Media Strategy - Losing the plot or streets ahead?

Seldom has a new technology attracted as much cynicism as 3G.

The phones of the future have been as good as dismissed by many analysts and media boffins as an enormous waste of money – a classic example of doing something clever for the sake of it without the mass public demand to get your money back.

Many point to the poor take-up of the WAP phone – which consumers failed to embrace in the expected numbers when it was introduced across the globe in 2000 and 2001.

So to see a company like Vodafone throw an estimated £20bn globally into 3G technology and make it the main thrust of its future can mean one of two things. Either Vodafone, which last week joined 3 as the second 3G provider, has completely lost the plot, or the naysayers are going to end up with egg all over their faces.

It’s two years since they launched Vodafone Live! – their picture messaging service famous for the days when David Beckham and text messaging where associated with things other than his alleged misbehaviour.

Two years on and nine million Vodafone Live! customers later, Beckham is back as part of a £15m advertising blitz, spearheaded by its media agency, OMD, for the company’s new high tech phones, which bring the faster, more powerful technology of 3G to the service – opening a new world of music downloads, videos and streamed content.

The marketing campaign for the 3G bit began yesterday and Beckham features in one of four TV ads playing across the London region on ITV and Channel 4, which will be used to promote the company’s 3G and 2.5G services Along with a heavy print campaign, featuring the supposedly arty Rankin photography, the campaign sees Vodafone take a two-tier approach.

The 3G message will be concentrated in London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham – with a national campaign focusing on the already existing video messaging services.

This is not so much a clever two pronged strategy as one forced upon Vodafone because, for the moment at least, the phones don’t work in up to 40%of the UK.

The fact that so many people won’t be able to “live it”, as the theme of the ads goes, is one of many barriers in the way of Vodafone convincing people that 3G is the way ahead.

Admittedly, along with 3, the company has secured impressive joint highlights rights for Premiership football matches.

It has also attracted considerable PR value, if nothing else, from its plans to video stream exclusive mini-episodes – called mobisodes – of the cult TV drama, 24 , to its customers next year.

These, along with other fancy features such as a music download tie-up with record labels such as Sony and EMI, is enough to have your average mobile anorak dashing to his nearest phone store.

But at an envisaged average user price of between £40 and £60 a month, the jury is well and truly out on the mass appeal of the product.

Then again, it’s hard to bet against companies that are willing to put the kind of money 3 and Vodafone are putting behind the new technology – regardless of what the sceptics say.

Ian Quinn

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