Blyk arrives, ready to serve the UK’s 16-24 year olds

I originally planned to write up my Blyk launch experience yesterday, however every time I sat down to write, I didn’t feel I’d had enough time to digest and think.

I wanted to take time to talk to lots of 16-24 year olds and other demographics to gauge perspective. In addition, I wanted to document the actual experience, not just the basic facts that we’ve already reported.

So here we go. It was absolutely chucking it down. I was awoken by torrential rain — London in the rain, in September, isn’t always good news. The roads are packed, the puddles are everywhere to the extent that as you’re walking down the streets you sometimes have to turn your umbrella horizontal to prevent the spray from bus running through huge puddles completely soaking you. I had to do this twice as I negotiated the streets to the launch. Not necessarily the nicest day for a launch. Turns out, however, that yesterday was the first day of Fresher’s Week — the perfect marketing opportunity for the country’s 16-24 year olds. Ahh….

The good news was that the launch was taking place in the West End. Poland Street. Relatively easy for most people — me included — to get to. The curveball? The entry was actually a record shop. Different.


I was wondering if there enough room in the record shop when a polite lady asked if I was ‘here for Blyk’. I nodded and she pointed out the way. A few stairs later I had entered into a big tall white gallery space filled with people. Art on the walls, Blyk logos in evidence, a slideshow ready to rock, food being served by an army of waiters and lots of suits. Good. I was decked out in my usual pinstripes (meetings later on). Sometimes it’s a bit inconvenient turning up to places when everyone is wearing black GAP T-Shirts and sporting Nikes.

Almost immediately, I spotted Geoff Morley, Blyk’s Director of Strategy & Relationships. I snapped a pic.


I’ve known Geoff quite a while from his work at Mindmatics in particular, so I was delighted when he came striding over to say hi.

“We’re live today,” he said, grinning.

“Right, when’s the launch though?” I asked.

“Now! Today!” Geoff responded — the energy and excitement was shooting out of him.

“I thought you were announcing the launch — you know, sometime in November or something?” I queried.

Geoff smiled, before explaining “No, we’ll be live in about 60 minutes”. Right. I whipped out the E61i and whacked a mail to Alex with the news. I, like a lot of folk, had thought Blyk were somehow going to announce an announcement. Not actually go live. I spotted Rax Lakhani and grabbed his hand. He’d been keeping me updated with all he could publicly do so about Blyk for a while.

Then, as I gazed round the studio looking at all the Blyk branding and market research posters, I took a step back when Giles of Texperts entered my field of vision.

“GILES! How are you doing?” I hadn’t expected to meet anyone from Texperts at the Blyk launch. Then, the hot lady herself, Sarah McVittie joined us. I was about to launch into a ‘guess what, I was texperting-with-a-guy-from-the-Guardian-on-the-Thames-last-week’ story when a chap with a good microphone bellowed for everyone to gather away from the croissants and orange juice — the presentation was about to begin.

I snapped a pic of Sarah and Giles:

Almost immediately, a lady in front of me started writing furiously into her pad. Ahh. A journalist. You know, an ‘oldie’. A mainstreamer, I thought. (Later on she asked a question and identified herself as a reporter from the Wall Street Journal). For a moment I considered snapping a picture over her shoulder of the notes she was making. Then I thought better. Just as I was surveying the room and the Blyk team were setting up their presentation, I caught sight of… is that… was that… yeah, sure it’s Justin? Justin from BuddyPing / Ninety Ten. Wicked! I wasn’t sure because he was poised with pen in hand. What was he doing at the Blyk launch, I wondered?

Here he is:

Turns out he’s got some big news. Hugely exciting news. Not publishable at this time though. More, I hope, on that later.

Meanwhile Pekka Ala-Pietilä and Antti Öhrling had got up on stage and the presentation was ready. They were both sporting uber sexy wireless headset microphones so they could have their hands free.

“Shit,” I thought, “Are they going to do a Steve Jobs?” — I was wondering if they were going to talk off-the-cuff. Gosh. Yup. Very impressive indeed. No reading of briefing notes prepared by some PR lackey. As the chaps began their presentation, it became clear to me that they were clearly living Blyk. They were emotionally invested — to the point that they could easily deliver the forthcoming set of slides without a lectern and pages of notes.

