Recently Achtung! created quite an unusual campaign to communicate Vodafone’s fiber internet; in the small town of Roggel (Limburg) a real race track was laid out around the center, where celebrity Jenson Button raced his Formula 1 car against the locals – who were racing in a simulator. The entire town was involved and a documentary was made of the event. The event was to bring Vodafone and its proposition (high speed internet) as close as possible to the user. To learn more about the story behind this campaign we asked Dick Buschman, MD and Head of Strategy of Achtung!, a few questions.

What did the initial Vodafone briefing say?
Village-by-village rollout of fiber internet throughout the Netherlands is mainly dictated by small local players. For a big international brand as Vodafone it is not easy to enter this market. The question was: how do we get close to our new potential clients? As an international brand, Vodafone is used to think big and push the message, but for this product they could not get away with that. So our mission was to get close to the local community, activate them, and win their sympathy.

How was the race set up?
We chose Roggel, because it is one of the smaller towns in the Netherlands with only 4000 inhabitants. To get them involved we gave all of them a chance to race against Button. We made a selection by asking local clubs (football, orchestra, etc.) to organize speed contests. 10 of them did. Out of the 10 winners, 3 eventually went through to the Formula 1 simulator. The simulator, racing against Button’s physical car, showed an exact 3D copy of the streets.

Logistically it sounds like a bit of a nightmare
It proved difficult, yes, but we also had a lot of fun. A smart move was involving the mayor, who organized ‘hearings’ and actively asked the inhabitants’ participation – I think he saw it as a good PR opportunity for his town. But, yes, it did require a huge team to pull it all off. We started with concepting 6 weeks prior to the race. As the idea involved the participation of the local community, a dedicated team of 6 people worked from Roggel. But the total team was much bigger. A team of Vodafone did the overall planning and coordination. 328 Stories lived in Roggel for almost 5 weeks to make the documentary. Then there was DNA Events, who prepared the actual race, with all the logistics. And, finally, a team of RTL was involved. The total crew was over 60 people.

This is the documentary directed by Andreas Pasvantis (328 Stories)

O.k., so you got Roggel involved. How about the rest of the Netherlands?
We published small teasing videos of the local preparing activities on the dedicated website (www.grandprixvanroggel.nl) and Facebook page. Apart from that we were able to make a deal with sports channel RTL 7, who broadcasted the race live on national television. Two weeks later the documentary was released online and, again, on TV.

How did the locals react to this brand circus?
The preparations, to select the 3 local heroes, and the physical Grand Prix really connected the town – and I don’t mean that in Vodafone’s language. What I mean is that the entire town was truly involved and excited about the race; we still receive letters and pictures that show true enthusiasm. That’s how Vodafone instantly became a local friend. And that’s not easy in a small a town, especially when you’re a global brand like Vodafone. But it worked. Vodafone has won a serious market position in Roggel.

I can imagine that. How were the results nationally?
Well, as said, we reached the rest of the Netherlands through online and TV. Both the Grand Prix and documentary reached 2.4 million people on national television. The videos and trailers posted on our website and Facebook before, during and after the event spread through weblogs and reached over 250.000 unique viewers. And the footage that was spread clearly communicates Vodafone’s local touch.

Which town is next to be put upside down?
I am not sure whether this will get a sequel. But we just released a new app for Vodafone, called Appstein; it searches for the Einstein of apps. The campaign targets prepaid callers and tests their knowledge about smartphone apps – normally they do not use apps a lot, since most prepaid phones are not exactly ‘smart’.