Koodo: The Little Brand That Could

Long Term Success (SILVER)

Client Credits: Koodo Mobile
Kevin Banderk, Chief Koodo Officer
Lise Doucet, VP Marketing Communications
Dragana Simao: Manager, Marketing Communications
Kate Robertson: Manager, Marketing Communications
Nathan Roth: Head of Digital Marketing
Jennifer Robertson: Directrice générale, communications et marketing

Agency Credits: TAXI Canada Ltd.
Steve Mykolyn, Chief Creative Director
Executive Creative Directors: Lance Martin, Jeff MacEachern
Art Directors: Jeff MacEachern, Craig Ferguson, Mike Lee, Jordan Dunlop, Adam Thur, Lance Vining
Art Directors: Troy McGuiness, Garnett Michael, Mike Blanch, Jason Kerr
Writers: Mike Blackmore, Tal Wagman, Alexis Bronstorph, Marko Pandza, Rica Eckersley, Irfan Khan
Writers: Jess Willis, Jordan Doucette, Alex Furrer, Ryan Grossman
Designers: Mike Blain, Kammy Singh, Tyler Smith, Leo Tsalkos, Nuno Ferreria
Broadcast Producers: Jennifer Cursio, Nicole Poon, Ben Sharpe, Brie Gowans, Eugene Marchio
Anick Rozon, Broadcast Producer (French)
Print Producers: Tara Greguric, Charlene Leong, Jen Shapiro, Estella Tolentino, Laura Dubcovsky
Mac Artists: Brian Coughlin, Dave Kinsella, Lorin Altomonte, Pam Cohen, Dwayne-Mark Aranha
Retouchers: Alex Chung, Andrew O'Driscoll, Nabil Elsaadi
Interactive Producers: Kevin Saffer, Joyce King, Hanna Bratt, Jennifer Law, David Isaac
Lindsay Barrett, Interactive Producer
Interactive Programmers: Matt Burtch, Bob Blevins, Ryan Johnson
Digital Strategists: Cory Pelletier, Zack Klein, Sean McDonald, Brandon Smith
Group Account Directors: Caleb Goodman, Natalie Calderon, Jessica Lax
Account Directors: Daniel Shearer, Pascale St-Amand (French)
Account Managers: Katie Trainor, Steve Waugh, Sherrie Reynolds, Kirstin Bojanowski, Krista Cressman
Account Managers: Yousuf Afridi, Shelly Ong, Kimberly French
Media Agencies: Media Experts, Cosette Media
Production Houses: BENT Image Lab
Rob Shaw, Director
Tsui Ling Toomer, Executive Producer
Colourists/Transfer: Mission Control, Alter Ego
Audio Houses/Studios: Apollo Studios, Grayson Matthews, Pirate
Carlos Diaz, Performer - El Tabador


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):March 2008–March 2014
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: March 2008
Base Period as a Benchmark: N/A (brand launch)

a) Overall Assessment

Koodo is a brand that continues to redefine the mobile category. With six successive years of growth since the brand’s launch in 2008, Koodo has gone from ground- zero to thorn-in-the-side of all other providers, almost overnight. We’ve done this by defining and staying true to our core brand purpose,; by deploying a consistent yet breakthrough-advertising platform,; and by evolving our core offerings to adapt to the ever-changing landscape. 

When Koodo launched in 2008, three national players dominated the category. The “Big Three” (Rogers, Bell, TELUS) were fighting it out with the latest and greatest technologies and piling on a growing number of added features (and costs!). The category was defined by complicated rate plans and restrictive contracts. But our research showed there was a group of consumers who were being over-looked.  They weren’t always looking for “more” but wanted someone to offer basic service for good value and make mobile service fair and simple.

It was against this backdrop that Koodo was born. And the promise of making mobile fair and simple have always been at the core of everything we do.

We launched with a simple, no-frills “talk and text” only offering. And we challenged the status quo with a series of industry firsts, such as no contracts, no system access fee, and unlimited long distance. And, of course, we led the way with The Tab – a unique feature that allowed consumers to get a phone with zero dollars down, but without a restrictive contract.

At launch we targeted Gen Y, but we quickly saw that the brand attracted a broader group of value-seeking consumers, who all liked what Koodo had to say. Koodo tapped into their desire to feel savvy, not cheap.

