Editorial: Muddled shortlist fails to inspire confidence in 3

Last week's announcement by the mobile phone operator 3 that glue London, Hurrell and Dawson and Euro RSCG London had made the shortlist for its £45 million advertising account resulted in more than a few puzzled expressions in adland. It's hard to come up with a review in recent memory with a more varied group of shortlisted agencies.

Clients often believe, erroneously, that the desire among agencies to know who their opposition is on a pitch is because it will give them some idea as to what direction their competition might take. While there may be an element of truth in that, a shortlist often tells agencies more about what the pitch itself will be like. The competition agencies face is a strong indication of where the client sees the solution to its problems lying; much more so than what strategic or creative routes the agencies might be up against.

Such a schizophrenic list from 3 clearly points to a client that can't decide which of its manifold problems it should tackle first. The company has invested heavily in 3G technology and in buying a user-base through massively discounted tariffs. The result has been a fickle group of customers who have for the most part refused to turn into the voracious content-consumers 3 so desperately needs to make its investments pay off. Yes, 3 users want a nice phone, but they also want a back-to-basics, pay-as-you-go tariff. The fact Woolworths accounts for the bulk of 3 purchases speaks volumes. The pile 'em high, flog 'em cheap aesthetic at the store is clearly at variance with the "welcome to our network" message from 3's former agency, WCRS.

The three agencies will no doubt take radically different approaches to 3's problems. Glue's presence on the second above-the-line shortlist in as many months is heartening, but looks questionable with such different bedfellows; for all the hard work the agency has done in repositioning itself under its new management, it's hard to see Euro coming up with anything other than a fairly traditional ad campaign for 3; and while Hurrell and Dawson's mooted integrated approach is eminently sensible, it is as yet untested. Will 3 be the first large account prepared to take the risk?