Helio Effort Straddles Love/Hate Line

LOS ANGELES It’s not such a thin line between love and hate, especially when trying to gauge the relationships between young adults and their wireless carriers.

That’s what category startup Helio discovered in research leading up to the launch of its first multimedia campaign earlier this month from Deutsch/LA.

“What we discovered was, no surprise to me, was that tech-savvy young people from 18 to 32 years old either hate or are frustrated with their wireless carriers,” said Julie Cordua, the company’s senior director of marketing communications. “We knew we had to be friendly, approachable and honest for this young demographic.”

Cordua said the other bullet points relevant to the Helio launch included the demographic’s “love of discovery (“They like new brands, new initiatives, new forms of entertainment”) and that mobile communication has become an indispensable part of their popular culture.

“They landed on a great concept,” she said of Deutsch’s campaign. “Don’t call it a phone, don’t call it a phone company. The brand should be seen as fun, entertaining and not what you used to know about wireless. Our numbers and metrics showed an immediate spike in traffic with the campaign launch, all early signs that the campaign is working.”

Two 30-second spots show devotees of the mobile device taking umbrage at their Helio being relegated to an ordinary category. “We used slightly racially charged situations,” said Eric Hirshberg, president and CCO of Deutsch/LA, Marina Del Rey, Calif. “The capabilities of Helio gave us a creative idea that calling it a phone is almost like a racial slur.”

In one spot, a young woman introduced her new Korean boyfriend to her non-Asian family. The man remains unruffled, even as family members mistake him for a Japanese man and fall prey to other stereotypes. But the woman doesn’t fly into a tizzy until one of her family members compliments his “phone.” “I told you he wouldn’t understand,” she cries, leaving the room in a huff. “It’s got MySpace Mobile!”

In the second spot, a Frenchman is pretentiously taking fashion shots of his model girlfriend with his Helio in what Hirshberg calls “a redneck bar.” When a patron asks him to stop using his “phone,” he becomes angry, explaining that his device has “a 3-G network.” The patrons side with him. A voiceover says that the Helio allows users to “instantly post a picture via MySpace Mobile.”

Both spots end with the brand’s first tagline, “Don’t call us a phone company. Don’t call it a phone.”

Print includes gatefolds in magazines such as Rolling Stone,GQ and Blender that use playful word games to educate readers about the brand. Outdoor utilizes a teaser and reveal, with copy such as “If I don’t call it a phone, what do I call it?” and describes the benefits with “wit,” Cordua said. Outdoor refers to the mobile function as a “Party Promoter” and the music function as a “Boom Box.”

Nate Morley and Jennifer Parke, vice presidents and group creative directors, and copywriter J.D. Jurentkuff and art director David Zorn worked under Hirshberg on the campaign. Stacy Wall of Epoch Films, Beverly Hills, Calif., directed the spots.

“We focused initially on things that Helio does better,” said Hirshberg. “It has a ton of dazzling capacities. As the campaign progresses, we’ll narrow to key features, some of which will be specified in outdoor.”

Los Angeles-based Helio, a joint venture between SK Telecom and EarthLink, is a new advertiser. The value of the account is undisclosed. Deutsch won the business after a review concluded last fall [Adweek Online, Oct. 28]. The client would not disclose the campaign budget.