Mobile carriers, which previously only drew attention for outages or onerous contract terms, have been ramping up efforts to actively court their users. AT&T, in partnership with Vice, is looking to highlight its role in enabling young Americans’ always-on lifestyles with a new platform it’s calling The Mobile Movement.
This notion is rooted in a particular condition of our time, says Eddy Moretti, chief creative officer of Vice. “The condition, which we’re calling a movement, is a networked existence. It’s really visible and strong with young people, but everyone lives their lives connected through their devices to each other, and to apps that entertain them or bring them information. This is a new stage in human communication and human socialization. There is a movement out there, almost like an art movement, and we’re tapping into it, amplifying it in some cases, documenting it and celebrating it.”
Announced at SXSW, The Mobile Movement is a series of ads and content initiatives that are based on real-life stories of young people and their networked life. Anchored by a Tumblr and a YouTube channel, the content includes: a series of ads featuring real young Americans; a documentary called Mobile Love Stories wherein people intertwine stories of their phone and relationships; The Network Diaries, a scripted series based on the story of one young man featured in the ads, that’s sort of forced but ultimately on-point in its subtle humor concerning social behavior around phones; and Upwardly Mobile, a more intellectual doc series in partnership with Vice tech channel Motherboard that highlights cutting-edge mobile innovations. All of the work bears a youthful, confessional vibe, with an appropriately youthful, indie soundtrack to match.
Janna Ducich, VP consumer insights and targeted marketing at AT&T Mobility, says the goal with The Mobile Movement is to highlight how its network powers this generation of Milliennals. “We wanted to identify these pockets of innovation that are happening and really amplify them with our resources, and create this marketing platform so we could tell the story of this generation.”
The project was born of the insight that AT&T is at the heart of the way that many people are living their lives. While people are super connected to their phone, ultimately it’s an inanimate object. “Without the network, all these connections and these incredible things that happen on your mobile device just do not happen,” says Spencer Baim, chief strategic officer of Vice. “Once you have a network, everything opens up. It’s as gigantic a shift in human behavior as anything that’s ever happened before.” Moretti says it was based on this thinking that they encouraged AT&T to take ownership of their role in powering people’s lives. “We said, you should get credit for that, so let’s make an invisible network more visible and more tangible. That’s the thinking behind installations and the video content.”
In addition to the video content, AT&T and Vice brought a number of the featured mobile innovations to life at SXSW–like a giant life-sized version of mobile music game Keezy, upon which comedian/musician Reggie Watts is stepping all over when I’m invited to a pop-up warehouse space in Austin where AT&T and Vice are showcasing various apps.
“We don’t need to demonstrate a lot of mobile innovations, like Uber,” says Baim. “But then there’s something like Keezy. We’re looking at the innovation that’s the most interesting, we’re looking at telling stories from this generation where their connectivity, their network, did something special.”
As cool as the space and technology within it is, and as hip and Vice-y as the content is, the questions of how this fits into AT&T’s larger marketing plans remains. Is this a niche initiative to reach Millennials, as is the way of marketers these days?
“It probably started off being a little more focused on Millennials–we know they’re the future generation,” says Ducich. “But what we’re starting to see is this shift into the general market. I think this is the tip of the spear. The generation is pretty broad–18- to 34-year-olds–so you’re really talking about the new general market. We see this as the beginning of a longer-term program. We’re really trying to get young people to understand what AT&T has to offer and support them. That’s what this platform has allowed us to do.”
For Moretti, the thing that’s most significant about this project is that by using video, AT&T is able to humanize what they offer as a brand. “This is kind of like a research project supercharged on steroids. A lot of people are just using the data piece to create and direct their marketing efforts, but AT&T is like, actually, we need the human and emotional component that video offers. You can have data points of your existence online and it could paint a picture of you, but there’s nothing like me talking to you for 45 minutes about what all that means and pulling that into our thinking. We’re not forgetting the whole human being in this mobile movement.”