As the category evolved, so did Koodo. With the rapid penetration of smartphones and a growing appetite for data, Koodo adapted with the market by introducing the latest in smartphones and adding data packages at good value, all while still making it simple.

Koodo’s consistent use of distinctive colours and graphics and ballsy language has helped make the brand instantly recognizable and brought a sense of fun to an otherwise complicated category. And our core belief in fairness, wrapped in that sense of fun, is best represented by our feisty brand mascot, El Tabador, a four-inch-tall Mexican luchador. While El Tab was created to help launch The Tab, he quickly became much more than that. He has come to personify our shit-disturber status. Always looking out for the little guy, El Tab continues to punch above his weight class, giving us phenomenal breakthrough, distinctiveness, and brand link in a noisy and cluttered category. He’s helped make the brand not just liked, but loved and trusted.

Despite an increasingly competitive marketplace full of new competitors nipping at Koodo’s heels, we have done what many have failed to do. With an unwavering commitment to our core brand tenets of being fair and simple, a distinctive visual style and personality, and fearlessness with regards to reinvention, we have consistently brought the brand to life in fun, surprising, and irreverent ways and have increased our brand share at a speed previously thought impossible in the industry.

b) Resulting Business Objectives

Since the brand’s launch, our objectives have remained the same: to establish Koodo in the market as the leader of the value segment and to defend its position by championing the fight for consumers’ needs. With this in mind, we set out to achieve the following:

1.    Aggressive year-over-year subscriber growth
2.    Increased distribution at retail

c) Annual Media Budget
Over $5 million

d) Geographic Area
All of Canada

a) Analysis and Insight

With established competitors obsessed with the latest technology and constantly changing prices and offers to match, we knew we couldn’t focus on product alone. We would never win with our entry-to-mid-level phone line-up, and while our plans were competitive, they weren’t significantly so. To make our mark, we needed to construct a core brand purpose that tapped into a deeper emotional consumer need. And that brand purpose would guide everything we did.

Research showed that Generation Y (aged 21–30) was the perfect target to whom a more stripped-down, value-based offering would appeal. They are at a life stage where value is key; yet their phone is their oxygen and they won’t sacrifice their lifeline simply to get a good deal. We believed this target would appreciate a no-nonsense brand, one that would help ease the overwhelming feeling of too much choice within the category. 

Our “so what” came from the insight that the majority of Gen-Yers were dissatisfied with their mobile phone provider and distrustful of the entire category. The blizzard of complicated offers made them feel overwhelmed and taken advantage of. They didn’t want to work that hard to figure out who offered the best value. They just wanted someone to give them the straight goods and to feel confident that they were being treated fairly. Ultimately, they wanted peace of mind. We believed we could deliver this peace of mind through a tireless commitment to fairness and simplicity.

Koodo had the most successful wireless launch in North America. A staggering 50% of Canadians were aware of the brand within two months of launch. But beyond our core Gen-Y target, we quickly noticed that Koodo was attracting a wider audience of value seekers, who were seeking less complexity in life, and with their mobile provider. Fair and simple resonated with them, too.

And while the category has evolved and technology has become more embedded in people’s lives, the need for fairness and simplicity lives on and will continue to guide all of the decisions we make.

b) Communication Strategy

The playbook for the mobile category has been long established – tell people you offer the best new technology, always launch new handsets, and constantly reinforce the idea that you have the best value. With tiny marketing budgets and the need to build a brand from the ground up, we knew we couldn’t play by these rules.

We couldn’t focus on products and features or value alone. We needed to build a brand that would not only break through, but also connect culturally. Its tone had to strike a chord immediately. From our 1980s Jane Fonda–inspired Koodo-cisers to the neon wall dominations that blanketed major cities, Koodo was hard to ignore. And from day one, our consistent use of distinctive colours and graphics, and ballsy language has helped make the brand instantly recognizable and brought a sense of fun to an otherwise complicated category.

Critical to our success would be our ability to evolve and adapt over time to stay relevant, while staying true to three core principles:

Be Straightforward
Simple is as simple does. Knowing our target felt overwhelmed by how complicated the category had become, everything we did and said had to be incredibly simple and straightforward. No complicated double-talk. Just clear, honest “straight-talk.” That simplicity was reflected across every brand touch point, from TV to billboards and from in-store signage to packaging.

