In the latter part of last year, Spark appointed Shine as its strategic partner and Colenso BBDO as its above-the-line agency as it looked to evolve the brand.
Now, after what has been quite a long gestation period, the Kiwi telco has launched its first major brand ad through its new partners.
Focusing on the emotive story of a father connecting with his daughter through an infectious Pharrell Williams track, the new spot marks a shift from the product-focused advertising the company has run during 2016 thus far.
It’s also noteworthy that this is the first big splurge the telco has made on brand since the Spark launch campaign, which was developed by former agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
Clive Ormerod, Spark’s general manager of marketing, says the aim of the new marketing push, which rolls out on television tonight, is to connect with consumers emotionally.
“The best brands in the world, and the brands that keep going from strength to strength, are the ones that make their customers feel something,” Ormerod says.
Having spent over six years at Nike in the UK, Ormerod saw first-hand—and often contributed to—the emotional storytelling that today typifies the brand. And despite leaving behind one of the most coveted jobs in the world, Ormerod sees many parallels between his current and previous roles.
“I’m just as excited about being at Spark as I was at Nike, and I’m just as motivated here as I was at Nike,” he says.
“Nike was all about unleashing the potential of athletes and making them better. And our genuine ambition at Spark is helping New Zealand be a better place. The products are different but the objectives and ambitions are very similar.”
Ormerod says you don’t need to be a Nike or an Apple to develop that strong emotional connection with the target market.
“Any brand can do that,” he says. “But, it has to be relevant. And for us, that relevance is technology.”
Throughout our conversation, Ormerod doesn’t use the word campaign to describe the latest creative effort from Spark—and this isn’t an oversight.
“I don’t see it as a new campaign,” he says.
“I see it as the start of our new way of connecting with our customers. I see it as the start of a body of work that’s going to allow us to ensure that we are competitive in market like we’ve been for the last few years, but also making sure that we make our customers feel something.”
Ormerod says Spark isn’t simply going to run this single spot repetitively over the next few weeks.
“You’re going to see three or four drops of work over the next six weeks,” he says.
Ormerod says his overarching aim is to tell a series of stories focusing on how technology within the Spark portfolio enables Kiwis to be entertained and connected, and also how Spark can help businesses connect with customers.
This shift from focusing on technology to what the technology actually enables has also been adopted by Spark’s main competitor Vodafone.
Last year upon the launch of the ‘Piggy-Sue’ campaign, Vodafone’s Nileema Allerston (head of business brands and comms) said: “We're really focused on what the technology enables rather than the technology itself ... The technology is incidental to what is happening.”
On the topic of Vodafone, this obviously comes at a time when the red telco is looking to merge with Sky. So is Ormerod worried about his competitor strengthening as a result of this move?
"Not at all," he responds without hesitation.
"We have a really strong plan, and as a company whenever the competition looks to make change and move in another direction, it’s important that you come back to your plan and that you make sure that you’re still relevant."
Ormerod is confident that the company is on the right track, pointing to the strategic work the company has done behind the scenes.
Spark has worked closely with Shine on shifting its strategic approach over the last few months, and Ormerod says that one of the most important steps was ensuring that his staff embraced the change.
“We actually launched that back in April,” Ormerod says.
“A big part of this strategy was introducing the initiative to our people first. It was about getting our team to understand why and giving them a reason to really believe in it. There was film that went with that and there was internal storytelling. Shine did all of that.”
He says it's important that staff believe in what the company is doing.
"As I’ve grown as a leader, I’ve learned that you can drive a great outcome from most situations if you create the right environment. No one gets out of bed to do a bad job, but the environment you create is sometimes sub-optimal to achieve the desired outcome."
Once the strategic groundwork was set, Ormerod turned to his partners at Clemenger to bring the concept to life for consumers.
“Colenso has done the creative, Touchcast and Proximity have done the digital elements and then .99 looks after our retail,” he says.
And while the latest creative doesn’t have a strong retail angle at all, Ormerod says Spark will definitely prioritise this part of its marketing as well.
“I see retail as such a critical part of our brand. It represents our brand in 70 touchpoints across New Zealand,” he says.
“And the work that will show up over the coming months will absolutely become more product focused over time. Don’t get me wrong, but we’re starting with more of a feeling.”
And the executive team at Spark will certainly hope that this feeling manifests as revenue further down the line.