From Sweet to Street: How the T-Mobile Girl Got Her Makeover
Sweet is neat, but faster is master. Yeah, I just made that up, but it’s a pretty good synopsis of why T-Mobile needed a change in their advertising. Clearly, T-Mobile’s long recognized the power of the fairer sexed consumer, what with all those pretty pink stores and a girl-next-door spokesperson any of us could love. But apparently, competing in the high-tech market of smartphones and super-fast cellular service against heavy hitters like Verizon and AT&T required a marketing campaign that reflected a little more… assertiveness.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, nothing says “I-know-what-I-want-and-I-know-how-to-get-it” like riding a fast motorcycle (if the bike says anything about the rider, that’s no surprise to any of you). But, in light of how the motorcycle industry itself can’t seem to see the forest through the trees when it comes to the buying power of women, I never thought advertisers would (or could) tap into this vibe and not cheese it up like that stupid Monday Night Football ditty). Did Joan Jett ever get an apology for that mess? Or Harley, for that matter?
Enter one extremely savvy advertising agency whos execs knew just what I’m talking about. Somehow, they got everything right: the right bike, the right gear, the right sense of frustration, then satisfaction…Check out their original 1-minute commercial that put the T-Mobile girl on pole position ahead of a re-vamped Maytag repairman (Verizon’s “can you hear me now?” campaign) and a daydreaming hipster (AT&T’s “rethink possible” campaign).
No spandex, no stillettos, a full-faced helmet, and a full-throated Ducati. I was dying to know how they nailed it, and had a sneaky suspicion that either A), someone in the ad agency had just spent a half-hour on RevGirl.com, or B) they actually were riders themselves. Maybe both? Well, at least one of those hunches was right. Sifting through a pile of electronics and ad’ industry related write-ups, I tracked down Andrew Cristou, Chief Creative Officer of Publicis Seattle, T-Mobile’s ad agency, and asked them a few questions about image, authenticity, and black ‘n pink leathers.
RG: Ok, who’s the race fan in the office? Do one of you know a girl who rides a Ducati, because there ain’t very many of us… who was the inspiration for this character, or is she just an amalgamation of images consumers associate with ________ (fill in the blank for attributes)?
AC: We have several people here who are serious racing fans that span a breadth of motorsports. Courtney Mar, a young woman in our digital department, rides a Suzuki SV 650 everyday to work. I myself have a CBR 929rr, a Triumph Bonnie and am SCCA certified in Formula-2 Open-wheel. I was also the Creative Director for Toyota Motorsports for many years. Racing is in my bones.
He fills in the blank with “…an amalgamation of images consumers associate with ’high-tech speed’. The Superfast, high-tech Ducati seemed a natural fit for the message we wanted to communicate about T-Mobiles blazing fast 4G network.
RG: I get the emphasis on speed, but why a motorcycle, not a fast car? There’s that Danica Patrick woman…she’s pretty popular…
AC: Motorcycles still carry the torch of a rebel. T-Mobile has always been a challenger brand fighting against the big three on behalf of consumers. The symbolism of the bike, with its high-tech and speed, and the confidence one needs to ride it well, beautifully captures the spirit of the brand. (Besides, one can’t really see our spokesperson in a car…)
RG: And why a Ducati, not something more traditional (or predictable), like a Harley?
AC: Harley’s, while loved by all, don’t embody the high-tech racers we were looking for. Ducati’s capture the racing spirit like no other rockets.
RG: You could have sold out and put this character in silly spandex and heels; this seems to be the usual m.o. when it comes to women on motorcycles in the media. Instead, you made her a serious rider wearing head-to-toe, legitimate safety gear. First of all, THANK YOU, and secondly, why?
AC: She’s confident, empowered, serious, edgy, sometimes playful, sometimes fun. Always high-tech and always FAST. These are qualities that embody the brand. T-Mobile has always ‘beat to its own drummer’ and their advertising should reflect the core values of the brand. And while yes, she’s attractive, it serves no purpose to treat her as eye-candy only. -It demeans women and talks down to consumers. We give our audience much more credit than that.
RG: Were any motorcycle industry experts consulted for this endeavor? (I must have missed the memo).
AC: Yes several. We talked to the folks at Ducati and had expert stunt riders and coordinators on set at all times. When executing spots like this, I feel authenticity is extremely important.
In fact, Tim Collins, Public Relations Manager for Ducati North America concurred.
“We are happy to be working with T-Mobile as part of their new 4G advertising campaign in North America. The entire Ducati team worked very closely with T-Mobile in order to create a unique produc placement within the scope of the campaign. This wonderful collaboration, including aesthetic design of the bike, campaign content, as well as capturing the authentic Ducati sound, resulted in a very successful representation of the premium innovation, advanced technology, and speed of both Ducati and T-Mobile”.
RG: The new character oozes confidence while remaining undoubtably feminine; again, not exactly the traditional combination of attributes portrayed in the media when it comes to women and motorcycles. Was this intentional, or did it just sort of end up that way?
AC: Very intentional. Being cool, confident, in control and empowered does not mean surrendering your femininity. That’s yesterday’s thinking.
RG: How successful has the campaign been, in terms of audience response, T-Mobile’s response (there seem to be many spin-offs from the original 1-minute, commercial), and advertising industry response?
AC: Extremely Successful. We have the most famous campaign in telecom since Verizon’s Can You Hear Me Now guy.
RG: The latest TV commercial features the T-Mobile girl lining up for a night race and even some motorcycle stunting…targeting a younger audience, or expanding on the “girl-power” thing?
AC: Not intentionally. The spot is about the limitations of other networks data plans. You’re either limited by location (Sprint) or you have to pay and pay and pay for more data. (Verizon & AT&T) The race is a metaphor for the 4 networks data plans.
RG: Ad campaigns can totally flop (or so I’ve heard). What specific information did you have (focus group ratings? product/image association data? an overal gut feeling?) that made you confident this campaign would be a hit?
AC: A combination of all those things! Great Ad campaigns start with vigorous consumer insight as the platform which creativity and ‘gut feelings’ are born from. A strong belief in the brand and a passionate team bring the work to life. T-Mobile has great momentum despite the challenges of the last few years.
RG: Seriously…where can I get a set of those pink and black leathers?
AC: I’ll get you in touch with our costume designer on our next shoot. Would be great to have you down for some photos with Carly as well.
So yeah, how many times a day am I checking my e-mail now?
I would like to thank T-Mobile’s Michelle Taylerson, Senior Manager of External Communications for her assistance with this interview and for supplying the great pictures. I can’t wait until my Verizon contract is up!
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