CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/HUTCHISON - 3G technology gives telecom new kid a chance to impress. Hutchison needs to deliver on its promises of 'honest' ads, Jeremy White reports

Mobile phone advertising is, on the whole, dreadful. It typically

comes in one of two forms: the supposedly meaningful but, in fact,

vacuous and inane "lifestyle" ad or the over-excitable,

technology-obsessed "future is here" spot.

This second approach, talking about what the product can actually do,

seems the more sensible of the two. However, it's all too easy for a

creative team to get carried away and try to convince the punter that

they are not only buying a phone, but a device that will dematerialise

them and transport them to another dimension.

According to Perdita Patterson, the editor of What Mobile magazine, this

is where the industry has gone wrong. "WAP is regarded as a marketing

disaster because it was heavily sold at the beginning, particularly by

the BT Cellnet surfer ad which led people to believe that they would be

able to surf the net on their phone in the same way as they would on a

PC," she says.

"This led to a consumer backlash because when they saw that all they

were getting was teletext on their mobile, they felt hard done by. This

is a typical mistake that has happened again and again in the mobile


This backlash has led to what is known in the industry as WAPathy.

People are jaded by claims of fantastic innovations on mobiles and now,

with the coming of third-generation phones when we actually do have

something to shout about, agencies and clients have already shot

themselves in the foot. They have cried wolf, not delivered on the

advertising promises and now it's very hard to get people to listen.

This is the main problem that TBWA/London will have to overcome now it

has been appointed by Hutchison 3G to come up with its launch campaign

next year.

Hutchison successfully bid for the largest block of 3G spectrum, paying

a handsome £4.4 billion. The Government managed to trouser £22.5 billion from the entire auction, which saw five players set to

compete in the 3G arena: Hutchison, One2One, Orange, Vodafone and BT.

Hutchison seems to be the unknown in this field but it's no stranger to

the mobile market.

Hutchison Whampoa, the parent company of the 3G arm, began its European

operations and investments back in 1989. In 1994, Hutchison Telecom

launched the Orange brand. In November 1999, Hutchison sold its entire

stake of 44.8 per cent shareholding in Orange to Mannesmann AG and, as

part of the agreed deal, Hutchison also became Mannesmann's largest

single shareholder.

The company then sold its stake in Mannesmann to Vodafone for a small

percentage in the company and then sold some of these shares.

These machinations have left Hutchison in a rather comfortable position

compared with its rivals. Along with £2 billion from outside

investors buying a 35 per cent stake in the company, Hutchison's share

dealings paid for the UK 3G licence. By selling out at the top of the 2G

market (the kind of phones most of us have now), it supposedly doesn't

have to hit customers hard to recoup its investment costs.

But, according to Patterson, the mobile market is slowing down. There is

a glut of handsets out there and no-one is upgrading. GPRS, or general

packet radio service phones (termed 2.5G phones), passed consumers by

without a blip. Telecoms companies were reluctant even to profile the

new technology in the wake of the WAP disaster.

And the unfamiliarity of the Hutchison name could yet prove a


How will the company manage to persuade Joe Public to sign up to its

network rather than that of an established and "trusted" brand?

"There's an enormous amount of cynicism regarding the whole area and

uncertainty about future business models," Neil Dawson, TBWA's executive

planning director, says. "But Hutchison is not tarnished with the

associations that the other established brands are. Without giving

anything away, we are looking at recommending an entirely different

approach from the conventional players."

"Historically, other brands have taken a grandiose and visionary

perspective on technology and perhaps there's an opportunity to change

the tone and the content of communications," he adds. "A more honest,

humble approach to technology. A more tangible and realistic approach to


Hutchison also intends to create desire for content services. Content

people want and are prepared to pay for. In July, for example, the

company signed a deal, thought to be worth £35 million, to supply

exclusive FA Premier League content to its mobiles.

"We have no legacy," a Hutchison spokesman says. "We can build a system

that is best practice with the best technology and is completely

scalable so we can cope with growth. We can put in the best systems for

internet protocol. This is a real advantage."

Jason Coward, the managing director at WCRS, the agency that handles

Vodafone, says that agencies have to avoid the mistakes made when

advertising earlier innovations: "Mobile companies will have to work out

at what point they are confident enough that they can deliver something

that won't disappoint. You can have the greatest ads in the world but if

you're going to disappoint you shouldn't be doing it."

Coward feels that Hutchison has a head start because it has been

thinking about 3G for a year where others have had to maintain their

existing services as well.

Another plus for the new kid is an impressive management line-up, headed

by the managing director and former Orange executive, Colin Tucker, that

includes most of the team that launched Orange. "Orange came from

nowhere into a market dominated by Cellnet and Vodafone," Coward says.

"Within a year-and-a-half it became the consumers' champion. A lot of

the people at Hutchison were the people at Orange when it launched."