Vodafone’s marketing boss makes her mark with rebrand ditching Martin Freeman

In the first marketing campaign under a new brand and marketing director, Vodafone has ditched longtime frontman Martin Freeman in favour of an approach that has some “longevity” amid the roll-out of 5G data services.

The latest work – created by Ogilvy – has sought to draw a line under a two-year marketing strategy that “addressed problems” Vodafone could fix. Instead, brand chief Maria Koutsoudakis said the fresh approach is the foundation of a two-year plan to be more “positive” and “energising” in its communications.

Koutsoudakis joined the telco as brand and marketing director in December in what was an unusual move. She had spent six years at fashion retailer Marks and Spencer where she rose to head of customer experience to take control of the brand across its myriad touchpoints.

“My first couple of months [at Vodafone] were spent understanding the brand, industry and what had worked with Martin [Freeman],” she recently told The Drum.

Though The Hobbit star helped move the dial on brand metrics such as “likability” and “affinity” and undoubtedly led people to associate Vodafone with him, it was hard for marketers to translate it off-screen.

“[When I joined] Vodafone was considered to be corporate and vanilla with not a lot of personality or point of view. There was a real challenge in modernising it,” Koutsoudakis continued. “And the other thing is that [Martin Freeman] was very much a TV campaign - he didn't infiltrate the brand behaviour across all of the touchpoints. It didn't go beyond TV into other media.”

Dubbed ‘Be Unlimited’, the new £25m Martin Freeman-less campaign is Vodafone's most signifcant advertising push to date as it promotes itself as the first network to offer customers unlimited data on 5G.

It’s set to a track from Mark Ronson’s new album, featuring Alicia Keys, and shows a dance performance by a woman and her lookalikes, all clad in the brand’s famed red hue.

The upbeat creative will reach 98% of adults in the UK more than 15 times across TV, OOH, and cinema (using the latest Spot X screens) while digital targeting will aim to get the Unlimited Data ads in front of people in places where there is WiFi hot-spotting.

But beyond the high energy hero ad, this campaign is the product of a strategy overhaul that has seen the company’s marketers take more control of the whole brand “experience” rather than just run a quarterly advert.

In her short tenure at Vodafone, Koutsoudakis has already set about taking lessons learnt from M&S to ensure that her team are responsible for the entire “brand experience,” not just comms.

Under her direction, the advertiser has overhauled the messaging it uses across departments like loyalty, retail and customer service as well as introducing a new tone of voice to things like its customer emails and texts.

Over the comping months, she’ll help orchestrate a revamp of all of Vodafone’s 400 stores having already updated the web experience and launched new version of the Vodafone App.

This has meant some upheaval internally. Vodafone has in-housed social media, which used to sit under PR externally, and has started managing its own digital media buying as it strives to better manage customer interactions with the brand.

“From a comms perspective, we now have more control down the advertising funnel,” she said.

This has put more responsibility on WPP’s Team Red —the dedicated outfit set up by the holding company to bring together Ogilvy on creative and Wavemaker for media buying.

“We amalgamated the consumer and the B2B into Team Red and made it much more central in the custody of the Vodafone brand.”

Team Red now lead things like ‘copy councils’ across the business, she said, ensuring that all of the internal and external marketing collateral is aligned regardless of whether or not it was the agency behind its creation.

However, in April, shortly after Koutsoudakis’ arrival, Vodafone called a global media review, threating the stronghold that WPP has on the business.

The pitch is now in the final stages, with incumbent Wavemaker battling Dentsu Aegis Network’s Carat in the final round of pitching.

“We’re looking at the September [for a decision],” said Koutsoudakis. “A lot of this now is central negotiation and the pros and cons of consolidation versus separation.”

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