ADWATCH: Cellnet plays freedom card - Cellnet is pursuing the pre-paid mobile phone market with ads that eschew technicalities for a message of liberation, writes Robert McLuhan

The battle for the pre-paid mobile phone market is hotting up, as the pounds 3.5m launch campaign for Cellnet’s new ’U’ service shows signs of having a strong impact on its target sector of 16- to 24-year-olds.

The battle for the pre-paid mobile phone market is hotting up, as

the pounds 3.5m launch campaign for Cellnet’s new ’U’ service shows

signs of having a strong impact on its target sector of 16- to


Television ads by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO focus on freedom of choice,

emphasising the lack of contracts and monthly bills that pre-pay


A series of seven executions depict various small, but tricky, dilemmas

that individuals can resolve in their own way.

A girl eyes up a hunk across the room, but doesn’t realise that she has

cappuccino froth on her nose.

Should her friend be mean and tell her? A young student who wakes up

next to a beautiful girl has to decide whether to bunk off lectures;

while another has second thoughts about getting his navel pierced as he

is led through the sinister back rooms of a tattoo parlour.

The ads make use of the freeze-frame technique used in the film Lock,

Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, ending with U’s thumbprint logo and the

strapline ’It’s your call’.

Five executions of 40 seconds each have been shown so far, with

20-second cut-downs. Another two are in the pipeline. The ads are

sparing in detail, concentrating instead on the key message of freedom

from interference.

’The aim was to create a brand that appeals directly and exclusively to

the young,’ says board account director Will Harris.

’Pre-pay schemes by Cellnet’s competitors tend to straddle young users

and an older group of the cash-strapped and credit-shy. The great thing

about ’U’ from an advertiser’s point of view is that we can focus on the

youth market,’ Harris says.

The result has been the creation of an independent sub-brand, which

carries the reassurance of a long-established mobile operator while

avoiding the negative image that a large and staid company can have for

young people.

Greater penetration

Research has showed that the pre-pay market could greatly increase

penetration of mobile users in the UK, which at around 20% lags behind

the rest of Europe, where levels of 30-40% are the norm and 50% not


One 2 One was the first to introduce a pre-pay service in August last

year, followed by Vodafone and Orange in the run-up to Christmas. Over a

million have been sold in this market.

Cellnet chose to wait until last summer to launch its Easylife prepay

service, while it sorted out the appropriate technology. However, the

delay has given it an important advantage: customers can get information

about how much call-time they have left from a handset readout, where

with other networks they have to ring an operator.

Cellnet has acquired 3.5 million subscribers since it was established 13

years ago - 400,000 behind market leader Vodafone.

The company expects to grow substantially as a result of the new ’U’

initiative, selling over half a million by the end of the year,

according to head of consumer marketing Paul MacAleese.

’Some of the missionary work we are doing is on the general benefits.

People still didn’t understand the point of pre-pay in spite of the

money spent by our competitors, but it’s now starting to hit home,’ says


One small snag may be the writ that was taken out against Cellnet by One

2 One, which alleges that ’U’ plagiarises its own pre-pay service, Up 2

You. No date has been set for a hearing, but Cellnet says the challenge

is unfounded and will be strongly resisted.


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