Vodafone (Notepad January 2001)

I’ve worked on mobile phone accounts for almost as long as mobile phones have been around. (Yes, I am that old. Or as I prefer to call it, experienced.)

The problem with mobile phone ads is they tend to date as quickly as the technology itself. Like this campaign I wrote for Vodafone at WCRS.

In February 2001 WCRS won the Vodafone account from BMP DDB and our first task was to promote their pre-pay roaming capacity, which meant for the first time ever customers could phone and text from abroad. Sounds about as innovative as a wind up gramophone now, but back then it was the cutting edge of mobile communication.

Below is the brief. In the top right corner you can see it was given to three teams, so it must have been a big deal. The proposition was: Stay connected to friends and family while on holiday with Vodafone Pay-as-you-talk. Pretty straightforward. But what really excited us about the brief was the opportunity it gave us to write lots of scripts that began We open on a tropical beach... 

Looking back our first idea seems oddly Europhobic. It basically suggests if you’re missing home while you’re on holiday, Vodafone can give you a quick fix of Blighty. Like anyone has ever sat on a Mediterranean beach, ice-cold cocktail in hand and thought, “You know what, I really miss Coventry, I think I'll call home.” Fortunately this route was quickly killed.

Then we hit upon a much more truthful idea. Our insight was Vodafone now allowed you to call your friends and gloat that while you’re having fun in the sun, they’re stuck in the same old daily routine back home.

It just seemed like a fresher, funnier, more irreverent approach to take. It felt like something we would actually do ourselves: drunkenly phoning home in the middle of the night to wind up our mates. 

The endline we started working with was You’re on holiday. They’re not. Rub it in. It’s long, but I still like it.

At this point the scripts featured Vodafone customers in holiday locations accompanied by a sort of devilish voice-in-the-head urging them to phone their friends back home.  

These were researched and you can read the feedback document below. Rub it in came out well. And my art director and I were one step closer to a nice foreign shoot somewhere warm and exotic.

We then started meeting directors. Jon Greenhalgh suggested removing the voice-in-the-head monologues. He argued that they were unnecessary and the story should be told visually. Sometimes as a writer it’s easy to fall in love with all those words you’ve lovingly crafted and polished, but Jon had a good point. It made sense and made the scripts stronger. We gave Jon the job and our account team had the slightly awkward task of telling Vodafone we wanted to change the scripts. Scripts they'd approved. Scripts that had sailed through research. Luckily the WRCS account team was as good at unselling ads as they were at selling them. We got the thumbs up and Dave and I were on our way to Ibiza. 

But first we had to stop off in a pre-hipster Hackney Road to shoot the launderette and pub scenes.  

So these are the two commercials. Not too bad, funny enough, but technology moves so fast, they were already badly dated six months after we'd shot them. Still, they're an interesting snapshot in the evolution of mobile phones circa 2001.    

Agency: WCRS

Client: Vodafone

Director: Jon Greenhalgh

Art Director: Dave Lang

Copywriter: Martin Gillan