Here’s Pekka in full flow:

I then resolved to snap a shot of each slide.

We start with ‘Open’. Confirmation that they were going live today.


Then: What is Blyk? The first mobile network for 16-24s funded by advertising. Blyk links young people with brands they like and gives free text and minutes every month.


It became clear that Blyk is only for 16-24s… I could see a lot of the journalists scribbling madly at this point.

Pekka then announced that Blyk was invitation only.

“You what?” I thought, followed by, “Ahhh, smart, I like it. Make it exclusive.”


Pekka explained that you could get an invitation by texting ‘FRESH’ to 82595. Two points on this from SMS Text News readers: Dan Lane pointed out that the keyword ‘Fresh’ is also the name of an ultra rubbish MNVO run by Carphone Warehouse (Scroll down to the bottom of this page to see what I think of Fresh). I thought the same when I saw this slide. Possibly confusing for anyone who’s been in a Carphone Warehouse and been hawked a Fresh Mobile sim recently. Reader njar pointed out that the Blyk shortcode, 82595, stands for 8BLYK. Very sexy indeed.

Pekka went on to discuss that Blyk will ask qualifying ‘members’ (not subscribers or users) to describe their interests online.


Then you get sent out a sim pack which looks rather smart:


Then they send out the Blyk settings (wap, internet, voicemail and so on) to your handset:


It’s at this point that it becomes clear that Blyk isn’t going to be handset-led. Instead, members will be encouraged to use their existing handsets (that will need to be unlocked). The only provisio is that they must be MMS capable. Why? Because Blyk’s first version of advertising/interaction is heavily based around that medium (coupled with text messaging). (Blyk will actually sell you a handset, much the same as the likes of Virgin Mobile will do)

At this point I walked around the gallery and almost fell over Stuart Dredge from Tech Digest.


He was busy liveblogging away. I wondered if he was using a 3UK GSM modem so I pointed my camera down and snapped a shot.


Nope, it’s a Vodafone one. And he had a signal even in the depths of the building. Very cool.

The slide changed.


No contract, no phone bill, for up to 4.5 million young people in the UK.

“How are they going to control that?”, I thought, “What happens if everyone wants to be on Blyk?”

Quite simply, you’re not getting it. If you’re not between the ages of 16 and 24, you’re name’s not on the list. You can’t come in. I like it. Obviously I’d like to be able to be part of the game, but I’m quite far beyond 24 now. Interesting strategy.

And they’re not playing about. The next slide demonstrates that Blyk didn’t just turn up in the UK, grab hold of a “So you’d like to do an MVNO with Orange” standard contract and sign on the bottom line. No, Sir…


The entire infrastructure is theirs, end to end, with the exception of the mobile connectivity which is provided by Orange. This enables Blyk to take substantial control over the end-user experience, from internet browsing to messaging delivery.

The next slide pointed this out:


“End to end — complete control of our network, user experience and ad products.”

Then Antti took the spotlight to explain just how Blyk intends delivering advertising value.


“Messaging is the simple dominant behaviour for 16-24 year olds. This will be the dominant design for mobile advertising.”

Cool. I think most of the audience were nodding — we’ve heard this kind of thing before from everyone from exciting mobile industry executives to mobile advertising agencies trying to get folk to spend money on shortcodes and text messages. What’s new, Antti?

Lots, actually. Antti began to get more and more animated.


Wherever you see the ^ sign (incidentally, the same sign used in the Blyk logo), that will signify that you, as a Blyk member, can interact with a brand. For free. No cost, whether you’re sending a text to them or browsing some mobile pages. So totally ‘free’ interaction with a brand. You’re not paying standard network rates for every message, nor are you spunking money to peruse advertiser messages on the mobile web. That’s got a certain appeal.

But it’s useless if the message — the communication from the advertiser — is useless. And let’s face it, we’ve all seen some absolute rubbish presented by a lot of big brands trying to experiment with mobile. I think the audience was liking Antti’s message but still keeping a skeptical viewpoint just in case …

“Let’s look at some example interactions,” says Antti.


