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Creating a new brand

Power behind the button leaflet, 1984

The power behind the button : defining the brand appeal

'The Power Behind The Button' was the slogan used in a government-funded campaign to promote better understanding of British Telecom's strength and activities.

In a brochure produced to accompany every share application pack, the government introduced the company as follows: "Communication is indispensable to the modern world. We are communicating with each other all day long - by telephone, by radio and by television broadcasts, or through information processed by computers. British Telecom makes every one of these activities possible by providing the rapid and reliable communications that are essential for business, government, entertainment and social relationships."

There was one advantage over many other stock market flotations in that the public already had a pretty good idea who British Telecom was - after all the majority had been paying bills to the organisation for several years. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was the discovery of all the other services it provided aside from the telephone.

The Roadphone - Connected Earth object, now at Milton Keynes Museum

Roadphone (c1983) : making a big impression

In 1983 British Telecom was facing competition, for the first time since nationalisation from rivals Mercury (part of Cable & Wireless) and they realised it was important to raise their public profile.

The Roadphone, modelled on the 'Ambassador' telephone, was created to make a 'big' impression. Built on to a Ford Van chassis, it was the largest working telephone in the world. It was taken around the country to fairs, exhibitions and processions where members of the public could use it to make novelty calls through its hydraulically lifted handset.

British Telecom drove the telephone in London's Lord Mayor's parade. It also was featured in advertisements, and was taken to some of the big telecommunication industry trade fairs.

BT engineer at work and BT van with piper logo

The Piper

Like many other utility companies, BT has always striven to place the customer first. These initiatives have focused on improved business processes, streamlined efficiencies, cost reductions and better customer service. At the same time other ideas have been introduced to integrate the brand values throughout the company and staff.

The BT Piper was the figurehead for a completely new concept: to break away from any shortcomings of the old values, and reinvent the brand as a more fitting symbol of a global business.

In the public's mind, British Telecom was still closely linked to the GPO, and this re-launch sought to sever ties with the old days and push BT forward as an international player under new management. Attitudes changed fundamentally to reflect a new age of customer focus, and the ethos summed up by the Piper was a graphic means of reinforcing this message.

It's good to talk : ...use your phone - keep in touch

This series of advertisements brought the 'it's good to talk' phrase to the fore. It was the latest in a long series of call stimulation campaigns.

The early days of advertising for the National Telephone Company and then the GPO promoted the installation of new telephones. By the 70s, 80s and 90s most people had a telephone so the emphasis moved to making more use of the phone.


Bob Hoskins: What's the worst-kept promise in the world Eh?

Groom: I do, take thee...

Bob Hoskins: No, not that one - don't be so cynical! It's this one.

Friend: Hi George, look I can't stop - I'll give you a call.

George: OK great.

Bob Hoskins: We say it all the time.

Mother: Hello

Friend: Hi - how are you? Can't stop I'll give you a call.

Bob Hoskins: We even put it on our Christmas cards - 'I'll call you in the New Year' - oh yeah. Daft isn't it, we let a friendship drift just for the want of a phone call. So if you've said recently, you'll call someone, well do it, right now. After all, you're not the type of person to break a promise are you?

Tom: George, it's Tom, well I said I would didn't I?

Bob Hoskins: It's good to talk.

Come Back : ...return to BT

This advertisement was part of a campaign to attract customers back to BT. A number of new service suppliers had been setting up rival telephone services offering attractive deals and prices.

BT reassessed its offering and this was the way it communicated its successful review. Customers began to come back in large numbers, finding the more experienced telephone operating company offered better service.


Narrator: For many years there was just one voice when it came to telephones.

Operator: Number please, trying to connect you.

Narrator: But times have changed. There are now dozens of new phone companies and BT has been busy improving its services and lowering its prices. So much so that customers who left us are now coming back in their thousands.

Operator: We're glad you decided to come back.

Narrator: Over the next few weeks we'll be giving those customers the chance to tell you why.

Customer: We came back to British Telecom to get a quality service from them.

Customer: I think it's made them more competitive, brought their prices down an awful lot.

Narrator: We've set up a special helpline on freephone 0800 22 88 11.

Customer: I just prefer the quarterly bills and then I went onto 'friends and family' and I really enjoyed that.

Narrator: If you've left us we'd like you to come back too.

Operator: I'll try to get you reconnected straight away.

Narrator: It's good to talk.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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