CONSUMER CAMPAIGN: 118 118 boys aim to save Christmas carols

Known for its 1970s-style mustachioed runners, 118 118 is the directory assistance service operated by The Number.

118 118: enlisted beatboxers and Aled Jones to sing a new version of Silent Night
118 118: enlisted beatboxers and Aled Jones to sing a new version of Silent Night

Campaign: "Caroloke" for 118 118
Client: 118 118
PR team: Resonate
Timescale: November-December 2007
Budget: Part of retainer, plus cost of hiring Aled Jones

It handles more than a billion enquiries a year by phone, text and through its website.

Christmas is one of the most commercially important periods for the provider, as people ring in with requests for train times, restaurant numbers and information on shops.

Last November, 118 118 charged its retained consumer PR agency, Resonate, with raising awareness of its offering over the festive season.

To drive awareness and call volume to 118 118 and link the service with the festive period. To generate broadcast and online coverage to heighten the public's warmth towards the brand's mustachioed icons.

In order to build an interactive relationship between the service provider, consumers and Christmas, Resonate came up with the concept of "Caroloke". Using the celebrity power of the 118 118 runners and the universal popularity of karaoke as a hook, the PR team took to the high streets, filming and photographing members of the public singing Christmas carols and posting them on the branded

With participants keen to share their online festive frolics with others, this established a viral foundation for the campaign.

Meanwhile, to encourage the public to upload their own efforts, 118 118 pledged a donation of £1 to the NSPCC for every rendition of a Christmas carol it received.

To amplify this activity and drive further traffic to the site, Resonate commissioned research that revealed a 'carol crisis' in the UK. This was based on findings that 58 per cent of children thought carols needed to be updated to recapture their attention, while 22 per cent of those aged 16 to 24 said they disliked carols for being old-fashioned.

To orchestrate a campaign to save Christmas carols, 118 118 enlisted the voice of festive classic Walking in the Air, Aled Jones, plus three of the UK's best beatboxers to support the cause.

Former boy soprano Jones acted as spokesperson, while the beatboxers created unique content for the media with a contemporary version of the carol Silent Night.

An intensive media sell-in over the week of 17 to 21 December and placement of the beatboxers' Silent Night footage led to widespread broadcast, print and online coverage. This included a ten-minute slot with Jones and the beatboxers on BBC Breakfast.

Other broadcast highlights included BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC London, ITN, MSN, BBC Radio 2 and 20 local, regional and commercial radio stations. Print coverage appeared in thelondonpaper and 40 other regional titles.

A clip of the beatboxers backed by the 118 118 boys posted by a member of the public on YouTube has to date attracted more than 105,000 views and more than 288 positive comments. At one point leading up to Christmas day, this footage held 18 YouTube honours.

Resonate estimates that 1.8 million Londoners were exposed to Caroloke over the week of activity, with 5,000 people becoming directly involved. This raised over £1,000 for the NSPCC.

As a result of the campaign, calls to 118 118 rose by 18 per cent on the same period for the previous year.

SECOND OPINION - Gerry Hopkinson, co-founder, Unity
The '118 118 boys' are as much a part of the fabric of our lives as ASBOs, Lily Allen (no connection there, I might add) and Facebook. While Resonate cannot take credit for their creation, it can be congratulated for weaving them into a campaign that engages and entertains in equal measure.

And it is hard not to like this campaign. There are too many agencies out there that do not appreciate that they have no divine right to people's attention, and that most of us need to be entertained as well as pitched to.

Caroloke is an inspired idea that has been executed with flair and just the right amount of Christmas cheer.

Crucially, the campaign gave the public a chance to engage with the brand and contribute something of their own that was, to a certain extent, 'co-authored'.

It also made good use of the internet and social media via You Tube and the microsite, which was fun and simple to navigate.

On the down side, the CSR element - while it warmed the cockles of the heart - felt like an afterthought. It would have been nice to see the 'doing good' aspect of the campaign more centrally applied. Perhaps they could have gone out and done some carolling? Still, it was by no means crass and the cause was a good one.

Part of the problem with a brand such as 118 118 is that it starts from such an archly ironic position that it is hard for it to be genuine.

That limits what can be done in terms of cultural relevance. Focusing on a 'carol crisis' as a central plank of the campaign just isn't believable when it is fronted by the moustachioed pranksters.

Overall, though, this was an impressive campaign that put a smile on people's faces and, more importantly, delivered bottom-line benefits to the client.

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