The first example is interaction between a member and L’Oreal. These ain’t rubbish brands, at all. L’Oreal? My eyebrows were raising. They do mean business.

Antti showed this slide:


The member is asked to chose which celebrity they reckon they’re most like:


The audience was asked to believe that a 16-24 year old, upon receiving this kind of communication, would leap to respond. There was still a little bit of inherent skepticism in the weathered audience, I reckoned. But I was starting to believe. Put yourself in the mind of a media savvy 16-24 year old and think just how they’d respond to this kind of challenge. And it’s free to reply. If you’re sat stuck on the bus on the way to Uni, you’d definitely play along. To do so, the instructions are there in the message. ” ^1/2/3/4/5 ” means you simply reply with a number corresponding to the celebrity.

Antti was in full flow, describing this process — backed up by 18 months of in-depth research.


Whack back your response:

And uber-quickly, the member is sent this reply back:


The text reads, “Then you’d suit Eva’s shade of Color Riche Star Secrets, Caramel”, complete with a product picture and bigger Celeb shot.

Ok, I like it.

I get that. And boy it does look good — full screen MMS. I need to look into that more.

Antti moved quickly on to another interaction example. You’ve previously described that you’re a student — so you’re sent a text question from StepStone Recruitment asking if you need a job.



If you’re up for it, you reply with what you’re looking for.

Blyk responds, asking if you’re up for part time or full time…


You’re then invited to subscribe to StepStone’s text alerts.


The concept behind this being that it’s naturally a lot better to engage in dialogue with the member rather than just whack a blanket text to every Blyk member. How effective will this be? Well, that remains to be seen.

Antti then went on to highlight message tagging:


… You actually get an advert in messages sent to you from your friends. In this example, your friend is texting you to say that they’re going to be 15 minutes late. The rest of the message contains a call-to-action for STA Travel’s hot deals.


I’m wondering just how effective this will be. I don’t know. I’d like to think it will be rather cool. It could potentially be quite annoying. But on the other hand, provided it’s semi customised (i.e. I have checked the box saying I’m up for travel deals), it may well be extremely welcome. Plus it’s free to browse the link sent in the message.

Antti finished by shocking us with the fact that Blyk has over 40 brands on board for launch.


“Forty-Five,” called Jonathan, their head of advertising. Shit. That’s good.

Then Antti began flicking through the brands. We’re not talking your local shop. Big multinationals flashed up on screen. Journalist pens flew across their notebooks recording the brand names.

I got hold of the final slide with all 40 odd brands:

blyk advertisers

Acuvue, Adidas, AQA, Boots, Borders, BSM, Buena/Disney… Coke, Colgate, NatWest, Mastercard, Sky, McDonalds,……….

Huge. Huge, huge brands delivering a stunning amount of credibility. But why wouldn’t they want to be involved? Blyk’s audience is exactly the one they’d like to reach.

AQA popped up on screen and I did a double-take. “Hold on,” I thought, “Didn’t I just see Sarah from Texperts?” Seems like AQA got there first.

Quickly, it was on to questions from the audience.

How much for data browsing? £0.99/meg. Hmm. Quite expensive. But then again this is Orange, we’re talking about, not exactly famed for their healthy data price plans.

How many free minutes do members get?
43 minutes? You what? 43? Not 42? Not 44? Why exactly 43 minutes? Strange.

And free text messages?
217. 7.2 texts every 30 days. Again, slightly strange. Pekka wasn’t having a laugh though, explaining that they’ve gone to market with this offering supported by their mountains of research.

Me? Well, I do think it’s a wee bit silly picking such apparently arbitrary numbers. It certainly sets Blyk out against the existing MNO/MNVO offerings.

If you go over the free usage, you’ll be billed 10p per text and 15p per minute to any number in the UK (irrespective of whether it’s mobile or landline). Simple and clear pricing.

What happens if someone over the age of 25 applies for Blyk? No deal. Pekka explains that they’ve implemented quite a lot of unified information databases to ensure that only those aged 16-24 can sign up. If you’re aged 24 right now, that’s fine, you can join the club and stay a member when you become 25. But if you’re 25 now, hard luck. I do like the exclusivity this brings.

