16 Apr 2014

Vodafone celebrates 'Firsts' with film series

An and Ria, two 70-plus grandmothers from the Netherlands are flying in an airplane for the first time in their lives. They are also becoming overnight internet celebrities as the stars of the latest film from telecommunications brand Vodafone. 

Vodafone Firsts is a global brand engagement strategy, which aims to demonstrate how the brand “connects people with technology to empower them to do amazing things for the first time.” 

The idea is that "When technology and human endeavour come together, amazing things happen". 

For An and Ria, amazing things have happened. Not only have they flown through the air – on a private jet no less - they've also 'gone viral' and been adored by millions of online viewers. The film has attracted 1.4 million views on YouTube alone, and given this is a social media campaign and the film has been seeded widely, the actual number of views will be significantly higher.  

The 'Vodafone Firsts' films feature a new story every few weeks and the 'Firsts' are varied and wide reaching but all of them demonstrate the role of technology - and Vodafone - in helping people achieve these goals. 

An & Ria’s adventure is the latest film to launch but before this Vodafone has told the stories of the creation of the world’s first multi-sensory fireworks display in London, the first female fight club in India, the first musical collaboration with Tribal Communities in South Africa, a surfer’s first ride of Todos Santos, the first colour conducted concert, and the first phone call home for displaced people in refugee camps around the Congo. 

Vodafone Group Brand Director Barbara Haase said: “The concept is simple: we know that our technology can enable and inspire people to do something amazing for the first time, from making their first call to sharing their first video. Firsts is designed to reflect that sense of empowerment and excitement by using our technology and connectivity to enable a diverse range of people to achieve their remarkable ambitions."

The campaign is social media lead and designed to be shared across channels using the #Firsts hashtag. Vodafone has launched a dedicated site, where you can view all of the content this includes trailers, full films and other content including images and interviews. (Check out the image gallery to reveal the photos the grandmothers took on their trip.) 


With An & Ria’s First Flight, Vodafone has produced a masterclass in creating compelling, authentic storytelling. It’s human, it’s simple and it’s just plain lovely. An and Ria’s story reminds us of the simplicity of life, of the many things we take for granted and the power of emotions. It plays on the technolgies that we take for granted and makes them seem a little more magical by allowing us to view them through the eyes of these wonderful women. 

This is not the first film in the series, nor is it the most noble or worthy of stories. However, it is the most outstanding, purely because of the strength of these characters and the purity of the story. 

The other films are more expected, they tell moving and uplifting stories of how individuals are using technology to achieve amazing firsts. They demonstrate the role Vodafone is playing in making this happen, and it's the sort of thing we have increasingly come to expect from brands. 

I do not intend to undermine these films or stories in saying this, they are excellent films, which are well made, compelling and engaging pieces of entertainment. They do an excellent job of supporting the strategy and bringing to life the role technology plays in making things happen and in enhancing our experiences of them.  

Strategically Vodafone are not breaking ground here. When it comes to communications and technology brands, all of them are clamouring to demonstrate how their brand’s technology and connectivity are changing our lives.  

However, by exploring the emotional achievements of firsts, Vodafone have set the brand apart. This is new territory. And these two dutch grandmothers are something else. This film alone has taken the series and the strategy from interesting to brilliant. 

The key here is being human and creating genuine connections with audiences. The proof is in the pudding – none of the other videos have gone viral like this one.  

The outtakes of 78-year-old Ria on a rollercoaster alone are enough to make even the hardest cynic smile. You cannot buy that sort of brand engagement. 

Which is, of course, the whole point of these films. Vodafone began rolling out this global brand engagement campaign, in December last year and it will continue to move into new markets throughout the year. 

The aim is to shift the brand away from its “traditional global sponsorship approach” in a bid to create “deeper and direct interaction” with audiences around the world. 

Vodafone’s Haase said: “Firsts represents a radical break with almost a quarter of a century of Vodafone-branded badged sponsorship.” 

Clearly it’s a big deal and the change of strategy is a smart one. Vodafone has spent years slapping a brand logo on a sports jersey and some hoardings to increasingly little effect, now they are looking to take that money and invest in creating real connections with audiences, and for that they should be commended. 

Doing this on a global scale is an interesting move though as the brand's value and worth changes significantly from market to market. In some ways the brand gains strength and worth from its global positioning, however as a result of being global and everywhere it's also become a little forgettable in many markets.

While the brand remains dominant in some markets, it has had huge problems in others - Australia for example - and overall the brand has struggled to evolve in recent years. Clearly aligning the brand with 'Firsts' is also an attempt to put the brand first and foremost for consumers and ensure it is top of mind.  But can a brand own first? 

As Hasse told Campaign, the strategy aims to create something that Vodafone can “own” "Firsts is all about achieving connectivity and interconnectedness for the first time. I  think where we are as an industry right now is a very good time to tap into a more intimate and emotional relationship [with consumers]. Technology is at the point where it’s really intimate with consumers, in terms of what they’re doing with their mobile phones."

They’re not pulling any punches either, these stories mine powerful emotional topics. A Female Fight Club in India in response to the high profile rapes, Refugee camps in North Kivu - this is serious emotional territory and an area many brands would shy away from.

Vodafone is brave in tackling real and difficult terrain to show the power of technology and position its brand as trying to help solve problems and improve peoples lives. It’s brave and powerful stuff and I want to see more of this sort of stuff, a lot more. 

If Vodafone keeps this up, it could not only create an impressive collection of films it might just take the brand in a very new and interesting direction. 


Vodafone has knocked this one out of the park. Compelling storytelling that creates genuine connections with audiences and helps position the brand at top of mind. 

4 stars. 

  • Brand: Vodafone
  • Creative company: AKQA, Rainey Kelly, Ogilvy and Wasserman




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