Be Fun
Simple is helpful. But simple on its own can be boring. If we wanted to truly connect with our target, we couldn’t just be selling to them, we needed to form a deeper relationship with them. Bringing a dose of fun to a category that’s often anything but fun made the brand feel approachable, and allowed us to connect with people on a deeper level. It also helped us carve out an incredibly distinct voice for the brand.

Be Ballsy
We’ve been a challenger brand from day one – always looking for ways to challenge the status quo. To help bring our “fight for fairness” to life, we used language that would reflect our feistiness. More than just cutting through the clutter, our irreverent tone of voice helped reinforce our brand’s core belief.

a) Media Used

TV, radio, outdoor, newspaper, in-store, cinema, digital, and social media have been our go-to media since launch.
Mass media, like TV, radio, and outdoor, bring the brand to a broad audience of value seekers. More precise media, like newspaper and digital, allowed us to present tactical offers in the places where people go hunting for more information.

Our use of media has also evolved over the years.

At launch, we blanketed major Canadian cities with extensive OOH and TV campaigns to quickly get the Koodo brand on people’s radar and establish the brand’s core purpose and fun personality.

Over time, we’ve deployed other complementary media, such as print, to help tell deeper stories that help round out the dependability credential of the brand.

b) Creative Discussion

Building Our Design Vocabulary
The unusual name “Koodo” was an intriguing empty vessel that allowed us to create our own meaning from day one.
We created a distinct visual vocabulary, featuring bright colours, bold headline treatments, and our staple nutrition label – a fundamental thread across all campaigns that reinforces simplicity by allowing us to show our target exactly what they are and aren’t getting (Exhibit 1).

This design language has been used consistently across all brand touch points, from advertising to web design to packaging to store design.

Year 1 Launch: Fat-Free Mobility
Recognizing Gen Y’s appreciation for irreverence, we decided to have fun with our simplified offering by tying the Koodo wireless experience to the health and workout craze of the 1980s. This was the perfect platform to call out the “fatty fees” of other carriers while proclaiming that Koodo was “suitable for cost-reduced diets.” Fat-free mobility had arrived (Exhibit 2).

Year 2: Language of Savings
After the successful launch of fat-free mobility, we evolved our campaign for year two in order to stay fresh. With competition in the value-segment increasing, we needed to assert ourselves as the leader by celebrating the fundamentals that Koodo first introduced. So we invented a whole new language of savings to help people rethink the basics.

We said “no to bigbillification” using this and other new brand-specific words to explain our offering, using the same design language treatment established in year one. The larger-than-life smiles of our characters showed the true excitement of customers finally paying only for what they really needed. Using language like “system fee-ectomy” and “unlimited textasy,” we broke through the clutter with a new take on value messaging (Exhibit 3).

Year 3 and Beyond: El Tabador, The Consumer’s Champion
By the end of 2009, many of the features of our initial core offering had been matched by the competition. It was time to speak beyond the basics and create an icon to represent our ongoing fight to bring Canadians fair and simple mobility. To find an embodiment of what the brand had stood for since the beginning, we looked to Koodo’s most differentiating feature – the Tab.

El Tabador stepped in the ring in 2010. Known for high-flying manoeuvres and pinning opponents to the mat, this spandex-loving character was the perfect mascot to describe the battleground of the value-based telco industry. His quirky look and tongue-in-cheek tone were seamlessly integrated into the established brand style.

In March 2010, a 30-second launch spot aired on national television showing El Tabador saying adios to his small Latino village to fulfill his destiny of saving customers from mobile injustices (Exhibit 4). Additional cinema, TV, and outdoor advertising worked to establish El Tabador’s commitment to the fight for Canadians (Exhibit 5).

