The Ontario-based telecommunications company, TELUS Mobility recently unveiled its latest multimedia advertising campaign, which features two miniature Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs promoting its new camera phones.
The pair of "spokesporkers" — Lucie and Sparky — can be seen on television screens across Canada, flying around courtesy of helium-filled balloons and winking at the viewer while the popular 1980s song, "99 Luftballoons," plays in the background.
This campaign takes its cue from the "when pigs fly" expression to illustrate that some things are so unusual and unexpected that only a picture taken immediately can do them justice. Those images can then be transmitted instantly to another camera phone owner or to any e-mail address along with a text, voice or sound attachment.
The pigs are the latest in a long line of wildlife — lizards, frogs, ducks, ladybugs and monkeys — to have their moment in the spotlight during the past seven years as TELUS has successfully ingrained its "The Future Is Friendly" brand on the collective Canadian conscience through its nature-based themes.
Wade Oosterman, the telco's executive vice-president of sales and marketing, says that TELUS has continued to build its brand around spokescritters rather than humans because "they are less expensive and they don't ask that we take the red M&Ms out of their candy bowls."
But he is quick to note that the TELUS brand is much more than cute animals and retro music.
"Everything we do is in support of our brand promise: the future is friendly. And to make the future friendly, you have to do a lot of things right. You need the right rate plan, the right phones, the right value proposition, the right features and the right functionality. All of that has to be correct before you can make inroads," he says.
Those things include exemplary service and up-to-the-minute technology for TELUS’s products on all of the landline, business, consumer and wireless sides of the business.
For example, its portfolio of wireless phones are more expensive than those of its competitors, Oosterman says, because they're the latest generation technology.
"We could buy less expensive phones but that wouldn't make the future as
friendly," says Oosterman. "That gives our customers a greater feeling of comfort, trust and security with us. Ultimately that means value."
Oosterman notes in the hyper-competitive world of telecommunications there is a great advantage to having a differentiated brand and message. "When people see one of our spots, they know right away this is a TELUS Mobility commercial. When that happens, you spend less time educating people who the message is from and more time educating them what the message is about," he says.
He thinks the animal-themed advertising campaigns also strike a great balance between adults and children. While a cuddly duck or pig quickly gets the attention of the younger set — which is also the next, or in some cases, current, generation of consumers — the humor and messages are definitely adult-oriented.
For example, one spot features a pig accompanied by a text message, "buy soap.” It’s directed at a spouse, but it could just as easily have a real estate application where a picture of a newly-listed home can be sent instantly from a realtor to a potential buyer.
The use of one-hit wonder Nena's "99 Luftballoons" plus the infamous "Luke, I am your father" line from the original Star Wars trilogy as part of the print campaign also appeals to the '80s generation, which is now in its prime earning and child-producing years.
But while adults are the target, TELUS is definitely reaching the younger set. Lucie and Sparky were even part of a Toronto kindergarten class project recently. The project included renaming the characters and coming up with other visuals and accompanying messages in keeping with the TELUS brand.
The spokescritters have also branched out beyond their original purpose and into stuffed animals and posters, Oosterman says. Several hundred thousand plush toys have been sold over the last seven years (the proceeds go to charity).
TELUS isn't the only Canadian telco to use animals where most use humans. Manitoba Telecom Services has been using Morty, a talking, singing, traveling, shopping, motorcycle-riding bison for several years. MTS, a former crown corporation, employs the bison to capitalize on the status of bisons as a long-time symbol of the province of Manitoba.
And Morty can now add "award winning" to his list of achievements. He was recently feted with a silver medal in the "Sustained Success" category and a certificate in the "General Services" category at the 2003 CASSIES (Canadian Advertising Success Stories) Awards in Toronto.
So the next time you hear that a mobile communications brand is going to the dog, you might need to pause and consider how successful that move might be.