Why Circles.Life messed with Singaporeans' favourite dish to get their attention

The stunt was part of the digital telco’s launch of its +Phone Plan, no-contract combo plan.

To get consumers to re-evaluate the value of a mobile contract and challenge the assumption that it always saves them money, Singapore-based digital telco Circles.Life used the country’s favourite food, chicken rice, to prove its point.

The digital telco held an outdoor stunt at a stall in Maxwell Food Centre, where it pegged a contract to each plate of chicken rice, so that it would cost $15 instead of its usual price. People who queued up to buy chicken rice expressed shocked and anger when told by the store owner, an actor hired by Circles.Life, that they had to sign a contract and pay over the odds for their food.

This stunt was part of the digital telco’s launch of its +Phone Plan, no-contract combo plan, that re-frames how it markets phone plan purchases. It worked with its creative agency VML to make fast iterations, before settling on the message, the storyline, and one of the busiest hawker centers in Singapore as its shoot location.

The brand then hid cameras at the food stalls to capture the shocked reactions of chicken rice customers and chose their biggest reactions, as well as their consent, for commercial use.

Circles.Life chose this activation method because it wanted to deliver a message to customers that buying phones with contracts cost much more than buying them separately with SIM-only plans, Megan Yulga, senior marketing manager at Circles.Life explains to The Drum.

She adds that people have been trained to buy phones with contracts and they are not aware that contracts are not great and buying phones separately with a SIM-only plan is the way to go.

“We wanted to educate customers on how expensive a contract phone is and gave them something they could relate to. For example, what if people buy shoes, coffee, or chicken rice with a contract? That doesn’t make any sense, right?” says Yulga.

“The ideal reaction we would get would be "Contracts on chicken rice don't make sense!" And we’d go, "Exactly! So why would get a new phone on contract?"

Changing consumer behaviours

The digital telco is no stranger to finding provocative and creative ways to express its message. It has previously released a ‘Brick Phone’, made up of real bricks packaged in smartphone boxes to shift perceptions of mobile users experience and shedding new light on what it means to be ‘data deprived’, in addition to ads in MRT stations.

It also created a fake telco company and hired local social media influencers to vandalise the fake telco’s advertisement in an MRT station, and filming it for an Instagram story. There was also a cash-dispensing vending machines stunt which became so rowdy, police had to step in.

Yulga explains that Circles.Life branding and marketing approach has always been fun, bold, and simple. She also takes a dig at the digital telco’s more traditional rivals, pointing out they have been constantly churning out emotional and long form video content that tugs on heartstrings.

“That is just not our style and we have been bucking that trend with a fresh, bold approach since our launch,” she says. “Our chicken rice prank is actually the longest video we have come up with. We live in a cluttered digital world where all sorts of messaging are constantly bombarding consumers.”

“Consumers have really short attention spans when scrolling through their social media feed. If you're going to want someone to watch a 90 second video, it better be worth it. True to our cheeky brand persona, what is a better way to capture people’s attention than with a hidden camera prank?”

Adopting this approach allowed Circles.Life to take on the challenge of changing its customers’ behaviour because signing up for a contract each time they need a new phone, has been ingrained in Singapore’s telco culture for over 10 years. It had to find a way to explain to consumers why they should do the opposite of what they have always done.

“We could have just provided the above chart and explained to them how much money they could potentially save by buying a phone without contracts along with a SIM-only plan of their choice. They would’ve understood easily, because it’s very straight forward,” says Yulga.

“Our brand is fun and clever, so just showing off a chart was not going to cut it. With only a few seconds to capture the attention of consumers, we needed to make the association of contract phones being expensive. The result was our contract chicken rice video.”

Reactions and learning lessons

Circles.Life claims the chicken rice customers loved the down to earth approach and understood the message it tried to deliver from the video. “We always talk to customers on a very personal level and steer clear of being too formal. In fact, we got great traction from this campaign!” says Yulga.

However, Yulga explains this campaign is just the beginning as Circles.Life is still learning how to simplify its messages around why no-contract phones are the cheapest and smartest way to get a new phone.

“Although we have countless customers who believe in our no-contract phone plans, this one time ad will not change the consumer behavior in Singapore fully,” she says. “We will continue to iterate this message in all our campaigns to make sure that customers understand the benefit of switching to a no-contract phone and plan.”

It may have been an unconventional approach, but messing with Singaporean’s favourite food is a sure way of getting their attention.

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