Orville and agile advertising

Posted on Thursday 1st March 2012

* Updated 5/3/12

You’d expect the story of how we came to make an Eminem-style rap video starring 80’s ventriloquist superstars Keith Harris and Orville to involve maverick creative directors, rampant egos, overblown budgets and lots of chemical assistance.

Surprisingly though, it’s actually the result of a very practical, objective and efficient process. Borrowing a little from Agile software development, we worked in a way that was iterative, allowing for testing of ideas live with consumers, and driven by hard business metrics.

giffgaff is a mobile network ‘run by you’. They strip out a lot of the costs of traditional players, for example big call centres, by motivating their community to provide those services – and they pass this saving onto customers with much lower prices. We’ve been working with them since 2009, helping them with everything from business strategy to UX to managing their Facebook conversation.

Over that time, we’ve been evolving a way of developing brand communications that suits their ethos – and, we believe, that of any modern, social brand.

The traditional development process for brand creative (as opposed to performance marketing) can be pretty introspective and expensive. An idea can gestate for months, shaped by subjective feedback from agency and client, and research which, no matter how rigorous, is always guesswork. After all of this expensive swirl, the Big Idea is launched with a Big Bang. When it works it can be spectacular, but too often it doesn’t, and the campaign is met with indifference and shifting blame.

A modern creative development process for brand creative aims to be the opposite – open and efficient. It involves getting a Minimum Viable Idea out there as quickly as possible, to understand how it actually performs in a live environment. It involves setting targets at each stage, against relevant and measurable performance indicators and, only if it exceeds those objectives, iterating the idea in response to feedback, and seeing just how far it can go.

You’d expect a process like this to lead to formulaic, bland work. So how did we use it to create a film described as “nuts” by C-Net?

Well, the process begins by following the advice of friend-of-Albion Mark Earls, and “lighting lots of fires”. Instead of developing three ideas for a creative presentation to a senior client, instead we test tens of ideas, constantly, on giffgaff’s Facebook Page.

The brief from giffgaff we were tackling was this:

giffgaff is a SIM-only mobile network. You need to have an unlocked handset to use it. But most people aren’t sure about unlocking – what it is, how to do it, if it’s legal. So let’s help people out. But do it ‘in a giffgaff way’. giffgaff is a challenger brand; It’s home for people pissed-off with Big Mobile’s restrictive practices. Oh, and giffgaff is a modern business with ethics, so how can we do an interesting CSR-y thing?

Some of the ‘small fires’ we lit went nowhere, they got no real reaction. Some were popular on Facebook (with the more mainstream end of giffgaff’s users) but not on their forum (with their superuser community), or vice versa. Some were popular with both, and so got developed further. Notably:

The giffgaff Illegal Theatre: Based on the insight that lots of people think that unlocking a phone is illegal (it’s not), we created the first synched dual YouTube player, where our ‘boxhead’ brand character explained that unlocking a phone isn’t illegal, but showed some funny examples of stuff that is. Some people really liked it, but it didn’t go viral.

Unlockopedia: Based on the insight that there is no single authoritative source of information on phone unlocking. Previously a Google search would yield tons of grubby-feeling sites, many of which ripped you off. giffgaff built Unlockopedia, which is community powered, peer reviewed, and fills that void. The site is SEO crack, but won’t make the brand famous.

But then Teddy had an idea. Being locked in to a restrictive mobile contract is (a bit) like being a battery hen locked into a cage. So what if we freed a battery hen for every person who unlocked a phone to join giffgaff?

Everybody thought the idea was a bit silly, and too hard to do, so it would have been rejected in a conventional reductive creative development process. But it made it as one of our ‘100 fires’. So we tested it first as a blog post:

The community of super users loved the idea. So we tried it out on the Facebook page:

giffgaff’s Likers liked the idea too, so we thought we better make it real. We found a charity, Wood Green, who could actual free and rehome battery hens. Tom (our client) went to meet them, struck a deal, and blogged about it.

We created a campaign identity, to make it feel more real:

The idea was still getting wild kudos on the forum and Likes on The Facebook (242% over target in fact), and so we decided to take it to the next level with a sterner test. We replaced a set of our hardworking, uber-optimised acquisition banners with ones using the chicken proposition:

These were equally successful, achieving orders 134% over target, and activations 120% over target. Boom. So this emboldened us to roll out the big guns.

* Some people have pointed out the curiosity of using conversion metrics to assess a brand campaign. So I just wanted to add 2 things: giffgaff’s acquisition marketing campaign does have a brand effect, and we take the same care with the attitude and tone on banners as we do on online film; Who can afford to do pure brand marketing anymore? Certainly not a modern, efficient organisation like giffgaff. Everything we do is ‘brand response’ – that is, we expect everything we do to generate acquisitions, and measure for that. 

We wanted to create a piece of sharable content – something that would dramatise the ‘unlock a phone, unlock a chicken’ proposition, but also demonstrate giffgaff’s personality. We wracked our brains for a famous chicken we could use, but the nearest we got was… Orville. Yes, we know she’s a duck. It was then obvious we should update their 80’s smash ‘I wish I could fly’ with a modern hymn to freedom…

OK, we know the whole ‘customer development’ story goes a bit wibbly here. But I guess that’s the moral of the story. This agile approach isn’t a substitute for creative judgement and bravery. It’s a substitute for shit research that kills brave ideas.

Anyhow, The CONtract feat. K-Orvile is doing rather well. It got 100,000 views in a week, and clocked up 200,000 views in just over 2 weeks – all with no paid media, only blogger outreach. The Sun, the Guardian and the FT reported it because of how it was growing online.

In fact we nearly ‘did a Hoover’, freeing more chickens than Wood Green could rehome. Luckily they’ve found a way, so everybody’s happy.

What’s next? Well, let’s see what our YouTube commenters (94% positive) are asking for:

Watch this space.

By Glyn Britton