Game of Phones - The Game that Ruled Australia

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Virgin Mobile is the black sheep of the Virgin family of brands. Despite all of the other services with the Virgin name, it is a budget brand in Australia. The average age of its consumer base is 42 years old who are value-driven traditionalists who use Virgin Mobile because it is the cheapest telco in the market. As any marketer will tell you, this is not exactly a prime segment, and on top of that, it isn’t the target Virgin brands are known for catering to.

With only 4% market share, Virgin Mobile is behind its next closest competitor (20% share) by a considerable margin. In order to grow, Virgin Mobile needed more than just a marketing effort; it needed a complete shake up of how it operates. It needed to develop the same brand equity and loyalty amongst young people who admire Virgin for challenging the status quo in other businesses. Instead of just acting like a telco, Virgin Mobile needed to become a way of life.


Virgin Mobile slowly fell into the trap that the only value it could provide was in cost, but value can come in any number of forms. Being part of the Virgin family has its benefits, in SMG’s ammunition it had a range of Virgin Family rewards – from Virgin airline velocity points, to crates of wine, to gym membership and Virgin financial services – rewards that sit well outside of the telco remit! 

Rewards work best, though, when people have a way to actively participate in the programme, rather than passively wait to accumulate prizes. Regularly updated, attainable goals lead to an ongoing cycle of positive reinforcement that many brands have capitalised on via gamification. Where many programmes fall short, is when the challenges only pit the user versus brand. When young people participate with friends, reinforcement comes from both the brand and their social circle.

The idea was to get young people involved in Virgin Mobile via gamification, but the game wouldn’t be between them and Virgin. It would be a game between young people and their friends; with real risks and immediate rewards. Introducing the Game of Phones, Australia’s largest ever, location-based mobile app challenge, where consumers are the warriors, their mobile is their weapon and the Virgin Family rewards are the treasure. With their mobile handsets as weapons, SMG endeavoured to turn the media landscape into a battleground like no other.


It created a mobile that game challenged players to hunt for virtual prizes worth $200,000 in a combined alternative reality and real-world interaction, found on the Game of Phones’ app map screen on their smartphones. When players came within 50 metres of a prize icon, they can tap to claim it, but it could then be stolen by other players located within 100 metres.

It needed to be in constant communication with warriors on the ground, so set out to utilise media that helped to create a real-time self-perpetuating feedback loop with game players. Social media and dynamic online messaging formed the foundation of the campaign, providing live and local tracking of every player and every reward. Radio provided an opportunity to facilitate live updates and voltage around prizes and offers with street teams to engage retail.

Outdoor media was brought into the modern battle age through real-time targeting and messaging, never done before anywhere in the world. Working with Outdoor suppliers SMG created a dashboard that allowed it to control every single Outdoor panel individually, or as a group, so that it could push game messages out to specific game players, anywhere and in real-time. (eg. “warrior Silver, Battleaxe just stole your prize, he is still in the area!”) It drove traffic to retail stores by making them the only “safe houses” for warriors to hide with their virtual prizes, and Virgin mobile lounges and airport areas became places to brag about wins.


In the cut-throat battle of telco’s, Virgin was quickly crowned king. The app quickly secured over 40,000 downloads, pushing it to the top 15 apps on Android within the first week alone. Over three weeks of game play the battlefield was fierce with 39,245 active users playing more than 64,942 sessions. The 531 prizes were stolen 82,395 times; an average of 155 steals per prize. They were visceral in their quests by travelling 239,500 kilometres and cumulating over 5 years of game play and $2.5 million in earned media! When they needed shelter 14,568 players entered a ‘Safe House’ (Virgin Mobile store) to protect their loot for up to an hour at a time. As in all wars there was only one king who played 8 hours a day to win $50,000 and the title Game of Phones Champion!

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Virgin Mobile
November - December 2013
Starcom Mediavest
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