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How to create a successful brand campaign spanning different countries

The case of UK’s First Mobile Phone Call campaign by Vodafone and Golden Goose PR

How do you build a successful international PR campaign? We had a chat with the Vodafone Group, a winner of the 2015 CIPR Excellence award in the ‘Global Public Relations Campaign’ category. The award, which recognises a strategic public relations campaign in more than one country either based in the UK or originating overseas, was presented by CIPR International Chair Eva Maclaine.

The winning team at 2015 CIPR Excellence award ceremony
The winning team at 2015 CIPR Excellence award ceremony

The award-winning campaign, ‘The 30th Anniversary of the UK's First Mobile Phone Call’ was realised by Vodafone with the support of Golden Goose PR. ‘The close co-operation between the in-house and agency teams took what could have been a dry, corporate announcement and created a brand moment’, the judges commented.

Could you briefly outline what the campaign was about?

Our 30th anniversary campaign was about celebrating the history of mobile technology, reflecting on how much has changed and celebrating Vodafone’s pioneering heritage. It is still hard to believe it was only 30 years ago that mobile phones weighed up to 11lbs and had only 30 minutes talk time. Sharing the news of the evolution of mobile technology, and that Vodafone was integral in launching what was at the time cutting-edge technology, proved interesting to audiences of all ages. We also didn’t take ourselves too seriously and made a point of satirising our history by creating some amusing videos featuring the UK’s first mobile phone.

How do you build a successful international campaign like this? What was key to your success?

David Hasselhoff & KITT reunited with Hasselhoff's first mobile, the Motorola 8000X sold by Vodafone in 1985
David Hasselhoff & KITT reunited with Hasselhoff's first mobile, the Motorola 8000X sold by Vodafone in 1985

We spent months researching, from gathering information about the people who built the Vodafone network 30 years ago, involving many of these people at our launch, and finding Vodafone’s first mobile phones by tracking down collectors and purchasing handsets on eBay.

It was also about choosing the right timing for the story, setting an embargo for 26th December, and providing content at a notoriously quiet period for the media, between Christmas and New Year.

We made sure we understood what content appealed to different cultures, working closely with people in our local markets. If an idea appealed to five to 10 of our colleagues across Vodafone’s markets, we thought it was probably a good idea and one worth pursuing. We didn’t have significant budgets but knew that we did not have to spend a lot of money to create content which would both amuse and inform people. And we knew that 1980s nostalgia would appeal to a people of all ages. There were planned elements of the campaign to cater for people’s appreciation of nostalgia. There were also features of the campaign that were much more spur of the moment but just felt right, such as the opportunity to involve David Hasselhoff, who was in town for pantomime season.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this campaign is that it had to work in different countries, with different cultural backgrounds. How did you face this challenge?

We worked closely with our markets to understand their perspectives and work out how best to incorporate their suggestions. It wasn’t always easy, as some concepts, humour and references do not translate, but we were determined to find a way to create a globally appealing campaign. Children were a clear favourite across the board, and prompted the development of the widely shared ‘See kids review 1980s mobile phones’ video. Humour shaped the making of the Vodafone Transportable VT1 ‘Spoof Ad’, which gained nearly one million views in its first week.

Which part of the campaign was most exciting to work on?

Transforming Vodafone’s flagship store on Oxford Street into a retro, 1980s mobile phone store for the embargoed early morning media event in mid-December was a lot of fun. We had to create a design that would both transform the store but be able to be taken down quickly so the store could open for 10am trading. We tracked down the original sales manuals and phones, so exact pricing and information could be displayed next to the phones. Instead of doing a formal presentation or on-stage event, we had the first Vodafone employees and customers, as well as the family of the late Sir Ernest Harrison, Vodafone’s first chairman, scheduled to do round-the-clock media interviews throughout the event.

Another exciting moment was a midnight photocall on a traffic island in Westminster, at the foot of Big Ben. Michael Harrison, the son of Vodafone’s late Chairman who made the UK’s first mobile call kindly agreed to reenact the moment. No one told us that at midnight, Big Ben’s lights are switched off. If you look closely at our picture, you’ll see that the image we used from the shoot was taken at 11.59.

Are you particularly proud of any specific aspect of the campaign?

Michael Harrison (left) making the UK's first mobile call in 1985, the moment recreated, taking Michael to the same spot with the Transportable Vodafone VT1 in 2014
Michael Harrison (left) making the UK's first mobile call in 1985, the moment recreated, taking Michael to the same spot with the Transportable Vodafone VT1 in 2014

We are proud we achieved significant global coverage and social media traction on such a low budget. We achieved nearly 900 print and online articles globally and 1.4 million views of the two videos. We were also pleased to see the results of a global survey following the campaign, which found that 81 per cent of people felt more positively about the brand after seeing the campaign. As one of the first major campaigns for the team, these results were hugely motivating.

Was there a campaign aspect that was particularly difficult to develop?

Probably sourcing the original phones, adverts and sales and pricing information. It involved weeks of research, sifting through records and furious bidding on eBay, but it has been incredibly rewarding. Aside from being a tangible element of the campaign for audiences to engage with, the phone installation has now travelled across the country and the world to events from Qatar to Brussels, and our Vodafone Transportable VT1 even recently appeared at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

What is the added value of working in close collaboration with an external agency?

Throughout the campaign, Golden Goose became part of our team, helping us execute our strategy, coming up with great creative ideas and engaging with our markets. In general, partnering closely with the right external agency allows us to pull from a more diverse pool of ideas and execute our ideas more effectively.

What advice would you give to professionals working in cross-cultural and multi-cultural environments in order to succeed?

Pay close attention to the feedback across markets and consider ways to integrate their ideas, rather than pursue ideas separately. Take an open-minded approach and have fun exploring the ways that campaign elements could play out across different geographies and cultures.

This interview was prepared by Anna Boccassini, CIPR International committee member, in conversation with Amanda Andrews, Head of Communications Strategy & Research at Vodafone Group.

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