‘We’ve not had the best reputation as a client’: Optus on rebranding, reputation and building a ‘super agency’ with Re

In July, Optus revealed its new brand positioning, pushing the line 'It starts with yes' and an outlook of optimism. Here, Mumbrella's Zoe Wilkinson chats with Optus' Mel Hopkins and Re's Patrick Guerrera about the rebranding process and the nine year relationship that has made Re 'the spine' of the telco's marketing.

“I don’t think brands should be rebranding every three years,” Melissa Hopkins, Optus’ head of marketing tells me.

“I think brands rebrand when they don’t have a clear brand framework and structure.”

If this seems like a strange statement, it’s because Optus rebranded in 2013, again in 2016, and has just revealed its new brand positioning to the market.

However, Hopkins tells me this in the context of the brand’s history, and believes with this latest launch, Optus is on track to become part of the fabric of Australia.

“The difference with this one is the rigour that has been put behind very deep customer insight and research, a view that actually our ambition is to become a fabric brand within Australia, and that’s quite a different approach,” she explains.

Optus’ new positioning, ‘It starts with Yes’, launched in July, with a toy car race through an apartment building, set to the B-52’s track ‘Rock Lobster’ and thanks to Special Group New Zealand. This new platform is a further investment into the ‘Yes’ brand mark, as Hopkins wants Optus to reflect a tone of positivity and possibility going forward.

What Optus has created, alongside the M&C Saatchi-owned brand agency Re, is a framework for communications through every single customer touchpoint so there is consistency in the way the brand is represented, from retail and customer service to system outage text messages, advertising, and product and service modelling. To clarify, the logo is not changing.

“[It] is not only good advertising and a beautiful look and feel, but it’s got substance that links back to a business strategy,” Hopkins says.

“What [we’ve] built out though this time is we’ve got a really tight structure that we’re going to slavishly follow.

“With our media [we] are expecting consumers to have to connect the dots a lot without having a framework to build to. And that for me is the big difference with what Re has built this time, that we’ve got now a really, really tight framework and a tight filter that in some ways it’s going to allow us to be more creative.”

And she wants it to work.

“Would I be disappointed if we completely redid the whole brand in three years? I would. Yes.”

Optus’ head of marketing Melissa Hopkins

So, brands are not supposed to rebrand every three years. Why do it during a pandemic?

“We had to have the discussion about whether we were going to do it or not,” Hopkins acknowledges.

The wheels were set in motion at the end of last year, as new CEO, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, was preparing to step up from deputy to chief executive. The first whiff of the refresh was in market in January, when Optus opened a project pitch for the creative agency to take charge of the campaign – which we now know was won by Special Group New Zealand.

It was all set to launch during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as Optus had a broadcast partnership with Seven. But, even when the Olympics were cancelled, it was decided that Australia still needed a bit of optimism.

“We were able to pivot because for us, what we looked at is we needed to be mindful of the mood of the nation,” Hopkins explains.

“So we knew life was going to be unpredictable for Australians over the coming months, but that didn’t preclude a role for optimism and action, that we could still launch with scale that’s considered. But we needed to be purposeful and then it could work to our benefit being a beacon for the power of putting optimism into action.”

It was a risk, she concedes.

“I’m a big believer, too, that brands can be built in a crisis. But I also believe in crises that consumers are more fickle, so you need to fully be aware of consumer sentiment and what they’re thinking about brands and what’s important to them during this period.”

Optus’ 2013 rebrand introduced the bubble font

Alongside Hopkins, I am speaking with Patrick Guerrera, the CEO of Re, who worked on the 2013 rebrand – which introduced the bubble font and the yellow, speech bubble-esque minions – and the 2016 effort, which saw Optus reevaluate what its business meant to consumers and position itself as the facilitator of entertainment and ‘Yes Moments’.

“What’s it like,” I ask Guerrera, “to go through a rebranding process only for the client to come back and ask you to do it all over again just a short while later?”

Hopkins laughs.

“The reality is that when you do a rebrand, you always know it’s going to have a shelf life in terms of relevance and strategic kind of impact drive, and the business is going to change,” Guerrera responds.

