Advalue:BT’s ‘It’s Good to Talk’

BT, the king of the UK’s telecommunications industry, was rattled when forced to cut its prices. But a new campaign prompted consumers to pick up their handsets. On the opposite page, Mike Webb of Vodafone reviews the strategy

When watchdog Oftel decided to galvanise competition in the telecommunications sector and told BT to reduce the price of its telephone calls, the company was obliged to persuade existing customers to use their phones more frequently to improve margins.

The watchdog mandates that BT brings down its call charges by the retail price index, minus 7.5 per cent each year. But because about 90 per cent of UK households already have BT lines installed, customer growth was not going to come from an increase in market share (especially with the growing competition from local cable companies). Instead, BT had to get its existing customers on the phone more often, while defending market share.

Because Mercury had already stolen the high ground with its Harry Enfield advertising campaign, BT went to Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO looking for a “famous” advertisingidea.Qualitative research showed there was great potential if BT could raise the status of “small-talk”, female-style communication in men’s eyes, by directly comparing its advantages with “male” functional use of the telephone.

The plan was to encourage men – the “gatekeepers” of the telephone – to reconsider not only their own behaviour but, in their own eyes, legitimise that of women.

As part of BT’s strategy to change the communications culture of the UK – to convince people they really do get more out of their lives and relationships by talking more openly and more frequently with each other – it chose “down-to-earth” presenter Bob Hoskins.

By using Hoskins to encourage people to pick up the phone, BT believed it could avoid the possible consumer antagonism the message might cause if it came from the company itself. Messages from him are more believable and persuasive, so the argument goes, because audiences regard Hoskins as “one of us”, which they would not do if the lines were delivered by a man from BT.

He acts as a conscience, sitting unnoticed on people’s shoulders, urging us to be nicer to one an other and pointing out the benefits of good communication versus bad communication.

In its first year on air, a figure approaching 50m was spent on the campaign (Register-MEAL). Prom-pted awareness was constantly in excess of 90 per cent, a sevenfold rise. The number of people agreeing with the statement “it’s fun to pass time chatting on the phone” rose from 44 per cent prior to the campaign’s release, to 66 per cent by last month.

BT now claims that the phrase “It’s good to talk” has entered popular culture, with people making references to it in pubs and children’s playgrounds, as well as in the press and on TV.

According to BT, “It’s good to talk” illustrates how a direct message, designed to change deep-seated behaviour towards a brand with which people are not over-enamoured, can be made palatable and effective with a sensitive creative solution.

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