It was the autumn of 1989. As the lights were dimmed in the main conference hall at the Hotel Sheraton in Malmö, Sweden, a single spotlight was focused on a bathtub filled with foam as it was rolled on to the stage. Sitting in the tub was a man, naked but for a hat and holding a mobile phone. This was Harry Hotline, and Ericsson employees, journalists and retailers got their first glimpse of the HotLine Pocket mobile phone.
In real life, the man in the bathtub was Flemming Örneholm, who was then manager for mobile telephones at ERA. The bubble bath in Malmö was the high point of Ericsson’s first major advertising campaign aimed at consumers since the days of the Radiola in the 1960s.
HotLine was something new and exciting, a concept based on freedom and the hotline between Moscow and Washington. Harry HotLine was an adventurer who traveled around the world yet always stayed in touch wherever he was, thanks to his Ericsson HotLine mobile phone. In the beginning the ads included short stories on Harry’s adventures, written in the tradition of the hard-boiled detective stories.
Later the campaign focused more on exotic environments. But throughout its existence it was marketing with a flair, aimed at hundreds of thousands of customers in the consumer market. And this from a company that until then for the most part had done business with governments and multinational companies.
The fathers of the HotLine campaign were Flemming Örneholm and Nils Welinder, an advertising man from Stockholm. With their campaign, they wanted to make Ericsson’s mobile phones a consumer product with a distinct identity and personality. But by doing this they not only side-stepped the graphic profile (CVI) Ericsson had adopted a few years earlier, the campaign also created a lot of resistance with the company.
- No one even considered using Ericsson as the brandname, it was Flemming’s idea to create something completely new, recalls Åke Lundqvist, the then president of ERA. He had to fight the management to get them to approve this, but I supported him.
Flemming Örneholm himself points out that the campaign was a success:
- We had to come up with a campaign that worked on all the strange markets Ericsson was active in. The NMT-system and mobile phones were sold in Scandinavia, parts of Europe, Asia and South America. Harry HotLine wnet down well in all those places. The only exception was Venezuela, they thought he looked like a drug-dealer. So beautiful women replaced him, but in the end we had to send them posters of Harry anyway. Their customers insisted on having them when they bought mobile phones.
The HotLine concept, however, was not only about Harry and his adventures around the world. It also became a practical method for mobile phone sales.
Ericsson had first approached the retailers who distributed its land mobile radio products to sell its mobile phones. Their knowledge of consumer products, however, was limited. At the same time, relations with established radio, TV and computer retailers were strained. In their opinion, Ericsson’s mobile phones were inferior to other manufacturer’s and Ericsson’s marketing was even worse.
Ericsson’s solution was to open its own stores. HotLine shops were opened in major cities with trained sales staff that could demonstrate and sell the various models.
Jan Ahrenbring, who is now vice president for Marketing and Communiations at Ericsson Mobile Communications, was the man behind the stores. In a campaign unlike anything previously seen, Ericsson president Björn Svedberg hosted a kick-off for store employees and sales staff at a nightclub in Stockholm. A few years later, Jan rented the entire Borgholm Hotel on Öland, re-christened it HotLine Hotel, and gathered 500 retailers and distributors.
Another method used to market HotLine phones was rentals. Through an agreement with Hertz and SAS hotels, customers could rent a mobile phone together with a car when they checked into the hotel.
The HotLine campaign was successful in selling mobile phones not only in Sweden, but also in such markets as Switzerland, Spain, Thailand and Malaysia. The problem was that the name HotLine was not protected. A Stockholm company had registered the name HotLine for a completely different type of product. Ericsson was finally forced to give up the HotLine name.
- The legal problems were not the decisive factor, says Staffan Overgaard, who was responsible for international marketing of HotLine. Market surveys in different European countries showed that HotLine could be associated with vastly different things, from women’s lingerie to computer software.
- In the same surveys, we found that Ericsson, if the name was recognized, was associated with Swedish quality. It was thus much easier to increase awareness of Ericsson than to change consumer perceptions of HotLine.
Author: Pontus Staunstrup and Marika Ehrenkrona
Inside a HotLine store in Stockholm, 1990
From an advertisement campaing for GH 197.
Advertisement material, HotLine. From launch of mobile phone NH 97.