Public Mobile wants your junk

The self-serve telco swaps useless items for SIM cards to engage customers who are comfortable taking a DIY approach to wireless.

Wireless provider Public Mobile is asking Canadians to trade in anything – and they mean anything – as an easy way to hook them up to the company’s do-it-yourself plans.

By tagging a photo of a “useless” item on Twitter or Instagram with @publicmobile and #SIMswap, or posting it directly to Public Mobile’s Facebook page, potential customers can trade it in for a SIM card from Public, as well as other perks like merch or taking costs off their contracts. The company has also set up ads on Kijiji and Craigslist to arrange in-person swaps. Items traded so far have included used chop sticks, a broken umbrella and a candy wrapper.

Public is promoting the initiative on social and through influencer engagement, as well as through a series of short YouTube videos, with a feed of traded items on the #SIMswap microsite.

The campaign is being led by Cossette, with the Colony Project providing PR support.

Public, which was acquired by Telus in 2013 and re-launched roughly a year ago, is built around self-service to differentiate itself from other mobile providers. It has no stores or call centres, with all business being done online through its web platform. Customers build their own plans with the options they want, without a contract, and must provide their own phone (though it does have a partnership with Orchard, a Toronto-based company that refurbishes and sells used phones). Customers can earn rewards that further drive down the cost of their bill, by doing things like referring new customers, paying through pre-authorized payments or participating in the company’s community-based help centre.

Because of the nature of its business, and the kind of customer that would be attracted to that model, the SIM card has become a symbol for the company, becoming part of its logo and the focal point of its ongoing “#LifeAfterDark” social platform.

“The SIM is the conduit to your connectivity, and we stacked that with a message of Canada’s largest 4G LTE network [through Telus], we really got down to the bare bones of what you really need to get connected,” says Dave MacLean, director at Public Mobile. “What’s important to us is driving awareness for the right type of potential consumer, so we emphasize that we’re looking for customers who are comfortable taking a non-traditional wireless path. We speak to the life-hackers, who want to save a dollar here and there by doing things themselves and like having that power and control.”

Public “relaunched” in 2015 on an invite-only basis as it fine-tuned its business model. However, now that it is available to the public, the main goal is to drive awareness for what the brand offers. Since much of Public’s model is based around community, the company wanted a campaign that could engage directly with “trading communities” that have recently become popular, and are similarly focused on saving money by putting in a little extra work on their own.

“We don’t have the traditional call centres or stores, but these communities don’t want to sit on hold in a call centre for a really long time anyway,” MacLean says. “They want to interact with people who have answers quickly. Working in communities to relate back to a community brand made a lot of sense to us. We are also a fun and cheeky brand and thought this would be a fun and cheeky way to interact, directly, with potential customers and drive a conversation around what we do and how we’re different.”

The #SIMswap campaign, like much of the company’s marketing, is being done online, as it is an online-only brand whose target customer is most active on digital platforms. MacLean says Public is also looking for ways to utilize some of the traded items in online communications going forward.