Dialling up the creativity: The story behind Skinny’s ‘Phone It In’ campaign

From appearing on billboards to takeaway cups, movie screens to outside an exotic dance club, Skinny’s groundbreaking ‘Phone It In’ campaign amplifies the voices of everyday New Zealanders, transforming quirky advertising spaces across the nation into platforms for authentic storytelling. Here, we go behind the scenes of a campaign that, quite literally, got the nation talking.

As a low-cost telco brand, Skinny was tasked with seeking innovative and cost-effective avenues to cut through the noise of advertising, delivering its message with impact while keeping its budget in check and in the process staying true to its mantra of keeping prices low and customers happy. 

The ‘Phone It In’ campaign via Colenso BBDO, leverages traditional Out of Home (OOH) advertising spaces to feature radio scripts, asking ordinary New Zealanders to call an 0800 number, allowing them to recite one of 46 different scripts and potentially have their own voices broadcast on the radio.

After it launched, it became clear the team had struck gold, with over 2,500 recordings rolling in, 64 percent of them made by non-Skinny customers. With no other campaigns in market, Skinny saw a 34 percent increase in mobile customer base over the campaign period, versus the same period the previous year.

‘Phone It In’ went on to help Colenso BBDO win Agency of the Year at the Axis Awards 2023, securing an impressive collection of six Gold awards across the categories of Radio & Audio, Out of Home, Direct Marketing and Craft. The campaign was also honoured with two Spikes Asia Grand Prix, amongst other international accolades.

Ally Young.

Skinny Brand Strategic Lead, Ally Young, says the concept for ‘Phone It In’ was a proactive idea from Colenso BBDO which had a “beautiful synergy of humour and low-cost production”. “The beauty of the relationship between Skinny and Colenso BBDO is that Colenso just know Skinny so well that any proactive ideas they present have already been through rigorous Skinny brand and creative criteria, so they tend to tick most of our strategic boxes when they come to us. In this case, two years down the track from the original idea, we were very happy to be able to roll with it.”  

The idea was originally presented by the agency around two years prior to getting it off the ground. A prize incentive had been included to drive participation, which raised some product build hurdles, so the idea was parked. 

Then in the middle of 2022, at a breakfast meeting, Simon Vicars, Colenso BBDO’s Chief Creative Officer, presented
Ally with a faux newspaper featuring a script for one of the radio ads.

“I looked at it and I said, ‘I’ve actually already seen this. It’s so good but we can’t quickly build a prize mechanic to encourage engagement, so will it work? Then I read the creative and immediately laughed. The copywriting was brilliant. We decided then and there we should give it a go.’ 

Part of Skinny’s magic is that as a brand it has a deep understanding about what why it exists, Simon says.

“They are there to keep prices low and customers happy. That’s such a wonderfully simply defined space to think in.

“The benchmark of work on Skinny is really high, and we just keep on thinking until we feel like we’ve got something that is unavoidable once it goes out in market, and really continues to build Skinny’s role in the world.”

Customer Marketing Manager at Spark NZ (Skinny’s parent company), Jamie Tait, says a key consideration in Skinny’s brand campaigns is potential for engagement. 

Jamie Tait.

“To make the most of our budget, everything that we produce needs to be entertaining, and we need to be able to start a conversation with a potential customer off the back of it. This campaign was perfect in that respect.” 

Once the idea was locked in, a key focus became supporting the agency to get the idea out into the world in a way that didn’t lose any of the impact or simplicity of the concept presented. 

“When I first looked over the concept – you just got it straight away,” Jamie says. “Call this number to record the radio ad and we’ll play it on the radio. That’s as easy as it is. There was no digital complexity. 

“Everyone across every team involved, from creative to media to legal to comms, just understood it straight away and was able to run with it and add value in their corner. Our media agency PHD brought forward so many innovative placements for maximising the campaign’s potential, and our internal legal and comms teams really bought into the need to keep it all simple and ‘Skinny’ to ensure the campaign would be a success.” 

It wasn’t long after the campaign rolled out that it became obvious that potentially hearing their own voice on theradio was motivation enough for people to engage with the ad. 

The Skinny and Colenso BBDO team felt the creative was strong enough to draw people in, and with some held from media agency PHD, which came up with some creative ad placements, the campaign went from strength to strength.

As for setting up of the voicemail service that people reached when they called the 0800 number, it was
crucial the experience was as smooth as possible and legally watertight.

“We had to get talent release from participants in order to use their voices. So we had to step them through a terms and conditions scenario, but still have them engaged enough to want to record after,” says Ally.

This meant it was a careful balancing act between making it a frictionless process for the user and covering all legal bases. “That was one of the most interesting parts for me,” says Jamie.

“Essentially we didn’t want anyone who called up, to drop off before recording an ad, so the phone menu content could have been a make or break moment. If we made it too complex, people would lose patience and we wouldn’t get the volume of ads we needed.

“They’re literally standing outside a K-Road nightclub reading it out and you can hear the cars in the background.”

Ally and Jamie agree that the success of the campaign can be attributed to the simplicity of its concept. While many projects depend on complex new digital mechanics or the creation of something from scratch, this campaign utilised “old-school” media. In fact, the entire campaign was purely non-digital apart from a website hosting the terms and conditions. “It’s funny that one of the most innovative campaigns this year was a traditional media campaign,” Jamie adds.

Looking back on the campaign, they agree it was the copywriting that really made the campaign shine. It also relied heavily on more analogue forms of media, which Jamie and Ally say was helpful. “There’s a little bit of nostalgia in going back to simple campaigns, especially in Kiwiana,” says Jamie.

“I think old-school media will definitely always have its place. It’s just how you use it.” 

This article was originally published in the June/July 2023 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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