BT on why it won’t shy away from ‘spiky topics’

Deciding to “step up” and take a stand on online hate with its ‘Hope United’ campaign, BT knew it needed to move away from the standard campaign process in order to succeed. 

If you’re talking about brand purpose, you should commit to it long term, suggests BT and EE marketing communications director Pete Jeavons.

Last year, the online abuse of football players, as well as BT’s own pundits and presenters, led Jeavons and his team to try to understand the scale of online hate. The brand commissioned a YouGov survey, which found abuse was even higher than initially expected.

The resulting campaign, ‘Hope United’ brought together 21 footballers, including Marcus Rashford, Lucy Bronze and Jordan Henderson, to educate the nation on online hate via a digital skills platform.

Speaking today (19 May) at Advertising Week Europe, Jeavons said that while the campaign started as an external communications activity, BT “underestimated” the power of the message internally. This was the first time he’d seen the entire organisation “galvanised” around one specific cause.

“Normally when you’re planning and creating a campaign it’s very structured. You know exactly what’s going to happen and when, and this was completely different,” said Jeavons, noting how footballers would just “turn up” and say they wanted to be a part of it.

He added that while normally, as a brand and marketing person, you try to “control and keep things tight”, with Hope United it was better to “let it go”.

Is such a campaign the remit of a company like BT, as opposed to the government or charities? Jeavons thinks so.

Normally when you’re planning and creating a campaign it’s very structured. You know exactly what’s going to happen. This was completely different

Pete Jeavons, BT

“It’s easy to think it’s somebody else’s problem and to look to institutions, whoever you think might be the person that needs to solve the problem,” he said.

“The way we thought about it was a brand that has the size and scale, and the input and the fabric of the nation, has as much responsibility to do something [to help] a national problem as anybody else.”

Rather than wait for someone else to present a solution to the issue of online hate, BT’s view was it should “step up” as a brand.

“We believed as a brand that there was the responsibility to make people aware of a massive problem and give them the tools to allow them to do something about it,” Jeavons explains.

Shared vision

From a brand purpose perspective, Jeavons believes it’s important companies signal their work is “not just a moment in time” and adopt a long-term strategy. BT, along with agency Saatchi & Saatchi, is currently working on the second iteration of Hope United campaign.

“In terms of brand purpose, you never want these things to be a flash in the pan,” added Saatchi & Saatchi head of innovation Will John, who worked with BT on the campaign. “Consumers can see through that kind of short-term opportunism.”

Jeavons added that the relationship BT had with Saatchi & Saatchi was not the “traditional client agency relationship” and that at times working on the campaign it was hard to tell who was who.

“That shared ownership and drive to make it as good as you can was shared across both teams, which was phenomenal,” he explained.

Hope United: BT on its goal to end ‘staggering’ levels of online hate

While BT went into the campaign with no sales motivations, the long-term metrics show an impact on BT’s brand affinity, which Jeavons said is usually difficult to change. The campaign has also impacted measures such as being a ‘national champion’ and ‘doing good things’, up 12 points and 14 points respectively.

“The more it’s rooted in your purpose, the easier it is to activate it and come up with the idea, and also people internally to stand by what you’re doing,” said Jeavons.

He admitted it’s easy for brands to shy away from “spiky subjects”, but if they choose to get involved, Jeavons said it’s crucial to involve all the right people and represent people in the right way.

“If you do all of those things right then you need to be brave to push out and get it out of the door,” Jeavons added.



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