“Because we’ve been through this before, we can almost feel the wave coming. We can feel when the last rebrand is starting to peter out and needs to be sparked up and refuelled. And sometimes that can happen due to market forces, but it also happens because of what’s happening with the leadership of the business and what’s happening internally.

“I have to be really honest and say, every time we do it, it’s really, really exciting.”

Re CEO Patrick Guerrera

My chat with Hopkins and Guerrera is hardly formal. The two make jokes at the other’s expense, challenge one another, interject, laugh and disagree, while I try to get a word in. They are like an old married couple, and in this industry, Optus’ nine-year partnership with Re is practically a long-term relationship.

Hopkins attributes this relationship to Re’s ability to adapt to the business’ needs at any given time, and Guerrera’s ability to form relationships with people across the business.

“There’s a fabulous Charles Darwin quote that I like to use for what makes a good marketer in these times, and actually I think that Pat in particular with Re embodies this and I wish other agencies would follow it, and that quote is ‘it’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It’s the one most adaptable to change’,” Hopkins says.

“I think the frustration is with a lot of agency partners and indeed marketers have had the same challenge is they sort of say they’re up for change, but they’re really not. And I giggle every time someone talks about being the strongest agency or the most intelligent or the biggest, and actually more than ever it’s how you adapt to change.”

Re and Optus’ brand refresh reel

Guerrera is on his third Optus marketer in Hopkins, previously working with Nathan Rosenberg, who moved back to North America and is now the chief brand officer at Virgin Voyages, and Corin Dimopoulos, Optus’ current executive head of streaming, television and content.

Hopkins also credits Guerrera for sticking with Optus when during his tenure “we’ve not had the best reputation as a client”, which was something she looked to change when joining the telco in 2016.

“Do I think we were what I would call best in class clients?” she asks. “No. Was my view when I came in that I wanted to shift it around to be the most revered marketing team in Australia. Yes. Did I know that was going to be hard? Absolutely.

“My challenge to every single advertising agency and creative and strategic agency out there is why do you rebrand and rebuild brands and their perceptions every single day to be great, but you don’t allow clients to rebrand and do the same thing?”

Hopkins once led M&C Saatchi, Re’s sister agency, on the Optus account, before becoming its top marketer. She took up the role after three years in the UK with Vodafone.

Hopkins notes: “I’m a bit of a hard ass. If I didn’t like Pat or I didn’t think they were doing good work, they wouldn’t sit on the roster. So Pat and I have forged a very special relationship, but that for me is very unusual.”

For Guerrera, the relationship with Optus is different because Re has become “intrinsic, not only to their marketing function, but to helping the broader organisation deliver on its business strategy.”

“We touch really almost every piece of output,” Guerrera explains. “Almost the origins or the beginnings of every major piece, we have some kind of strategic role or credited role with, which is very, very unusual.”

This client-agency relationship is so unusual that Guerrera and Re took over the leadership of Optus’ internal agency, Yes, due to how Re’s brand work has become ingrained in the brand’s strategy and, in turn, how closely the two teams work together on projects that need to go to market quicker than using a creative agency.

Optus, unlike its competitors in the market, uses a roster of creative agencies instead of one lead. Hopkins tells me this is a reflection of her desire but inability to create a ‘super agency’.

“Australia is a slightly smaller market. I wish I could build my own super agency where I could choose a strategist from that agency and an awesome ECD from another agency and push them together, but it doesn’t always work that way. So for us, it’s about getting the best output and the best work,” she says.

“And this actually is also where Re has been sort of spectacular and why they’ve retained themselves on our roster is that, this isn’t about egos, it’s about output and work and working collectively together and not getting caught up on whose name is on the bottom of something.”

In the ‘creative collective’, Optus works with TBWA, Emotive, Big Red, and M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment. Micah Walker, the former ECD of 72 and Sunny Sydney when it was lead creative on the roster, has continued his work with the brand through his creative shop Bear Meets Eagle on Fire.

Guerrera notes that every time Optus’ roster is discussed, Re is “tagged on the end”, but Hopkins says that isn’t indicative of how Optus views it: Re is the “spine” in the super agency she has built.


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