Phil Bilbrough: Tease me XT

Tease me XT

By Phil Bilbrough

Telecom’s introduction of their new mobile broadband network, “XT” has caused some very welcome ripples in this pond of recession.

Richard Hammond of Top Gear fronts this campaign. The concept is that Hammond test drives things, from cars to boats to aircraft, (you sail a boat and pilot a plane) and now he is going to put XT through its paces. Will he independently evaluate XT? No no don’t be silly – he has sold out.

My first thoughts were that he looked sleepy. There is a hard-last-night quality about his XT look. He is an appealing guy, his voice over lacked the sarcasm of Top Gear, yet those Hammond nuances are there, as is his enthusiasm and fun, and he has a measure of worldliness as I couldn’t forget how he almost died when a jet propelled car that he was driving (testing) crashed.

He is still a fresh face, an up-in-coming celeb for New Zealanders and has some credibility as a quasi-technical person, and to my knowledge, he hasn’t lost any street-cred by prancing on and off stage on Dancing with the Stars (or the UK equivalent, “Strictly Come Dancing“).

Those atmospheric black and white images of stadiums, toi toi, tracks, tanks, and boats are coolly post-apocalyptic and are suspense filled. What’s coming? XT. Though I chose to save-up my tension for something actually tense. There might have been some tension there had it got to the point sooner. My take-out wasn’t excitement but one of “I’m not waiting this.” Post-apocalyptic becomes post-bus.

TheTest Drive site’s OK, light on info, but it is a teaser campaign and I like a bit of teasing. I’m intrigued just enough to wonder what Hammond is going to do next. Despite me and despite the rest of this blog, this campaign has success written all over it. The key ingredient – Richard Hammond – ensures that New Zealanders will lap it up.

Why does Telecom need an XT brand? Is 3G ho-hum now? Like its just like so 5 minutes ago. Probably because Vodafone can also have 3G and won’t be able to have “XT”. Vodafone will have 3.1G. XT will still be a Telecom product, and if Telecom stop building the XT brand, XT will sucked in by one Telecom’s tentacles, never to return. The XT ad agency takes the cash and the public wonder whatever happened to that “Richard Hammond” campaign.

Vodafone and Telecom had a legal dust-up over the introduction of the new XT network. Vodafone claimed Telecom’s XT network was causing interference to their network. The matter was settled out of court and resulted in Telecom adding more technology (more filters) to specific mobile sites and pushing out the go-live date of XT. Telecom claimed the PR points, and Bill Ralston agreed.

Bernard Hickey (writing for is fed-up with Telecom. I suppose that Telecom launching another faster better world riled him or maybe he just saw empty promises. Judging by the large number of comments that his blog received (both for and against Bernard) – Telecom and telecommunications are top of mind topics for New Zealanders.

A Telecom and Vodafone stoush is like feudal lords dividing up serfs. Over charged under serviced customers don’t need to be reassured that their telco can win at PR. Overall it was a hi-tech launch that got delayed. A technology where reliability and a continuous connectivity count. One that was going to be “tested” by the best – or at least Richard Hammond – how can a delay and the requirement for more technical installations be good PR? I think that Telecom let down their solid XT launch campaign.


Phil Bilbrough is a freelance online advertising specialist who has recently begun blogging on the subject for Scoop at He can be contacted at

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  1. regan, 14. May 2009, 0:08

    1. I agree completely! And completely disagree with Bill Ralston! I think it speaks volumes that Telecom came out guns-a-blazing against Vodafone’s legal action, insinuating that Vodafone was incompetent, or anti-competitive, or both. Then it transpires Telecom are the ones who hadn’t installed their network properly! What a surprise! Who knows what communication went back and forth prior to it going public. I certainly don’t.

    2. I think the link between Hammond’s pedigree of test-driving cars and using a phone (even a 3G enabled one) is tenuous. And now that the much vaunted test has been delayed, it’s bordering on irrelevant. Having said that, Hamond fronted a campaign for a cut price supermarket in the UK last year, so if there’s one thing he can do quickly it’s whip out his phone and negotiate an endorsement contract.

    3. When I went on the teaser site, I saw that I could enter a competition to win a phone or something. I duly entered my details, then found that I was unable to submit my entry without agreeing that Telecom could contact me for marketing purposes. We all know that this is what companies WANT consumers to do, but they don’t usually enforce it! It just comes across as arrogant if you do! So while Telecom is spending all this money trying to reposition itself as a leading edge mobile operator with the customer’s best interests at heart, it turns out that it’s just the same old Telecom.

    Tout ca change…

  2. regan, 14. May 2009, 20:51

    It was for Morrisons. Here are a couple of links:

    And you’re right, Telecom did have to hammer out their own territory, but like you I wonder what the value is if this new equity is assigned to XT rather than the parent brand. I voluntarily signed up for the 2degrees newsletter today so it will be interesting to see how it all pans out…

  3. regan, 22. May 2009, 15:51

    Can anyone explain the connection of the Auckland Town Hall project to the XT campaign? I stumbled across ‘Auckland Town Hall’ this week as one of the most viewed YouTube videos (presumably in NZ), and about three quarters of the way through I heard the dulcet tones of Telecom’s Scotsman in Chief. There was no attempt in YouTube or anywhere else (as far as I have observed) to connect the project to XT. Was it just a PR idea that was kicking around looking for a cash cow? Or was it supposed to coincide with the actual launch and couldn’t be moved? It’s none of my business but I would be keen to know!

    Regan, Looks like a launch event, from XT’s Facebook page:

  4. Warren, 10. June 2009, 18:12

    What is Telecom advertising that hasn’t already been done. Yes they have better marine coverage but there campaigns have no point of difference apart from using some celebs… Money well spent???


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