How Vodafone is looking for brand love with Martin Freeman ad campaign

Vodafone top marketers and Ogilvy & Mather's creative chief explain why the brand chose actor Martin Freeman and went back to using a celebrity in its advertising for the first time in over a decade.

Vodafone: Martin Freeman will also feature in the brand's Christmas campaign this year
Vodafone: Martin Freeman will also feature in the brand's Christmas campaign this year

In an exclusive interview with Campaign, ahead of the launch of its new campaign, the Vodafone UK brand team say it is moving beyond its reputation for safe and bland advertising into the "era of humour and storytelling".

This is the debut integrated work from Ogilvy & Mather since it won the advertising business out of WPP-owned sister agency Grey London earlier this year.

"It is time for us to get our advertising right, time for us to turn it around and we’ve now done that. We are the dream team and we are making it happen," say Bilge Ciftci, head of brand at Vodafone UK, and the head of brand and comms, Caroline Welsh.  

The campaign featuring actor Martin Freeman, which debuts tonight, is yet another attempt to breathe life into the UK’s third largest telecoms brand in a highly saturated market busy competing largely on price. "Selling is not difficult," agrees Ciftci, "you slash the price and you sell. What I want to do is build brand affinity. I want people to like my brand. And I need people around me who have the creative gusto to make that happen."

Critics have asked whether Vodafone, which has moved around the WPP stable for six years (its creative business moved to Grey from Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R in 2015 following a closed pitch and then moved to O&M London this year), has any real appetite for creative chutzpah like rivals O2 or the sometimes quirky Three.

"Great clients sometimes fail and great agencies do so as well, because the two probably didn’t come together the right way. But change the mix and great clients will become great and great agencies become great again," says Ciftci, who adds that finding the right agency partner was one of her biggest challenges. In WPP Team Red (O&M London and MEC), she says she has finally found the right creative partners and the right chemistry.  

Though the campaign does not mark a significant shift in its marketing strategy  it is rooted in its principles of connectivity and the tagline "Power to you" also remains the same – this is the first time that the brand has used a celebrity in a campaign since 2002, when David Beckham fronted the Vodafone Live ad.

The new integrated campaign will showcase Vodafone in what Ciftci describes as a "quintessentially British light". Welsh adds the brand campaign needed to reflect both the functional and emotional aspects of the Vodafone experience.

"We need mass appeal, we need people to love us, and this campaign and the brand’s association with Martin Freeman will help deliver on that," Welsh says.

Freeman will remain central to Vodafone ad campaigns in the foreseeable future. Vodafone will begin the shoot for the Christmas campaign with the actor in the next few weeks.

The team insists the new ad will prove the brand’s commitment to both creativity and their customers.

The creative viewpoint

Mick Mahoney, chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather London:
The new Vodafone ad marks Mahoney’s third stint with the brand – he worked on the business at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, RKCR/Y&R and now at O&M.

When it comes to mobile telecoms there is always a trade-off between price and customer experience, says Mahoney, but the new campaign recognises the need to build brand affinity towards deeper engagement with customers and storytelling.

"This is the third time I’ve worked on the brand and the marketing team this time round not only recognise the importance of building brand affinity but has also been actively pushing the need to be loved," he says.

The new campaign, Mahoney says, is anchored in storytelling with Martin Freeman at the heart of it, and will have the warmth and humour needed to ignite more consumer conversations around the brand.

Mahoney adds that in a market where 87% of consumers are locked into two-year contracts, telecoms providers need to build affinities to build long-term brand value and differentiation.

"While it is true Vodafone does not have a business problem as such, as a brand it has lately been seen as being in the business of engineering and does not quite deliver on the values of warmth or playfulness," he says. "We have tried to bring these back in this new campaign."

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