s digital network had to offer: connections to everything, everywhere.
Hence Kevin Bacon. Six Degrees of Separation proved he was connected to everyone in Hollywood, but we had to prove that he’s also connected to the past 40 years of British popular culture. Ken Barlow, Hollyoaks, Philadelphia cream cheese, Helen Daniels and Danny Dyer – you know, the really important stuff.
We thought that if we could connect Kevin to a springer spaniel in the launch ad, then we could connect him to anybody. So we started with a dog called Rover, which got us to the Rovers Return, which got us to Ken Barlow, and we worked backwards from there. In fact, all the scripts were written back to front. We started with the connection we wanted him to end on, read an old copy of TV Times and then filled in the gaps.
Ringan Ledwidge was always going to be the perfect choice to direct the campaign, and it was a bonus that he’d already directed Kevin in a spot in the US.
Before we knew it, we were on Wormwood Scrubs playing fields teaching Kevin how to hoof a football and shout "’ave it" with the correct intonation. Ringan had armed Kevin with footage of all our cultural references, but a one-on-one tutorial was required to get Kevin sounding like Danny Dyer – Kevin would record us on his iPhone for anything that involved Essex accents and listen to it at night as homework. The highlight was filming the cinema spots. Kevin got to revisit some of his famous roles – Apollo 13, A Few Good Men, Hollow Man, Friday The 13th and Footloose.
Even though we had an American as our spokesman, looking back at the ads, the result to us feels like a very British campaign, written by a couple of very British blokes, probably in a very British pub on a Friday night. Which was our exact intention, really.
The campaign idea even helped us think about the media strategy. If Kevin was connected to everyone and everything that’s important, then so was the campaign: not only was this the biggest UK brand launch for ten years, it was also the first launch of this scale in an exploded world of media touchpoints.
Our campaign was designed to reward people on every level, at every point and, ultimately, to keep on connecting to more and more content. Each component of the campaign had to work independently to ensure instant comprehension. But each component also had to act as a "jump page" to another level, where people could dive into deeper levels of information and entertainment either by clicking, using a QR code or following a URL or hashtag.
Most people noticed the blanket media coverage on day one of the launch. But there was so much going on under the surface – every enquiry, for example, was responded to almost instantly through social channels by a team of customer service agents awarding people "EE firsts": small prizes for those who did things first with the brand in all social channels.
Did we succeed? Well, more than half of the UK population knew what EE was about just two months after launch, footfall into stores is up significantly and new customers are coming in. It was a multilayered, connected and ultimately successful campaign – but, in lots of ways, it was as unpredictable as Kevin dressing up as Jedward.
Richard Huntington is the director of strategy at Saatchi & Saatchi