Public Mobile hits reset on its less-is-more approach

The Telus-owned low-cost provider is addressing key brand challenges and category evolution with a visual refresh and new campaign.


From the time of its 2013 acquisition by Telus and brand relaunch two years later, through to its first awareness push in 2017, Public Mobile has faced a number of marketing hurdles, many of which would only reveal themselves over time, says senior marketing manager Susana Gomes.

The company’s “brand cues” remained the same, she says, even as the company was forced to evolve, entering retail and moving away from its original online-only promise. Its logo was too small and its visual system too complex, leading to low “brand linkage” with consumers, especially in OOH ads featuring a lot of copy. Ongoing brand research suggested there was a “comprehension problem,” as many customers recalled its quirky “Less for Less” billboards and ads, but ultimately failed to attribute them to Public – and, in some cases, attributed them to a competing discount mobile brand.

“We were very limited from a visual standpoint,” Gomes says. “All of this together, all of these brand cues, meant that our ads weren’t working very hard for us, or as hard as they could be.”

So the mobile telco has hit reset with the help of AOR Cossette, launching a new visual identity and campaign aimed at addressing these challenges and more. Cossette Media is leading on the media plan.

“What hasn’t changed for the brand is that our mission has always been the same, the wireless company that does things differently,” Gomes says. “That’s always been our mission – wireless done differently, wireless made simple – and we continue to do that. I think the emphasis now with this campaign is that we’re the wireless company with you in mind.”

Public3The identity refresh comes with a new logo, colours, typography and illustrations that bring diversity, individuality and interconnectedness to the fore. Luis Coderque, Cossette group creative director and head of design, says the colour and typeface were inspired in part by “the lines of park benches, paths, paving and signage you would see in public spaces.”

The unveiling has been accompanied by “Public Displays of Affection,” a humorous take on the way the telco wants to show love and commitment to customers. The work includes five digital spots, as well as OOH, murals and radio spots running nationally until through the end of December, with the core theme being affection – between pirates, between dinosaurs, between a bear and his salmon-coloured polo. According to Public, the goal is to reinforce the many ways the brand shows affection to its customers, which are as diverse a group as those shown in the videos.

Gomes says a number of forces, both within and outside the company, necessitated the step change. For one, the dynamics of the mobile landscape have changed, with more attention being brought to the prepaid segment, thanks in part to the country’s above-average wireless fee, as well as new competitors, such as Lucky and Chatr, entering the fold.

Secondly, with its entrance into retail through Walmart in 2017 and eventual expansion into kiosks, something had fundamentally changed about the brand. The move enabled Public to grow and reach more customers, but Gomes says by 2019, the “Less for Less” tagline – a no-frills approach that referenced all the things it claimed not to have in order to pass savings onto customers – was “no longer was valid,” since the company was essentially “reneging on some of those things that we used to do or not do.”

The new distribution points also began attracting a new kind of customer. Its online-only, self-serve model had previously attracted tech-competent, online-savvy consumers. But increasingly, it was reaching new kinds of customers for whom the “Less for Less” positioning simply did not work.

The multicultural customer, in particular, did not understand the brand promise. “They wanted to hear, More for Less,” Gomes says. “Had we done more research [initially], we would have seen that the phrase [Less for Less] potentially would have been polarizing for new Canadians.”

Public2And there’s a reason for brands like Public to go after that consumer segment. According to Gomes, newcomers to Canada tend to gravitate towards prepaid plans, because it accounts for 90% of the share of many international markets. Recent immigrants are also generally in need of greater flexibility when it comes to their phone plans.

It’s a strategy that Public hopes will come through in its new visual identity. “It goes back to the idea of ensuring that Public is for everyone,” Gomes says. “We wanted to emphasize the diversity and connection of Public customers and by choosing illustration, particularly illustrations of people without facial features, we are better able to represent the many individuals that make up the public.”

Coderque adds that the same idea is embedded within the choice of creating six different versions of the Public logo. “Like people, they look the same from a distance,” he says, “but once you get closer you’re able to see [their] diversity and individuality.”