Industry Viewpoint

Mike Webb, Marketing director, Vodafone

Communication today is more or less taken for granted. We can talk from one side of the planet to the other by simply pressing a few buttons. We can talk on the move in a car or train to someone hundreds of miles away.

Communication has become the essential business tool and the means by which friends and families can stay in touch, regardless of distance.

Although the telephone has now been accepted as part of everyday life (yes, even the mobile phone), attitudes and behavioural patterns remain divided. The reality is that the cost of making a phone call is not expensive. The value of a phone call remains, however, difficult to grasp. It is esoteric and every conversation has a different value, depending on its importance or the amount of pleasure derived from it. The bill, however, normally comes much later. Cumulative quarterly bills often result in “bill shock”, long after the importance or pleasure from each call has been forgotten.

This is one of the main issues BT has attempted to address in its advertising. Fixed telephony is now a mature industry and BT needs to get people to use the phone more. There are distinct differences in attitude towards the phone between age groups and genders. Men, it appears, do not indulge in small talk on the telephone, preferring to chat about football down at the pub over a pint of beer. Women, on the other hand, enjoy communicating by phone. But, as BT points out, if men prefer relaxing at the football on Saturday afternoons and then talking about it over numerous beers for a whole week until the next Saturday’s match, why should men begrudge women a few bob chatting to their friends on the blower? BT’s advertising is attempting to make men less resentful about the cost of a telephone bill, as well as encouraging them to indulge in phone chat, if not to friends, to other members of the family. Time will tell.

It is interesting that when it comes to mobile phones, behaviour between the sexes seems to be very different. For men, particularly young men, it is still about lifestyle and image, “men on the move, going places”. It is a work tool beginning to merge with a social tool. For women, the mobile phone is more about security and very little about image, so use tends to be low. Traffic on mobile networks has, until recently, largely been incremental to fixed traffic. The “It’s good to talk” campaign is helping BT but, in reality, is probably benefiting the whole telecoms industry.

BT’s advertising, given the size of the budget does not yet fall into the list of “greats” – but not much advertising does. It is, however, consistently good and fulfils two key objectives: to change people’s attitudes towards the phone and to show BT as a warm, caring organisation.

As they say, “It’s good to talk”.

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