Three looks to reverse ‘brand rejection’ with launch of ‘premium and playful’ campaign

The mobile provider wants to “grow up” while maintaining its humour-driven approach to change perceptions and appeal to high value customers.

Three has ditched the hybrid animal mascots for its new campaign as it looks to overcome a “perceived reputational issue” by taking a more grown up approach to marketing.

‘Phones are Good’, which launches today (17 October), is designed to “stand for something” and appeal to consumers who have perhaps dismissed the brand in the past.

Three’s CMO Shadi Halliwell tells Marketing Week: “Customers recall Three ads as being targeted at someone else, so with this campaign we are trying to stand for something, tackle perceptions and grow up. We must be both premium and playful.”

Not venturing too far from Three’s usual humour-driven approach, the campaign re-imagines pivotal moments in history while attempting to demonstrate how much better things would have been if phones had been available then. This includes cavemen being saved from starvation after ordering a Deliveroo and Henry VIII’s wives avoiding execution thanks to Tinder.

The campaign also features Samsung, Snapchat, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Overcoming ‘reputational issues’

By taking a more grown up approach, Halliwell hopes the campaign will lead consumers to reappraise the brand.

“We have a perceived reputational issue. We have a high brand rejection among high value customers,” she says. “While there is a perception out there, it is terribly unfair because it’s not a truth about who we are as a business.” 

The company says it has 39% brand rejection among high value millennials, with 40% believing Three is a bad network, while 28% say they’ve heard “bad things” about the brand and 28% claim to not know much about the company. However, Three has won a number of awards for its network and has the highest net promoter score among O2, Vodafone and EE, according to Halliwell.

With this campaign we are trying to stand for something, tackle perceptions and grow up. We must be both premium and playful.

Shadi Halliwell, Three

The CMO, who spent more than two decades at O2 before heading up marketing at Harvey Nichols, joined Three in 2017. After six months she introduced the network’s new internal brand purpose, to focus on “freedom and fun”, which she believes is vital if Three is to differentiate itself from competitors.

“We needed to draw breath and really understand everything about Three. We’ve always been fun and had a sense of humour so the purpose wasn’t trying to mould us into something we’re not,” she says.

She also scrapped the brand’s original slogan, ‘Making things right’, before spearheading a new brand and communications strategy that will see Three striving to find a balance between being playful and premium.

“Previously, the challenge was figuring out the Three brand: its place, its ambition and how we articulate that to our customers and internally,” she says.

“I thought the term, ‘make it right’, was restrictive for us because you’re only ever going to make right what the industry is doing wrong, and as a business you can’t make everything right which made it slightly inauthentic going forward.”

Labelling the sector as “dull”, Halliwell says Three will stand out by engaging consumers while championing its new brand purpose with a particular focus on high value customers.

“It’s a dull industry; it’s too corporate and nobody knows how to talk to customers. If you look at the other operators we are the only brand that knows how to have fun,” Halliwell says, drawing on the fact that these comments stem from industry research.

Phones are Good has been created alongside Wieden+Kennedy London, and will be shared across TV, social media, digital, cinema and out-of-home.

The campaign, directed by Ian Pons Jewell who is best known for his work with Nike and Google, will also be brought to life though an art gallery-style takeover of Three’s key retail stores in London, Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff.