“IAPI are delighted to bring you this example of Irish creativity at its best, as part of our ‘Ireland: where Creative is Native’ series. Chief commercial officer, Three UK & Ireland, Elaine Carey and the Dublin agency, Boys + Girls, CCO, Rory Hamilton reflect on the relationship that’s made the brand the most creatively awarded in Ireland,” says Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI.
The Three brand was born at the end of a different era. “Given the importance of connectivity to practically every moment of our lives these days it’s hard to think back to when Three was launched back in 2003,” reflects Elaine Carey, chief commercial officer at Three Ireland. “Up until then mobile meant calls. It meant texts. It was analog and 2G technology.”
Three launched specifically with the vision that data - 3G-enabled data (hence the name) - would, could and should enable you to do so much more. That it would open up new possibilities with regard to leisure, business and everyday life – but only with the correct infrastructure to support it.
Rather than bolt on and build from old mobile technology, Three built a network made for data first, explains Elaine. “It’s easy to look back now and go ‘of course that makes sense’ but back then a lot of people just didn’t get it and looked at us as if we were mad,” she says. But the new brand was just what some were waiting for. “Both those future focused and (in particular) younger customers jumped on board with both hands.”
Three Ireland launched a couple of years later in 2005 with exactly the same intention but the decision was made relatively quickly that the brand would behave in a manner that was best for the market. “We may only have a small strip of sea between us and the UK but culturally, in terms of tone of voice in particular, we figured early on that if the brand was going to thrive in Ireland it needed to be sensitive to and leverage an Irish sensibility,” says Elaine.
Similar to the UK, the brand was immediately grasped in both hands by the tech savvy customer in Ireland. “Our data offering was market leading and people who knew - or who looked - could see that immediately,” says Elaine, who began working in the brand’s marketing department in 2007. But the brand did face some issues. Handsets and their clunky interface in accessing and using data made it hard for people to enjoy or fully embrace what Three could offer them. Remember trying to use the internet on your phone before they were really ‘smart’? The network was ahead of the devices. The launch of the iPhone in early 2008 really changed that.
That was when Three Ireland started to really get into its marketing stride. “Irish people love sport and in particular when the Irish football team is doing well nothing can compete,” says Elaine. “Our sponsorship of the Irish football team for ten years from 2010, I think really helped to cement our place over here.”
The brand’s belief in the importance and potential of data in changing people's lives for the better is something Elaine feels where Three Ireland really “put our money where our mouth is”. “Which baffled our competitors at the time,” she says. But that turned out to give the brand the greatest stand out early on. When the network launched ‘All You Can Eat Data’ into the market - this was when competitors were charging euros per megabyte - it changed the game. “People just loved it,” says Elaine.
In terms of the way Three Ireland communicated at the time, its ethos was to try to be both really clear, straightforward and simple whilst being really aligned with culture. “Mobile companies had made lots of money from complicated plans, with hidden terms and tariffs. Making money through mystery,” says Elaine. “As a genuinely customer-focused company we wanted to demystify mobile and data in a clear and simple way people could understand.”
Being aligned with culture paired well with that as the best way to be relevant to Three’s core customer at the time who was younger and more tech savvy. Elaine points to work like ‘Meet Bill’ and ‘Super Bill’ - or even its campaign with Jedward - as campaigns built around those two principles. “If I had any criticism of that work collectively it’s probably that by being so close to culture we maybe weren’t consistent enough in how we looked and felt across our work,” she says.
Three Ireland pitched its business in late December 2012 and appointed Dublin creative agency Boys + Girls in January 2013, starting a relationship that’s beared plenty of fruit since.
At that time, the brand’s key issue was awareness or even more specifically attribution of the brand. “The work Boys + Girls presented in the pitch was really compelling,” says Elaine. “They developed a platform idea ‘As it Should Be’ that felt as if it really tapped into both where the brand had come from and most importantly where we wanted to get to. Our desire to be better and the best. It worked across everything. The network as it should be. Business as it should be. Data as it should be. It even worked for sponsorship, with support as it should be.
The alignment between the brand and agency seemed great from the outset, remembers Rory Hamilton. “It’s unusual to go into a pitch and to make the work presented, but that’s exactly what we did,” says the Boys + Girls partner and chief creative officer. “We seemed to hit the perfect tone of voice for the brand, not as wacky as the UK launch, but not taking itself as seriously as mobile brands were in Ireland.”
The first ad ‘Digital You’ demonstrated a real understanding of how people were using the network, and ‘Best Fans in the World’ followed up with what Rory calls, “a love letter to Irish football fans who, in spite of having little to cheer about at the time, showed unwavering support.”
“These adverts felt like a statement from a brand with a clear vision for the future but with a humanity and a knowing, understated sense of Irishness that was maybe lacking previously,” says Rory.
The brand then moved to tell more emotive stories. With ‘Three Little Words’ the brand showed how every message sent across the network matters. “It came about by just scrolling through my phone and realising that the messages I shared with my wife across our relationship might have started out with ‘I Love You’ but wind up being things like ‘Bring Home Milk’. But no matter the content, every message is important,” says Rory.
That taught the agency that real emotion comes from real experience and so from ‘The Girl and the Cloud’ through ‘Bounce’, the agency mined real experience to tell stories with a real heart.
Having been on Three Ireland’s marketing journey all of this way, Elaine finds it hard “to say which of your children is your favourite” But the emotional resonance and cultural insight of ‘The Girl and the Cloud’ stick out for her. “It so perfectly captured the difficulties faced by Irish who had been forced to work abroad with the recession intermingled with a genuine sense of magic.”
She also highlights 2016’s ‘Tackle Homelessness’ campaign, when Three Ireland donated its Rugby sponsorship to Focus Ireland. “An incredible piece of film for a great cause and charity. Taking a source of national pride in a song like Ireland’s Call and using it to shine a light on the dire situation faced by the homeless in Ireland was a brilliantly powerful idea.”
Emotive filmmaking has been a key ingredient to the way Three connects to Irish people on a human level over the past decade. ‘Marathon Man’ took that to tear-jerking heights in 2017, literally for Elaine: “I have to admit to shedding a tear when I first watched it through. It was a brilliant illustration of the real power of data to affect people’s lives.”
Rory can’t single out a highlight from the collaborative efforts between his agency and Three Ireland. “Of course there have been real highlights but my pride is in the fact that each and every piece of work we have done for Three has maximised its creative opportunity - be it a tactical piece to drive handset or SIM sales or a big brand piece.” That’s backed up by the fact that Three has gone from never having won a creative award to “hands down the most creatively awarded client in the country,” he adds, with over 70 national and international awards over the past 10 years - culminating in Gold at last year's Cannes Lions. “With that in mind, given it was such a labour of love and so successful commercially and creatively, ‘The Island’ probably deserves some form of pedestal.”
It’s a piece of work that goes way beyond emotional storytelling – the moving power of ‘The Island’ comes from the very real impact that Three were able to make on people’s lives within the community of Arranmore by transforming the island of the Donegal coast into a future-facing place powered by connectivity and ready to do business with anyone, anywhere. With superfast broadband in their hands, Three’s project is fuelling tourism, education, healthcare and business across the island.
“Our latest commercial ‘Jeff’s World’ is another barnstormer,” adds Rory, bringing the brand’s marketing story up to this moment. “Great idea, brilliant execution and a top ‘80s soundtrack - all celebrating a bearded dragon riding a smart hoover. What more could you want!?”
The work Three Ireland and Boys + Girls have done together has been built on honest dialogue. “The more you understand about a client’s business, the more you can help,” says Rory. “We spent time finding out how Three work, what’s important to them, what are their pressure points, their processes? You can never know too much about what a client needs from the relationship.”
Along the way the agency and client developed principles that everyone involved could all stick to. “Principles that we could hold each other too,” adds Rory. “Work that had to punch above its weight in terms of key metrics, or practices that we would never let slide.”
The only way that could have been achieved is by all parties making sure they’re aligned on what drives them. Rory’s advice to achieve this is to, “get tight as a leadership group as to what you are trying to achieve personally and as client and agency groups. Get the wider group properly invested in that and let them positively influence it. Encourage and empower them to own it as individuals.”
And the resulting sentiment? “Make work that people give a shit about.”
Elaine underlines the value of taking time to understand what is important personally and professionally to a client. “It’s so important,” she says. “When you have that level of trust and transparency you have the basis for success.”
But Three Ireland didn’t build what they have overnight. It took work. “Trust and respect are earned over time,” says Elaine. “Layer aligned ambition on top and a group of people who get on and want to win and you have an incredibly powerful mix.”