T-Mobile Says Co-Branded Fender Entry Struck a Chord

While others in the mobile category are fighting a never-ending battle over features, T-Mobile has taken a different approach. In January, the wireless service provider rolled out its myTouch 3G Fender Limited Edition handset, which was based on a partnership with the famed guitar maker. To solidify appeal, the handset, which is based on Google’s Android platform, was promoted by Eric Clapton, whose songs “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” come preloaded on the device. Denny Marie Post, svp and CMO of T-Mobile, joined the company in 2008 after last serving as svp-global beverage and food at Starbucks, where she helped introduce that company’s Pike Place Roast. Post discussed the co-branded handset strategy with Brandweek. Excerpts appear below.

Brandweek: Why did you choose to go this co-branded route?
Denny Marie Post:
The myTouch was launched last year, and we were searching for opportunities where people had really high affinities and associations with how they express themselves and their individuality. So we brainstormed a wide range of categories and also had a design firm here in [Seattle] draw up some concepts. The one we talked about a lot was artistic expression. The one that came to the fore was how people express themselves through music, and then specifically their affinity for—when you purchase a guitar or a car—putting a lot into the choice you make. So Fender was the one that came to the top of our list.

BW: When people pick a handset, aren’t the brand name and the features the main considerations? Is a co-branded phone among the top of their consideration set?
No, it’s not, but I think it can be part of the decision. If you’re already attracted to the Android phone, then we hope you’re attracted to the myTouch opportunity. In Fender, we found that it’s not just the co-branding, that it’s a really beautiful device. I don’t play guitar, but I’m very proud to carry it. I find people stop and ask, “What is that?”

BW: What about Eric Clapton’s involvement?
That was a way to take it over the top. He has long been a Fender player. The way that all came together was we were able to approach him through some personal relationships and ask him, “Would you consider this on the following basis?” And it was our commitment to sponsoring Crossroads [Guitar Festival], which is his bi-annual concert which benefits his Crosssroads [drug rehab] Centre…On top of that, he was available because he was recording in the States. It came together very quickly and…he put us to the test, I tell you. He was an iPhone carrier, and before he would commit, a young man from our team went down there and spent several hours with him demonstrating what a myTouch Android could do. He spent the time—much more time than any of us thought he would—and said, “I can do this.”

BW: Given his involvement, are you targeting a baby boomer audience?
I’ve just got some demographic data back on this, and this sold through. We had three months’ worth of inventory, and it sold through in three weeks. We just resupplied another amount that we anticipated would have carried us for another 45 days or so. I’m told that we’re almost out after 10 days, and we won’t produce more. It was a limited edition, and despite the temptation to keep going back to that well, you’ve got to discipline yourself. Back to who it appeals to: It is definitely somewhat older—I’m looking at 35-plus. We have some psychographic stuff which indicates more sophisticated, and it definitely went more male. It skewed to a more sophisticated upscale audience than we typically see.