Telenor Gold SIM

The ESA Excellence Award winner – Telenor from Norway – discussed the strategies, behind-the-scenes and details of their interesting, successful activations.

A piece of Norwegian ski history in a mobile phone

The Norwegian telecommunication company Telenor received the ESA Best of Europe Gold Award for their innovative Telenor Gold SIM project. Since all mobile network carriers claim to be offering the fastest speed and the best signal, users find it difficult to choose the best one. To rise to the challenge of sending the message that they are the ones that can deliver the best speed, Telenor partnered with the Norwegian Advertising Agency TRY and came up with a bold idea – to melt Norway’s first ever downhill gold medal given to Norwegian sports hero Aksel Lund Svindal at the 2007 World Ski Championship in Åre, Sweden, and to put its particles in SIM cards issued by Telenor. 

“There is no better symbol for speed than the World Championship downhill gold medal,” says Petter Svendsen, Head of Sponsorship at Telenor, explaining that they wanted to strengthen their position as the telecommunication company with the fastest network, increase their reputation and improve parameters as the most innovative company. By having a SIM card with tiny gold particles in their phones, Telenor customers would receive not only the best proof of speed but also a part of Telenor’s sponsorship – Telenor has been the top sponsor of the Norwegian alpine ski team since 2005.

What could go wrong?

In the description of the project for the ESA Excellence Awards Telenor stated that Telenor Gold SIM was the most risky communication project the company had ever done. According to Svendsen, it might have turned out to be infeasible or the idea might have been exposed beforehand. “It was a high-risk project because no one had ever done anything similar with SIM cards, we could not be sure that we could guarantee that there would be fragments from the medal in all of the three million SIM cards until we had actually completed the process,” says Svendsen, adding, “In the worst case, we would have melted a part of Norwegian ski history for no reason. Numerous people, not only inside Telenor but also several external experts, had to be involved. If the idea was exposed, we would miss out on the ‘wow’ factor.” The planning of the project took almost 12 months. For the Telenor brand, the highest risk was that their customers would find it in poor taste to melt one of Norway’s most famous and respected athlete’s gold medal. “It was also critical for us that the whole process was thoroughly documented as many people questioned if we had actually managed to get a part of the medal onto each SIM,” explains Svendsen. After thorough research and workshops they nevertheless decided to go through with the project.

An uncomfortable call followed by an enthusiastic response

So how did Telenor manage to convince Aksel Lund Svindal to give away his gold medal? “I must admit that I felt a little uncomfortable when I made the phone call to Aksel. His first response was that he liked the idea, but wanted to consider it more carefully. After just a few days, he responded with enthusiasm, and was ‘all in,’” says Svendsen. The skier was also happy about the fact that Telenor is planning to create a charity fund symbolizing the value of the gold medal and giving more people, particularly children, opportunity to experience the joy of skiing. “We will also produce a replica of the medal and engrave the names of the benefiters. Aksel’s response to this was, 'This is just fantastic. This means that the medal will not just have a great importance for me, but also for a broader audience,'” adds Svendsen.

Almost one third of Norwegians with gold SIM cards  

The moment Aksel Lund Svindal melted down his first World Championship gold medal, he became the centre of the entire communication project. Through online teasers the story came out even before it was officially revealed in the two-minute TV commercial during the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals. Within a few hours after the launch of the campaign, the story was featured in all Norwegian media and abroad and the social media response was extraordinary. “The campaign reached its goal concerning attention very fast, significantly faster than all other campaigns we have done.” says Svendsen, adding that they received decidedly positive reactions. “The month after the launch Aksel was rated as the most popular athlete in Norway. He is described by the audience with admiration and respect.”

The medal was pulverised into 120 million tiny particles. 20 to 40 of these particles are present in the gold Telenor logo on each SIM card and are visible through a magnifying glass. The SIM cards are free-of-charge and each comes with a letter signed by Telenor promising to always deliver the fastest mobile network. “In total 1.769 million gold SIM cards have so far been sent to our customers. Keep in mind that the population of Norway is 5.3 million,” says Svendsen.

Brand Tracker survey shows that the campaign had a significant impact not only on Telenor’s but also on competitors’ mobile customers, and Telenor is considering a similar project in the future. “This was a great success, but also an extremely demanding one. It was a stretch for all of us in Telenor, but when the results were so good, we are naturally eager to take on another big project like this – if we can find such a good idea again. However, I think that we are done with melting medals,” laughs Svendsen. 

Make sure you have a good back-up plan

Based on the insights gained from this project, Svendsen’s advice for marketing and sponsorship experts is to first of all try to find a project that is close to their core business. “For us it was important to have a concept that was more than just communication. The symbolism of having a piece of Norwegian ski history in your pocket, in your phone, is very strong. And the physical implementation on millions of SIMs made the idea relevant and tangible for customers and for our sales channels. The key learnings are that you have to do a lot of research beforehand and be sure that you have all the people you need for maximum activation on board for the project,” explains Svendsen, pointing out that it is equally important to be ready for surprises, “Secondly, make sure to have good back-up plans. One of our toughest challenges during the process was when Aksel had a really bad accident during the Hahnenkamm race in Kitzbühel and was hospitalised. The day after the race was the start-up day for filming the TV commercial ...”

Author: Simona Kruhar Gaberšček. The article was first published in SPORTO Magazine No. 11 (May 2018). Also available at SPORTO conference website