Growing up fast

Growing up fast
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Virgin Mobile’s Fair Go Bro campaign was a stand-out for 2012, but was it enough to elevate the telco to where it wants to be? Marketing director David Scribner tells Lucy Clark about the telco's new grown-up persona 

Sitting in fourth place, looking longingly up at the podium, has proved to be a bonus for Virgin Mobile. As fourth player, behind the big guns of Testra, Optus and Vodafone, the telco has been having a blast.

Describing the brand as “a little bit irreverent and a lot of fun”, marketing director David Scribner is reveling in the challenge of elevating the brand into the top three.

“It’s exciting and it gives us focus,” he explains. “Coming fourth, you have to shout a lot. We are like the younger sibling in the family.”

2012 will forever be remembered as the “Doug Pitt year” for Virgin Mobile, in honour of the telco’s most successful ever marketing campaign, Fair Go Bro. And it’s one that Scribner won’t forget in a hurry.

“The execution that went into it was significant,” he explains. “But the results we got have blown our minds.”

Brad Pitt’s younger brother has propelled Virgin Mobile forward in its mission to be one of Australia’s top three telcos. It resulted in the company’s biggest ever sales quarter and saw it retain more customers than ever before.

But it was no fluke. “A lot of the stuff we did with Doug, like the Doug Pitt Street store in Sydney, looked like it was lucky – but it was all really well planned,” recalls Scribner.

And it was a new direction for Virgin Mobile too, positioning it as a grown-up player in the market, rather than the cheeky younger sibling.

“We had to step it up a bit and look at our credibility,” says Scribner. “Irreverence and fun is a core dynamic for the Virgin brand, but we’ve grown out of the short pants and are in long pants now. We wanted to retain the fun, but also drive credibility. The Doug Pitt campaign did that for us.”

The Sydney-born marketer cut his teeth at Nestle in a role that took him to the US and Switzerland, then spent eight years at Telstra before stints at AGL, Stockland and Aristocrat. Hejoined Virgin Mobile 18 months ago when it was settling into its reputation as the cheeky up-and-coming youngster in the telco space.

The first thing he did when he arrived was to galvanise the team. “We have a broad team now, working on product through to brand to execution,” he explains. “And they have one single purpose – our single rallying cry is to retain all our customers, we have zero tolerance on losing customers.”

To achieve that, Scribner introduced the “big idea”.

“As fourth player, we figured out that we always need a big idea,” he says. “The first part of that was that we wanted to deploy fairness in the marketplace, as the telco market was perceived as a very low category, below the banks, below politics.”

The first “big idea” under Scribner’s lead was the Robin da Hood campaign, which morphed into a “social by design” campaign, Fair Ride for All, with a competition to win bikes. Putting social media at the heart of campaigns since has proved a winning technique for Virgin Mobile. Fair Go Bro, for example, launched with a video on YouTube and a Facebook campaign.

“At the time we were nervous – launching a campaign via YouTube was a non-traditional way for us to do it,” explains Scribner. “But with the learnings we’d had out of Robin da Hood, we thought we were on to a good thing. During the first three days, it went crazy and we realised we were on to something big –the YouTube numbers ticked through the roof.”

So what’s next for Doug Pitt?

“We are reviewing now what we’re going to do with Doug,” reveals Scribner. “We are talking with our agency (Havas Worldwide Sydney). We are reviewing whether we keep going down the celebrity brother or sister path, or whether it’s time for another big idea.”

He says there will be a bit more from Doug in the run-up to Christmas, and adds: “He’s a lovely guy. If we could use him again and it made sense – absolutely. But we’ve done that now.”

Despite Scribner and his colleagues’ mission to elevate Virgin Mobile to third in the market, he says: “One of the mistakes you can make is to concentrate on the competition because it’s not about that – it’s about the customer base that you’ve got. We focus on ensuring what we’re doing is right for that.

“The position in the market is, ultimately, less important than our brand. Virgin, as a brand, is a real go-getter, a brand that goes after opportunity, so that gives us great flexibility. It’s a fantastic brand for a marketing director to work with, it’s like a piece of Play-Doh that you are allowed to mould.”

And what’s next for Virgin Mobile?

“We have got to keep doing what we’re doing,” says Scribner. “We must make sure we always come up with a big idea, as without that we are just wallpaper. Then, when we get that idea, we have to execute it perfectly.”

Keeping pace with the digital world and keeping on top of strategic marketing are the big challenges for 2013, according to Scribner.

“Most people are multi-screening now,” he says. “TV still has an amazing role to play, but the challenge is how to combine that with other screens. That’s where marketers need to be smarter.”

He also says there has been “too much reliance on the agencies” and that marketers need to be “much more strategic and insightful about where the future is directed”. “We have lost the strategic part of the agencies because we haven’t paid for it, and now we are needing it,” he adds.  

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