I do also like the tagline, “Blyk is the new mobile network for 16-24 year olds” — I think that will appeal to the target audience.

The presentation came to an end and I surveyed the room. I think it’s a hard audience — seasoned tech hacks who are accustomed to going along to launches and being romanced with free devices and samples — who aren’t going to be entirely impressed at being told they’re too old to use Blyk. Heh. I kept an open mind as I wandered back to pack my camera away.

Geoff came bounding over, “Here, can I show you that Miss Selfridge demo?” he asked. I smiled and took out my camera. Geoff was bursting with excitement as he flipped open his E65, “Just wait ’til you see this.”

He proceeded to show me a sample interaction aimed, I imagine, at a young fashion-conscious girl. In the example, the member is sent a full-screen MMS, asking them to guess the cost of a jacket/dress:


Send off your (free) answer and the system replies right-away with a follow-up question. No joke, it was lightning fast in the demo Geoff showed me.

Geoff guessed the price correctly and got this back:


Spot on! Guess the price of the next two items from Miss to earn yourself a fantastic discount.

Oh interesting, very interesting.


Geoff was on a roll, correctly guessing the price of the bag:


“You’re on a roll,” the text reply said.

The final question arrived:


Geoff got that right and then was sent this text by reply:


Congratulations! You have a great eye for fashion and for a bargain too. Enter this code at the checkout at Miss to get your 20% discount.

Now that might not seem that big a deal for a mobile industry analyst on a hundred grand a year. But for your average 17 year old, this would be a big, big deal. I know. I checked.

I walked straight out of the Blyk launch and started making some calls to my younger brother’s friends. They’re exactly the Blyk target. They have to pay their own phone bills, they have to buy their own handsets. How do they react to this kind of offering?

Well, anecdotally, the response was phenomenal. I spoke to a load of 17-19 year olds who I reckoned fit the Blyk profile almost exactly. Each one of them has gone off to sign up after my description.

Let’s, then, take a step back. Is Blyk poised for success?

Yes. I think so. I’d like to think so. I’ve spoken to a lot of people across the industry since yesterday to garner opinion. A lot are a little suspect. Some are downright cynical. Many were reeling off ‘showstopper’ issues such as lack of access to unlocked handsets, demographic apathy and so on. ‘It’ll fizzle out in a few months’ someone said, whilst another reckoned it was a huge waste of money.

I think Blyk have a lot of challenges. They’ve got a super, super team of people though and I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt from a highly skeptical and slightly wearied UK industry — and they also deserve a fair wind.

The Blyk chaps I spoke to yesterday were overflowing with energy, commitment and pure excitement (Something I’ve only ever witnessed now and again from the likes of 3UK).

I think their advertising funded model could work — can work. I think the market is ready for this kind of service and I think that there’s a large segment of the student audience in this country that will snap it up.

If you’re sat there with your arms folded not entirely convinced then let’s you and I agree to wait and see. Let’s track Blyk and their performance over the next six months and see how they get on.

Every success to the team!


  • Well, freshers week would explain what the FRESH keyword is all about. (I have no idea about this university lark).

    Looks like they really know how to throw a stylish launch gathering and they certainly do have some strong branding!!… it’s always good to see someone with a lot of energy trying to shake up the market and I really want them to succeed but for some reason I just can’t quite see it.

    Maybe it’s because I’m too old 😉

  • KILLER writeup, Ewan. You have me interested, and I’m neither 24 nor do I even live in the UK! I wonder if they’d bring this sort of setup to the ‘States anytime soon?

    I agree that the excusivity, while slightly unnerving for us, is great for marketing.

  • Good blog Ewan…shame I’m too old for this – I’d sign up at 33!

    By the way isn’t this age discrimination?!

  • Grant

    Sounds WICKED!

    And it really would be if I could get my hands on a SIM/Account. Falling into the 16-24 age range, I am eligible to sign up but it seems to be impossible! Their “invite” system seems very restrictive – and it certainly isn’t good marketing for their product (which, by the way is fan-bloody-tastic!)

