Spokestoon makes noise for Rogers AT&T

No one said it would be easy....

No one said it would be easy.

In fact, when Montreal-based Marketel pitched for the Quebec portion of the Rogers AT&T account, the agency team offered a brutally honest assessment of the uphill battle that the company could expect to face in the province’s wireless communications arena.

‘Quebec is the toughest mobile phone market in the country,’ says Leon Berger, chairman of the product advisory board at Marketel, whose sister agency MacLaren McCann handles the English-language account. ‘They knew a lot [about this] already. But they’d never heard it presented with such vigour.’

The way the Marketel folks viewed it, there were three big challenges.

First was the fact that Rogers – formerly Cantel AT&T – was a completely unknown quantity in the province. (This was before parent Rogers Communications made its highly publicized bid for Quebec cable operator Groupe Vidéotron.)

Second, the company has an anglophone name that most native French-speakers find just about impossible to pronounce.

Third – and most problematic – was the strength of the competition. Rogers was entering a marketplace dominated by three other major players, all solidly entrenched.

Bell is by far the leader, thanks in no small part to a long-running and wildly popular advertising campaign starring ‘Monsieur B,’ a predictably wacky everyman character created by Quebec comedian Benoit Briere.

‘Monsieur B is probably the best-known, best-loved campaign in Quebec advertising history,’ Berger says. ‘It’s a cultural icon.’

While Fido and Clearnet, the number-two and number-three players, may lack the same kind of stature, both enjoy strong brand recognition in the province.

Compounding all this was the urgency of the situation. As a relative latecomer to the Quebec market, Rogers AT&T needed to gain ground quickly.

‘We didn’t have time to launch a brand and develop it slowly,’ Berger says. ‘We had to hit the ground running.’

The company’s first major French-language campaign, which launched this past January in TV, outdoor, newspaper and point-of-sale, linked the Rogers AT&T brand to one of Quebec’s most popular icons: Cirque du Soleil.

The tie-in was a good fit, produced impressive awareness figures and gave the company instant Quebec credentials, Berger says. But it wasn’t the basis for a long-term brand campaign. ‘It was too restricting.’

Armed with the knowledge that Quebec’s most popular campaigns invariably make liberal use of humour, Rogers AT&T decided to develop a wacky spokescharacter of its own, in the Monsieur B mold.

The animated Rogers guy – who has yet to acquire a name – appeared for the first time this past August, in a campaign to promote ‘Sans-fil sur mesure’ (‘Your Plan’), a wireless package designed to be tailored to the needs of the individual customer.

The character’s personality was crafted to appeal to the distinct sensibilities of Quebecers. He’s street-smart, irreverent and opinionated, expressing himself in the colloquial French favoured by the province’s popular comedians. In his debut spot, for example, he sits on a park bench and comments wryly on passersby. (The idea being that everyone is different, which is why a plan like ‘Sans-fil sur mesure’ makes such sense.)

‘He’s accessible and approachable,’ says Stephanie Jackson, director of Quebec marketing for Rogers AT&T. Indeed, the company envisions him more as a consumer advocate – the everyman of wireless – than as a corporate spokesman.

Early research results suggest that consumers find the character funny, friendly and honest. But he’s still just beginning to take shape, Jackson says, and can be expected to evolve and change over time. ‘The more we do, the more we learn,’ she says.

‘It’s a work in progress,’ agrees Julie Monette, account director at Marketel.

Coming up with a character who convincingly embodies the brand can be a real challenge, but the advantages are considerable. It creates instant recognition, Monette says, and provides the platform for a flexible long-term strategy.

Could Rogers AT&T be accused of copycatting Bell’s beloved Monsieur B? Not according to Jackson, anyway.

All of the major brands in the wireless category employ some sort of identifier, from the dogs that appear in Fido’s ads to the flora and fauna that populate Clearnet’s. And the Rogers AT&T character has next to nothing in common with Monsieur B, Jackson adds. ‘He’s a cartoon, not a person.’

Also in this report:

- Home Depot leaves well enough alone: Retailer’s Quebec foray follows the same strategy that has worked elsewhere in Canada p.21

- Revenge of the curds: Dairy Farmers go for breakthrough in new cheese campaigns p.21

- Branchez-Vous! links brand with the Net p.22