Cellphone Brand friendly

Monday, March 5th 2012. | Gadget News

subAdco-popupDECLARATIONS of love for cellphone companies are few and far between. Dropped calls, rising prices, spotty service and strict contracts make many customers want to throw their hands — and their phones — in the air.

Virgin Mobile is hoping to tackle that antipathy head-on with an advertising campaign that starts this week.

Allon Tatarka, a creative director at Mother New York, the agency that created the campaign, said many people’s relationships with carriers ranged from lukewarm to vitriolic. “You either don’t care or you hate them,” Mr. Tatarka said. “We’re trying to inject love into that relationship.”

Virgin Mobile isn’t a full cellphone company. Instead it’s a brand that offers prepaid cellphones through Sprint in the United States. It hopes to solidify its position with its target market, 18- to 24-year-olds, with a campaign that includes a heavy dose of youth marketing strategies from social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook, as well as mobile applications.

Ron Faris, the head of brand marketing for Virgin Mobile USA, said the campaign would “tap into the Zuckerberg in all of us,” a reference to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

Banner ads will run on sites like YouTube, Gawker, Buzzfeed and Pandora and television ads will be broadcast on ABC, NBC and Fox during shows like “Modern Family,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “America’s Next Top Model.”

“We’re going to change the relationship you have with your cellphone company,” Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, says in an online video manifesto for the campaign. “We answer to a higher calling,” he adds, underscoring the tagline for the entire campaign.

Mr. Branson is the central character in the campaign’s television ad. “Long before Richard Branson created airlines and spaceships, he envisioned Virgin Mobile,” says the narrator in the ad, which shows Mr. Branson growing up in 1960s London.

Robert Passikoff, the president of Brand Keys in New York, a brand and customer-loyalty consulting company, played down Mr. Branson’s celebrity role and said cellphone shoppers were looking for brand reputation, technological leadership and connectivity.

The campaign is also emphasizing Virgin’s data services. “Everything has been commoditized to price,” Mr. Faris said. Those in the target audience “don’t need thousands of minutes, they need a ton of data,” he said. After AT&T announced it would no longer offer users unlimited data, the timing could be opportune for Virgin to highlight its $35-a-month unlimited data plan.

“Voice talk just isn’t the norm anymore,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein. “This is the Facebook generation that cut its teeth on posting updates to a Web site as a way of communicating.”

Creating content for those cellphones is also a big part of the campaign. Virgin worked with Buzzfeed to create content published via social media sites like Tumblr, Facebook and Pinterest and the newly revamped VirginMobileLive.com. “It’s a decision we’re making to move closer to newsroom marketing.” Mr. Faris said. “We want to be a voice where pop culture meets technology.”

To hone their editorial skills, Virgin Mobile employees will be trained by the creative services team at Buzzfeed in how to spot news and create content for the sites. “Brands have not yet figured out how to do real-time advertising or real-time content,” said Jonah Peretti, founder and chief executive of Buzzfeed. “They tend to do things with huge lead time.”

Spotting and publishing an item about the latest cat video craze or celebrity gossip needs to happen quickly. “It’s not how to make branded content for advertising, it’s showing them how to make really interesting engaging content for their audience,” Mr. Peretti said.

Virgin Mobile will also feature weekly profiles of apps to help developers gain exposure. The company will reveal its first app profile at the South by Southwest conference on Friday. A network of 25 technology bloggers, called the VM 25, will help the company promote its contests and other announcements. “We want to be a more hyperaddicted version of your friend on Facebook who you share stuff with,” Mr. Faris said.

Virgin Mobile is not alone in this prepaid market. Companies like MetroPCS have similar offerings for voice and data plans. But Virgin Mobile’s biggest rival is T-Mobile, Mr. Passikoff said. “Basically it’s Sprint going after T-Mobile,” he said. (Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint in the United States.)

Virgin Mobile has not been shy about its disdain for its rival. Carly, the T-Mobile spokeswoman who wears a pink dress while standing against a stark white background, was once a play on ads for Apple’s Mac. Now, in a Virgin Mobile ad, she is parodied as being devoid of cool and is denied entry to a nightclub because of her pink dress.

Virgin Mobile did not share the cost of the campaign, only to say the company tended “to spend somewhere between 3 percent and 5 percent of what our competitors spend on paid media.”

According to data from Kantar Media, part of WPP, Virgin Mobile spent $20.1 million on advertising from January to September 2010 and $47.4 million for the same period in 2011. T-Mobile spent $425.1 million on advertising from January to September 2011 and MetroPCS spent $85.2 million in the same period.

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