MAD Week: Why Virgin Mobile Says There Really Is A Free Lunch

MAD Week: Why Virgin Mobile Says There Really Is A Free Lunch

“My life is a constant assessment of whether what’s going on in the room is more important than what’s going on in my phone.”

David Hovenden
Posted by David Hovenden

Nicole Bardsley director of brand and communications Virgin Mobile shared the above quote she attributes to one of her staff at the Customer Conference on Thursday in Sydney, the sold out event that was part of MAD Week. She was conveying the point that the mobile device had changed the world and therefore how businesses need to operate.

Bardsley said that she was inspired by the Dove Real Beauty campaign, which despite its name, was so much more than a campaign. “It’s a purpose that endures beyond a moment in time. The core of the idea is in the brand and the purpose for Dove,” she said.

She also said that Toms Shoes was a less well-known example but that it also offered some powerful insights for marketers. Toms Shoes came in for some heavy criticism after it established its business model of giving a pair of shoes to someone in need in the third-world for every pair sold.

Academics and activists alike criticised the campaign as a gimmick, being patronising and perhaps more importantly, in some third-world countries, by supplying large numbers of shoes, they actually threatened the livelihood of local cobblers, while not providing any other meaningful employment.

However the CEO and founder of Toms Shoes, Blake Mycoskie, responded to these criticisms in November 2013, saying: “If you really are serious about poverty alleviation, our critics said, then you need to create jobs. At first I took that personally, but then I realised that they were right… using our model to create jobs is the next level.”

Since then the company has announced it plans to have one-third of all its shoes produced in countries receiving aid by 2015.

Bardsley said it was this willingness to embrace his critics and keep his purpose at the core of the business, which allowed Toms Shoes to succeed.

She said that Virgin Mobiles purpose, make mobile better, of itself does not make the purpose, rather it’s the actions that you take to make it come alive that counts. “Three words do not make a purpose, it’s what you do with them that counts,” she said.

Her strategy has two pillars:

  1. Take mobile behaviour and make it better
  2. Take a mobile wrong and make it better.

To illustrate her point, Bardsley talked about Virgin Mobiles #mealforameal campaign. Because uploading pictures of food is the third most common upload on Instagram, Virgin took that behavior and made it better by saying for every picture of a meal uploaded to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hastag #mealforameal would result in a meal for someone in need.

Alarmingly, 2 million Australians rely on meal support to survive.

Virgin partnered with Oz Harvest to deliver the meals, which included Virgin staff helping out with the charity.

With the goal of serving 400,000 meals, other companies and celebrities have climbed on board with the most recent high profile endorsement coming from Jamie Oliver who brings 3 million followers with him.
As this article went live, Virgin had just shy of 80,000 uploads of the hashtag.

Bardsley says this is first of many initiatives for Virgin, which has also implemented an internal policy of E-llegiance, which means there’s no company emails between 7pm to 7am to encourage more meaningful family time.

“Having less money forces us to act more creatively,” she says.

Virgin also has mobile free meetings, where staff have to surrender their phones and place them into a bucket, which results in much faster meetings.

Bardsley said that the focus for Virgin was creating meaningful interactions. “You can buy reach, but you can’t buy engagement,” she said.

To alleviate this phenomena, Bardsley said all her campaigns were “social by design . . . start with messages in social and then use traditional media to amplify.”

To help with engaging content, Virgin has partnered with VICE on a year-long content strategy.