As British workers start to return to the office, there’s one part of the pre-Covid working day that people are somewhat less excited about. The commute. The 15-minute stroll from bed to dining room table certainly has something to recommend it. The prospect of leaving the house at 7am for an hour or two jostling on a train – less appealing.
But hold on. The much-maligned commute, it transpires, was doing more than we thought. For the past year, many UK workers have struggled with the way work life has collapsed into personal life with no psychological barrier between the two. It was a time to disappear into a podcast, audiobook (remember them), game or series too. In London, where commuters are experts in avoiding eye contact and disappearing into their devices, that was certainly the case.
And so, EE, the mobile network owned by BT, has launched a new campaign that celebrates the return of the ‘glorious commute’, with tongue firmly placed in cheek. The digital OOH campaign is running across Transport for London’s underground to highlight EE’s 5G network and to encourage businesses to switch to EE for mobile needs.
Simon Till, marketing director for small to medium enterprises for BT and EE says that the campaign was driven by an emotional insight about the psychological shock absorber role of the commute. Ironically, the campaign itself appeals to personal and business needs, blending the two.
“For some people the commute can be a valuable buffer between the demands of home-life and work-life,” says Simon. “But for others the commute is a much-needed extension to the working day. We have done lots of research with SMEs about how they juggle their work and home life, and it’s very clear that for business customers, the lines get blurred – in fact, our research shows that 89% use the same phone for work and personal use. So that’s why this campaign celebrates that the commute can be both a time for work and play.
“We wanted to bring to life that an EE business plan caters for both worlds. Whether that’s unlimited data with no allowance limits or speed caps – ideal for downloading files, video-calling or streaming your favourite content. Dual SIM, so you can have a work number and a personal number on the same phone. Or, a range of ‘Smart benefits’ to choose from to help relax and unwind, like BT Sport, Apple Music, Apple Arcade and Apple TV+. All of this and the peace of mind that you’re on London’s best network, keeping you connected throughout the Capital, with access to Station WiFi across London Underground.”
In terms of timing, the campaign goes live in a week that the UK is further lifting restrictions - cinemas, theatres and hotels are opening up and limited indoor gatherings in pubs and restaurants and homes are now permitted. Toby Fairclough, client services director at NOW, the creative agency behind the campaign, says that the commute is back in force.
“Last week, research found that London offices were over 50% full for the first time since March 2020 [Metrikus]. People are starting to go back to the office, and we wanted to be a part of the conversation,” he says. “We wanted to remind the business community that EE is London's best mobile network, and what better way to do it than by celebrating the joy of commuting again? EE has always used media on the underground to connect with Londoners. And if we can stand out and entertain them a bit too, even better.”
And that return to the office was a moment that BT and EE were keen to jump on and be part of. “It’s a moment of optimism for the country and EE is an inherently optimistic brand,” says Simon. We believe in the power of technology to make people's everyday reality better. And that includes their commutes too!”
The campaign has also been informed by BT and EE’s data and insight about how people's streaming and viewing habits had changed over lockdown. “We saw some notable changes in the ways our customers used our mobile network during the period of heightened restrictions,” says Simon. “But as lockdown has eased, boosted with the roll out the 5G network to more places, it’s clear that our customers are making the most of our faster speeds and reliable performance when out and about. YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and Instagram retain the top spots as the most popular apps and services on EE’s 5G network, and month on month have seen traffic grow by at least 30%.”
It's a campaign that came together pretty quickly. “When the opportunity presented itself, we knew we would have to turn around the creative for the campaign in three weeks. Fortunately, we have a great relationship with our creative agency NOW and they were up for the challenge,” says Simon. “And given the time constraints we worked a little differently and jointly agreed the brief on a rapidly-organised brainstorming between a handful of people from BT and NOW. And then a few days later we were looking at first stage creative – sometimes a little time pressure brings the very best out of marketeers!”
The teams at agency and brand quickly landed on the tongue-in-cheek humour of the campaign. Realistically, few people would name the commute as their favourite time of the day and it can be a soul-crushing grind. But the cheeky sarcasm allowed the brand to connect with those mixed feelings while being playful.
In terms of the media strategy, it makes sense to talk about the commute at major tube stations, getting your audience in situ. But there’s another dimension to the TFL tie-in – over the past year much London Underground and bus advertising has not changed, leaving tired, out-of-date posters. The media placement makes perfect sense - talking about the commute in major tube stations. Did Simon’s team think that this would give your content an extra boost or lift in terms of people's attention and interest? “Yes, we think it will. Plus, we feel people will be receptive to messages celebrating a return to normality. And the key word is ‘celebrating’ because we feel that although people want to go back to life as before, they will do so with a greater appreciation of it. After an extended period of absence from many aspects of our old lives, we’re collectively recognising that we took much of it for granted. Even the much-maligned commute isn’t all bad - so why not give it a moment of fame and celebrate it in all its glory!”