In the autumn of 1987, Nils Rydbeck was able to present ERA’s first handheld phone, with the working name of “Curt”. The Curt originated as a learning project with only a few hundred prototypes, based on an earlier police radio model.
However, the marketing division saw a chance of launching the Curt in the market, which led to sales of about 15,000 phones, plus an additional 10,000 sales to Panasonic: the Curt was given a slightly different plastic casing with Panasonic’s logo and then sold under the competitor’s brand.
“The entire development effort had been paid for after only a few months and that gave everyone in the organization an appetite for more,” Rydbeck says.
Ørneholm recounts: “Curt taught us a lot. At Panasonic, they took quality incredibly seriously and sent quality inspectors to Kumla [in Sweden] where the phones were manufactured. They stood there with their magnifying glasses counting the number of grains of dust under the display. If there were more than seven, the phone was rejected. We stood there dumbstruck, but it gave us a useful lesson in quality control.”
The final years of the 1980s brought increasingly smaller and increasingly sophisticated telephones marketed under the name HotLine. Each new model paid off its development costs in a few weeks or months. 1989 was the first year in which Ericsson management did not voice the idea of closing the business unit for mobile telephony.
SYMBOL OF FREEDOM
The autumn of 1987 also made group history with the launch of the HotLine marketing concept – the first to focus on consumers since SRA sold televisions in the early 1960s. The main figure was an inscrutable businessman with features recalling an American cowboy and Indiana Jones, always with a typical hat and a telephone as a symbol of freedom.
Ørneholm again demonstrated his feel for marketing. At the launch of the HotLine telephone in 1989 he rose, naked apart from a hat, from a bathtub full of foam in the presence of his staff, distributors and the assembled press. HotLine hats were thrown from the stage so that everybody present would receive one. “We made commercials with a lot of different HotLine stories. This bathtub scene was the simplest to present on stage,” is Ørneholm’s explanation.
The first HotLine phone had a talk-time of 30 minutes, weighed just over a kilogram and beat all previous sales records. Its price of just over SEK 30,000 helped it to acquire the sobriquet of “yuppie toy”.
The HotLine concept was an international success. Ørneholm gives most of the credit to an advertising man called Nils Welinder: “He was the one who suggested HotLine”.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn