November 29, 2010



The brief was to design and launch a new brand and business for O2/Telefonica – one that would be radically different to any other mobile network.

Creating giffgaff was an act of corporate entrepreneurism. The idea was conceived by 02’s Head of Brand Strategy, Gav Thompson, while at a conference on Social Media in San Francisco. Inspired by internet platforms like Wikipedia and Facebook, who are enabling new non-institutional ways of getting things done, he imagined a mobile network run on the principle of mutuality. A mobile network that rewarded its community of customers for doing much of the work normally done by employees. He felt there was a gap in the market, something for people who like to get involved and who get turned on by different ways of doing things.

Back in Slough the analysts got to work and concluded there might be a business in the idea. The idea was to launch a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), running on the O2 network, and owned by O2, but operating as a separate business.

That’s where Albion comes in to the story. When we won the pitch, there was little more than Gav’s original 8 principles and a rather thin business plan.

The key principles
Our brief was to define and name the brand, identify and understand the target audience, design and build the web interface, help develop the business strategy and process, create the launch communications… to get involved in everything required to turn the business plan into a fully-fledged and profitable business.

giffgaff does things differently to the big mobile networks. They’re run by their members.

Their members get rewarded (with ‘payback’) for answering customer service questions, recruiting new members or helping to make the brand famous. This means they can keep their costs low and pass the savings back to members.

They have a hybrid pay-as-you-go and contract model. No credit checks, but with all-inclusive ‘goodybags’ that can be bought automatically each month for convenience.

Beta launch strategy
Having defined the brand proposition and personality, created the name, and helped develop the identity, we turned our attention to the launch strategy.

We adopted the beta launch approach from web start-ups. We knew the technology platform wouldn’t be ready for primetime, but needed to get enough users onto the network to give it a work out. (Previously it had taken close to 2 years to launch an MVNO. giffgaff did it in 6 months.)

In the beta phase, we decided to target an audience of young, tech-savvy, digitally-native people – most likely to be attracted to the nascent proposition, and to talk about it to other likeminded people.

The challenges at this stage were twofold. We had to do this with very little media investment. And we had to demonstrate giffgaff’s ‘people powered’ proposition, at a time when it had no people to do the powering!

Beta launch execution
Albion created ‘Tool Hire’ – a series of weird and wonderful marketing tools that people could ‘hire’ for free. They then had to make a video, using the ‘tool’, that would demonstrate the principal of mutuality that lies at the heart of the brand. If that video was successfully uploaded to YouTube the customer was rewarded with free calls for a year. And the best 5 films each won £5000.

Beta launch results
In under 3 months we had:

  • 156 videos created for the campaign
  • 615,116 video views on YouTube
  • 43,301 visits to the Tool Hire site
  • 151,230 page views
  • 6,000 Facebook Fans created

And we reached 1.2 million people through primetime TV pick up.

Full launch strategy
For the full brand launch, the challenge was about creating instant brand awareness by cutting-through to the brand’s broader target audience of value-seekers, and igniting word-of-mouth in social media to drive low-cost acquisition channels.

The strategy was to use a fully integrated offline and online launch approach to help validate the service in the eyes of this broader audience thereby increasing the brand appeal and legitimacy in future online marketing.

Full launch execution
We created an integrated campaign across digital outdoor, national press, online display and social media. ‘The Man’ was used as a representation of the ‘establishment’ way of doing things – the things that giffgaff and its customers stand against, and was designed to ignite viral interest in the brand – which it did.

Full launch results
The main campaign did exactly what we wanted it to do. It drove awareness and buzz about the brand to a ‘critical mass’ where it ignited word-of mouth, and put into play ‘organic’ channels (which have a really low cost of sale).

More specifically, it:

  • Drove traffic: Unique visitors up 40%
  • Drove buzz: Tweets referencing @giffgaff up 240%
  • Drove search: Organic search grew 200%
  • Drove effectiveness: Branded search (e.g. “gif-gaf”) increased by 73%
  • Drove qualified visits: Bounce rate down 10%. Rapid growth in SIM activations
  • Kept driving: Search traffic was still increasing 20 days after the paid-media campaign ended.

And all of this with only 0.5% share-of-voice!

What’s happened since
giffgaff is being recognised as a social pioneer. From the proposition, to NPD, to customer service, to marketing, giffgaff is a platform for its members to create the service they want. For example giffgaff became the first business in Europe to offer full Lithium customer support in Facebook and Twitter.

giffgaff is becoming a textbook case study for a modern brand launch. Since the paid launch campaign, brand awareness has increased 200% using mainly social media and PR.

giffgaff has built a fiercely loyal community of customers, with an NPS of 74 (on a par with Amazon and Apple). And they regularly mobilize themselves in defense of the brand – for example forcing the new community review site Pownum to change its business model to allow them free right of reply:

And, most importantly, giffgaff is a strong business with real momentum. It is on target to deliver O2’s business plan.