Another campaign, another nod as a top marketer: Nathan Rosenberg – Silver

This will be Nathan Rosenberg's first real summer in the city. Virgin Mobile's main marketing man has understandably been busy for the past two years, arriving in Toronto from his native Australia in May 2004 to launch Virgin's first significant presence in Canada. The result was little time for trips to Harbourfront, a whopping workload and, surprisingly, only a hint of anxiety.

This will be Nathan Rosenberg’s first real summer in the city. Virgin Mobile’s main marketing man has understandably been busy for the past two years, arriving in Toronto from his native Australia in May 2004 to launch Virgin’s first significant presence in Canada. The result was little time for trips to Harbourfront, a whopping workload and, surprisingly, only a hint of anxiety.

‘I wasn’t as nervous as you might think,’ he says. ‘Mainly because the industry was so ripe for change and also because [cellphone] penetration in this country was so low.’

‘I was more nervous about how I was going to make friends given my rather unique personality,’ he adds, revealing his self-deprecating sense of humour.

Unquestionably, the all-work-and-no-play effort has paid off, with Virgin doing what it intended to, he says: driving pre-paid category growth and attracting 15- to 30-year-olds who previously hadn’t owned a cellphone. (A recent study by Toronto-based industry analyst J.D. Power and Associates gave the brand top ranks among all prepaid service providers in Canada in the areas of customer service, cost service and call quality.)

And in the process the company, which he says has a mandate to ‘shake things up,’ has injected a well-needed sense of cheekiness and fun into Canadian marketing.

How cheeky? In the past year, Rosenberg has helped convince Virgin’s effervescent billionaire owner Richard Branson to dress up as a superhero doctor and scale a wall in downtown Toronto; spread ‘The Catch’ in a high-profile launch across Canada; and get Pamela Anderson to extol the ‘Joy of Text’ for a recent Valentine’s Day campaign.

Yes, Rosenberg has a reputation for being on the vanguard. Before landing in Canada, he was behind the marketing efforts of the brand in Australia, for which he nabbed Marketer of the Year from the country’s marketing trade pub Ad News in 2003. The award honoured ongoing work, but also specifically the ‘Warren’ campaign which featured a loveable loser looking for love. (It won Grand Prix in the Lions Direct at Cannes.)

But even with such success, the lure of Canada and the chance ‘to work on not just building Virgin Mobile but building the perception of the Virgin brand,’ was enough to have him confer with Mr. Branson – (‘I had sort of spoken to Richard about it and he had said: ‘Yes, you should definitely go and do it; it would be great”) – and hop on a plane shortly thereafter to execute the Canadian launch.

These days, even with high brand recognition and a successful model, Rosenberg isn’t getting comfortable. Virgin Mobile recently signed a new AOR, Toronto’s Zig, after working with Lowe Roche since July 2004. Rosenberg will say only: ‘We think Zig will bring a different perspective on how we continue to build the Virgin [brand] in Canada,’ he says. The split was amicable, and we are likely to see project work from Lowe.

With its new agency, big plans are afoot for 2006, including the launch of three new products during the year, the first of which will debut late this month. ‘I think it will surprise some of our competitors,’ he says. Zig-inspired creative will follow in May.

‘We’ve had some success,’ he says. ‘But the fact is there are still 15 million customers out there on mobile phones who aren’t with Virgin Mobile and who I would like the opportunity to convince to join us.’

Use three adjectives to describe your marketing style.

Energetic, passionate, innovative.

What was your career highlight over the past 12 months?

Pamela Anderson sitting on my lap for the launch of ‘The Joy of Text.’ I still haven’t showered. Oh and of course, launching Virgin Mobile in Canada…

What was the insight for your current campaign?

Our current campaign – the ‘Joy of Text’ for Valentine’s Day, was based on the idea that mobiles (cells) are making modern-day romances and relationships possible. With over one billion text messages expected to be sent next year and people now text messaging to hook up, break up and make up, we’re keen to be the ‘textperts’ of the mobile industry and to help every Canadian have a healthy and fulfilling

‘text life.’

Why do you think you were voted a top marketer? Please don’t be too humble.

I am the luckiest guy in town as I work on a brand that has a mandate to do things differently and put the customer in the driver’s seat. When you

put customers first and they are involved in designing what you offer, it isn’t hard to market to them because you actually have something they want.

We also have the benefit of being able to do it under the Virgin banner. That means we can do things that make people really stand up and take notice because we aren’t afraid of taking risks to get the message out.