Ericsson strives to make itself heard

Raised expectations can be a dangerous thing. Telecoms giant Ericsson spent $20m (12.5m) on its product placement in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies and a further 15m on promoting the film tie-in at every opportunity in the run-up to Christmas.

Its mobile phone was seen to be so powerful that it could act as a remote control to navigate Bond’s BMW around a high rise car park in Germany at high speed. In pursuit were a collection of baddies intent on doing him, the car and no doubt the phone some serious damage.

But that was fiction. At least to everybody except the man who rang his local Carphone Warehouse to ask if the phone he was considering buying would work with his Vauxhall Cavalier. A polite, if some what bemused, assistant explained the reality, which may have cost Ericsson a sale.

But that will be one of the concerns for Ericsson bosses as it starts its first global branding advertising campaign next Monday – losing possible sales. The budget for the brand campaign is estimated at 20m, Ericsson spent 70m globally last year. But crucially the advertising goes against the grain by not showing the product. In fact not only does it not show mobile phones, or indeed any other aspect of Ericsson’s telecoms operations, it doesn’t even say explicitly who or what Ericsson is.

Instead, the launch campaign, which will receive 2m advertising support between now and the end of March in the UK, is a mix of typography and sound. It employs the message “Make yourself heard”, with various sounds from a beating heart to a speeding car and song in different executions.

The move is a courageous one. Alex Rodrigues, who was prom oted from marketing manager to marketing director of Ericsson Mobile Phones UK last week, admits that there have been battles to get approval for the campaign.

Motorola launched a 30m pan-European branding push last September, featuring its StarTAC model. Ironically, at the time of the launch, director of brand marketing for Europe, Middle East and Africa Keith Johnson said the company dropped brand advertising in 1994 to “fight for market share” – presumably against Ericsson. The concern of Ericsson’s management will be that the brand campaign detracts from product advertising and, even more pertinently, sales. Rodrigues says that product support will be maintained.

The advertising strategy and brief were developed and written at Ericsson’s Swedish headquarters. The launch phase of the campaign, created by Young & Rubicam, will be shown in more than 50 markets where Ericsson sells its mobile phones. But the key European markets will be Germany, Italy and the UK.

Despite the fact Ericsson has been in telecoms for 120 years, it came to the mobile phone market relatively late. It started selling them in the UK in 1994. Its two biggest rivals – Motorola and Nokia – had already been in the UK market for ten and seven years respectively.

But the UK market is anticipating massive growth in the next three years, with even conservative estimates expecting 1.5 million subscribers to be added every year for the next three – a more than 50 per cent increase on the 8.6 million already signed up at the end of last year.

The record final quarter to the end of December when 726,000 subscribers were hooked up by the four mobile network operators has made everybody involved in the market even more optimistic. Advertising from all three of the big manufacturers – Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola – along with the networks, accelerated the market.

Ericsson has traditionally concentrated on product advertising. Last year it supported the launch of four new phones, ranging from the 688, which was aimed at the business market, to the volume seller, the 628. But the strategy has moved on and the advertising budget has been doubled to a claimed 10m. It is, according to Rodrigues, the start of a five-year plan.

“We had to start from scratch,” he says. “We had a lot to make up on awareness. Last year there was a big product focus and it was appropriate to use the ad spend on those new models. Those products have brought us into the market. But having reached that awareness par (with rivals) we now need a brand campaign.

“Bond bridged the gap between product and the brand. We have moved on – we know that people understand the company and we can’t get by just talking about phones – we have to talk about Ericsson. The white on black type is del-iberate. If we had people using the telephones or focused on specific products we would get caught up in the network campaigns.”

Market share estimates for the digital market show Ericsson neck and neck with Motorola on between 17 and 20 per cent. Nokia has almost double that, on 35 per cent.

The company claims to have a spontaneous awareness among UK mobile phone users, and those who may buy in the next 12 months, of 36 per cent, on a par with Motorola but significantly short of rival Nokia, which has a 45 per cent rating.

Rodrigues has been set the target of matching Nokia’s awareness levels within two years. “This is a starting point,” says Rodrigues. “We have to start with this campaign and then deliver an evolved image of Ericsson over a five-year period. We need to spend heavily with the brand campaign. The brand is key to our future development.”

Rodrigues appointment is part of a restructure which sees Ericsson UK divided into three separate business units, including mobile, mirroring the structure its Swedish parent adopted last year. “Marketing has risen in importance,” says Rodrigues.

Poster executions for the brand campaign will be unveiled later in the month and follow-up TV work in the UK in the spring will feature people and phones.

Rodrigues hopes to achieve with “Make yourself heard” a similar level of consciousness to Nike’s “Just do it”, which served the sports giant until the end of last year.

He will also be hoping that by the end of the branding camp-aign he and the rest of Ericsson’s marketing executives still have a voice and are still being heard in Sweden.

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