    I can’t think of anyone I know that would have an invite or account before me, and I won’t be around any of these “Freshers” days. I really want to try out this damn service ! So – I’ve settled with letting Blyke know that I want an invite by “registering my interest” at every appropriate avenue. Hopefully they’ll find me eventually 😉

    And now I can only wait……..

  • HeavyLight

    I’m helping run the Freshers’ Fair tomorrow at the University of the West of England, so was really looking forward to meeting some of Blyk’s marketing team and seeing the reaction of switched-on students.

    Funny thing is that nobody here seems to know anything about Blyk’s pretty incredible proposition.
    But given a couple of minutes of my inadequate explaination of the project, every single student, Students’ Union staff and even most of the marquee erection crew, were completely sold.

    All they’d need is a bit of re-assurance that the freebie was real — rather than the ravings of an over-enthusiastic nutter…

    However Blyk won’t be there to clinch the deal.

    No dynamic mobile evangalists “overflowing with energy, commitment and pure excitement.”
    No demonstrations of the engaging MMS adverts.
    No confirmation of the free minutes and texts.

    Would you believe that they’ve not even bothered to book a bloody stand?

    But their ‘student promotion agency’ has sent countless printed cotton bags (nope, no visible connection to Blyk) with a cardboard label (tied on with string, would you believe?) which reads:

    “Blyk is the new mobile network for 16-24s.
    “Blyk links you up with brands you like and gives you free texts and minutes every months.”
    “Join Blyk and get your free SIM.
    Text FRESH to 82595 to receive your information code.”

    And that is the sum total of Blyk’s chosen method of communicating their (near-revolutionary) offer to 30,000 sceptical students at UWE.

    Maybe their promotions teams are busy rushing around other, larger or more susceptible, university campuses this week.
    Maybe they should sack their student promotion agency.
    Maybe an advertising booker for one of the huge brands Blyk have signed up ought to investigate their marketing plans.

    Maybe Blyk are relying on over-enthusiastic mobile nutters like you and me to do the job for them for nothing?

  • Cadarn

    I think that marketing technique is simply genious!

    I mean think about it, people talk, talk, talk…who are sceptical students going to believe more? some slimy, over-polished sales man at as stand, or their fellow students like you or me, who are the early adopters and tell people: “hey, it really works! Try it out!”

    God id love to get the guys bonus who came up with that idea

  • Heavylight

    I see exactly what you mean,Ricky.

    The problem is that i’ve found just one person here in three days who has a clue what Blyk is about. And he works for, an existing mvno catering for students, so is unlikely to be very helpful.

    All Blyk needed to do was show a rolling video of the launch – or even just Ewan’s screen shots – and have a couple of staff to handle queries.

    I haven’t got the time to chat with many students while i’m working!

    ps. Vodafone’s staff couldn’t even get online to read more about Blyk and had to borrow my E65 on Three! Oh the humiliation!

  • Jakaraka

    Heavylight I’m studying at UWE aswell and was so excited to read that Blyk were (supposedly) attending the freshers fair, told a few friends about them and most were impressed!

    Soon as I hit the freshers fair I was getting txts whether I had got the pack from Blyk… low and behold I left empty handed! Didn’t even feel like grabbing the other freebies!

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  • Nice write up on a truly amazing looking service. Will keep my eyes attuned for further updates on what could be a revolutionary service.

  • HeavyLight

    @Jakaraka — What a small world, eh?

    All the Blyk bags were on the SU stalls down the side of the main (large) marquee — I did my best to explain to them what Blyk was about but the folks on the stalls were absolutely clueless.

    If you any of your mates want a pretty bag and invite label, the SU (speak to Alison or Alistair in Events) still have thousands and thousands available as they only shifted a handful.

    Most of the freebies weren’t worth having but I did pick up a nice led-illuminating pen from the enormous EA Games hub truck!

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  • it all comes down to marketing experiences and evaluations i guess after the number crunchings
    Yet it often becomes alphabet soup in the mix
    some bargain in the end though – though targeted marketing

  • it all comes down to marketing experiences and evaluations i guess after the number crunchings
    Yet it often becomes alphabet soup in the mix
    some bargain in the end though – though targeted marketing

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