As it looks to lay claim to the UK’s 5G market, Three has invested in its biggest-ever ad campaign, which seeks to cement the brand as one that celebrates “Britishness” and offers a fun antidote to the misery seemingly permeating the nation.
‘UK, U OK Hun?’ is the brainchild of chief marketing officer Shadi Halliwell, the ex-Harvey Nichols marketing boss who – along with ad agency Wieden + Kennedy – wants to make the Three brand “less about utility and more about lifestyle”.
The push is an evolution of Three’s ‘Phones Are Good’ proposition, which Halliwell has been leading for the past two years. It's been created to push the rollout of Three’s 5G service across the UK and offers a taste of a fun-filled and connected world powered by the technology, which, quite frankly, couldn’t look further from a rainy, post-Brexit Britain.
When conducting market research on where to head next with its marketing, Three uncovered a feeling of cynicism enveloping the UK.
“I don’t need to tell you that everybody’s miserable,” says Halliwell. “Whether it’s storm Dennis or Ciara, Brexit or Megxit, there’s not much that’s cheering us up at the moment.
“People are scared for the future, they’re scared for their children, they’re scared for themselves, so one of the things we wanted to do is show what the not-so-far-away future looks like, and show technology in its best light.”
The fully integrated campaign will run across digital, TV, OOH, social and in-store.
At its heart is a film that highlights the potential offer of 5G.
Opening on a present-day news report predicting a dismal future for the UK, the ad transports the viewer through a vibrant wormhole to an instantly recognisable, futuristic, 5G-powered London skyline with drone post boxes and a digital Big Ben.
Continuing a theme from its last campaign, partners of Three – including Samsung and Greggs – also feature.
Each scene highlights different benefits of 5G to prove that Britain’s future doesn’t look so dismal: these include a holographic cameo from Scottish singer Lewis Capaldi (who demonstrates how 5G broadband will transform entertainment) and online gamers using VR to drop into a warzone.
Until now, Three (unlike, say, M&S, British Airways or Land Rover) has not been a brand particularly associated with Britishness. But Halliwell says the concept emerged naturally.
“It wasn’t something we initially set out to do, but from our own insights, it became obvious that to be a loved brand means we need to celebrate Britishness.”
Consideration and rejection will be the key KPIs for the campaign, which features a host of British talent and references to key cultural and sporting events such as the World Cup.
Adapting media plans in the battle for 5G
Three’s ultimate ambition is to be the market leader in 5G tariffs.
The brand is already some way there, having super-charged its ownership of the 5G spectrum in the UK following its £250m purchase of UK Broadband.
The provider now controls three-times the 5G infrastructure of more established rivals, including O2, EE and Vodafone.
However, beyond its new bold message, the advertiser has rejigged its broader media plans to ensure it’s well-placed in the battle for 5G customers.
Last October, it broke away from longtime agency Mindshare and appointed Zenith to handle its media account. At the time, the telecom giant said Zenith would work "hand-in-hand" with its internal marketing team to promote its 5G offering.
Halliwell reveals this partnership to already be bearing fruit, with Zenith focused on relaying Three’s message via big-budget media buys.
“This is a fully integrated campaign," she says. "It's not a campaign that's going to switch off. So it runs through everything: trading, retail, social, big broadcast, traditional broadcast and Zenith has helped us secure where the Three brand needs to be.
"I don’t think [the brand] was ever so evident previously in these big epic places.”
The media has already included a takeover of London’s Piccadilly Circus; something it would “never have done before”. And for ‘UK, U OK Hun?', cinema slots have been booked around the forthcoming James Bond movie.
“We were pushing for these big, premium places," says Halliwell. "Zenith has very much understood that and our media buys are really good [for this campaign].”
In another media twist, Three's 4,000 staff will be given access to the ad ahead of its premiere on TV from Thursday (27 February), after which it will launch with 60- and 90-second creative across shows such as Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.