OPINION: Mills on ... Orange

One of things I've noticed about mobile phone companies is that they all advertise the same services and features at the same time. Perhaps it's because, like retailers, they spend the whole time watching what the competition does. Or, perhaps they're all basically insecure and take comfort in herd-like behaviour.

Thus picture messaging was all the rage last summer and autumn. More recently, it was all about talking to other mobile phone users on different networks.

Now they all seem to be focused on the business market, at least judging by the blitz T-Mobile, O2 and Orange are subjecting us to.

The other thing to notice about mobile marketing is how it's come full circle. When they first started in the late 80s and early 90s, mobile phones targeted the business user. At the time, it made sense. They were expensive to buy, expensive to use and, in lifestyle terms, business constituted the market with the most potential. Better than that, mobile phones had a badge value: if you had one you it was a sign you were so important you had to be in touch at all times. Inevitably, you could charge a premium for them.

Today, of course, when nine-year-olds have mobile phones, they're a commodity item. So how do you get back to creating some premium revenue streams?

Start targeting the business community again, obviously. Mother and Orange's answer is "Hard-Nosed Businessman", a super-competitive, ultra-crass, alpha-male type. In many ways, he's a typical Mother creation and illustrates a recurrent theme in the agency's modus operandi: take a cliched personality, exaggerate it to death, take the piss out of it and then attach a product label: the Johnny Vegas couch potato character for ITV Digital; Lilt's cheery, fat, Caribbean ladies; the Egg Brilliant Industries characters and the slobs who make up one of the gangs in the West Side Story pastiche for Batchelors Super Noodles.

As often as not it works, and at the very least it produces something recognisable and entertaining. Hard-Nosed Businessman, whom we see relentlessly hectoring his poor son Jennings on the rules of life, fits the bill - up to a point. He's immediately identifiable and, as a dramatic device, he can convey the proposition - that Orange's wireless capabilities are perfect for busy-busy business people - in an appropriately hard-sell way. Which is OK as far as it goes.

But for me, the ad falls down on two counts. First, it's actually taking the piss out of the people it's supposed to be selling to. Some might say that's not the issue: people like this recognise - and laugh at - these faults in other people, but not in themselves. How else do we explain the success of David Brent?

I don't see it that way. The ads poke fun at the very behaviour - that I-have-to-know-what's-going-on-even-on-holiday mentality - that the Orange service promotes. Essentially, the ad hangs on the idea that Orange wants us to laugh, in a knowing and superior way, at Hard-Nosed Businessman because he wants to know, even while he's building sandcastles with his son, how sales are going - and then invites us to subscribe to a product that does precisely that. Second, it's not very Orange. Where's the tone and feel established by WCRS that made it the brand it is today? Lowe's tenure on Orange may have been wrong for both parties but, if nothing else, it kept closer to the spirit of the original Orange than this does.

Some will argue that it is time Orange moved on. Perhaps, but not, surely, in this jokey and, in the inevitable Stephen Fry voiceover, condescending manner? I doubt that that is where Orange really wants to be either, but I suspect the truth is that while it may want to move on, it hasn't worked out where to.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Not even a business-to-business gong.

File under ... P for patronising.

What would the chairman's wife say? "So which member of your staff is

Hard-Nosed Businessman based on?"