More recent advertising has been focused on dialling up Koodo’s dependability, while reinforcing fair and simple service (Exhibits 6 and 7). Initiatives like 1-844-TABADOR, a hotline with pre-recorded thank-you messages from El Tab, reinforce our fun approach. Koodo AMA (Ask Me Anything) is a platform that allows consumers to talk with senior members of the company in an open, hour-long panel discussion. Koodo Ideas was created to encourage our consumers to share suggestions on how to improve our services. In a category full of tech tips, these programs allow our consumers to engage with the brand on a deeper, more meaningful level.

c) Media Discussion

Unlike our competitors, we don’t have the budget to blanket the country with messaging. To stand out, we focused our media attention on where our target lives, works, and plays. We were able to amplify the message and achieve a domination effect disproportionate to our spend, making every dollar work twice as hard. We strategically used TV and digital to achieve national air coverage, and then focused on OOH and transit in secondary markets to drive increased penetration.

a) Sales/Share Results

Koodo had the most successful postpaid wireless launch in Canadian history, and the momentum has continued for seven years since. Despite an increasingly competitive environment and the onslaught of new choices in the market, we have seen double-digit growth in our subscriber base year over year.


Following the brand’s initial 2008 launch, Koodo became the #1 postpaid provider at Future Shop, Best Buy, Walmart, and London Drugs. This was an unprecedented achievement by any brand in the Canadian marketplace, let alone a new one up against multiple, established, big-budget marketers. Koodo has continued to perform extremely well in this critical sales channel, receiving numerous accolades from top retailers. In 2010, Koodo was named Vendor of the Year by Future Shop and Electronics Vendor of the Year by London Drugs, a testament to Koodo’s simple offering and its ability to help grow its partners’ profitability. Koodo has maintained its #1 position well into 2014 and regularly remains the top wireless vendor with each of its major national retail partners.

Koodo has been awarded the J.D. Power “Rated Highest in Customer Satisfaction” award for three consecutive years starting in 2012. We have the lowest churn rate of the value players and our ARPU (average revenue per user) continues to grow. Koodo’s “likelihood to recommend” scores are an industry-leading 88% and rank highest among the value players.

Clearly Koodo has proven itself as a national wireless powerhouse that’s here to stay.

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion

Since its launch, Koodo has exceeded multiple records previously set in the Canadian marketplace (sales, awareness, and churn).

Within days of launch, our Gen-Y target gave their ultimate stamp of approval: they appropriated Koodo for themselves, with everything from user-generated spoofs of our ads to Koodo-based theme parties. It was clear that we’d hit the sweet spot between target, insight, and creative expression. By March 30, 2010, our YouTube channel had already become the #1 most-subscribed-to sponsored channel in Canada. And when El Tabador was introduced, users began creating their own content to show their love, including video parodies of El Tabador commercials and El Tabador tattoos. By March 2012, our Facebook page had become the fastest-growing fan page of any mobile company in Canada (Exhibit 15).

Koodo’s brand awareness scores after launch were remarkable, with 89% of our target recalling the name after the first year alone. At the end of 2010, Koodo became the youngest brand to be named Brand of Year by Strategy magazine. Ongoing ad tracking has shown consistent increases in awareness and purchase consideration, directly correlated to our in-market performance. Brand awareness is now at 99% with our target audience and 96% among the mass population, exceeding all goals.

The success of Koodo is inextricably linked to the communications effort. If the brand hadn’t resonated on a deep emotional level, consumers simply would not have engaged with it to the extent they did.

By redefining the category with core innovations, such as no System Access Fee, Unlimited Long Distance Calling, and The Tab, Koodo quickly established itself as an industry leader. Once the category caught up, however, and our offering became parity, the brand wrestled through and continues to give phenomenal results, even without tangible product differentiation.

Over the past six years, we’ve faced the battlefield of relentless price and offer matching, and the potentially crippling entrance of numerous new value providers. Our ability to evolve while staying true to our belief system has enabled Koodo to stay relevant and to build momentum year after year, all while leading the fight for fair and simple mobility in the Canadian wireless industry. 

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

Koodo’s media budgets and corresponding share of voice were much smaller than that of the competition, especially compared to the major carriers.


Since Koodo’s initial launch, many new value entrants have entered the category and are operating under similar business models. Some of these carriers are offering more for less, therefore ruling out pricing as an influencing factor.

Distribution Changes:

While Koodo’s retail presence has grown since the brand first launched, overall distribution is still low compared to other major wireless carriers.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

The wireless category is extremely competitive and aggressive promotional activity is the norm.

Other Potential Causes:

Product and service offerings can also be ruled out as an influencing factor. Many still view Koodo’s lineup of handsets as less sophisticated than that of the competition (the iPhone, for example, was only available to Koodo customers two years after its initial launch, a huge disadvantage compared to other major carriers).