Mobile phone company 2degrees has had one of New Zealand's most successful brand launches.

The telco is a rare example of a challenger brand making a big impact soon after its start.

That is partly due to perceptions about technical reliability, customer service and - most importantly - pricing. A steady hand from chief executive Eric Hertz has also been a big factor.

But 2degrees' marketing, particularly its ads featuring Rhys Darby, is credited with creating a cut-through for a new brand and has won a slew of awards.


The campaign was run in the early days by head of marketing Larry Moore, who moved on two months ago "to spend more time with family", according to a 2degrees spokesman.

But the head of communications and acquisitions, Malcolm Phillipps, has also been spearheading the marketing strategy since 2009.

2degrees announced last week that Phillipps had taken over as chief marketing officer.

He has 15 years of marketing, market research and marketing communications experience from roles in the telecommunications, consumer products, automotive and energy services industries.

"The marketing approach for 2degrees has been really simple from day one," said Phillipps.

"It's about being a simple, smart solution to mobile and talking about it in a uniquely Kiwi way - and that is what Rhys Darby allows us to do."

The commercials from ad agency Whybin\TBWA have won several accolades, but Phillipps acknowledges that there was a risk in its heavy reliance on thestyle of humour for its central character.

"If there was any concern at the start, it was whether the humour would connect with people. That was answered quickly.

"The rationale was that [Darby] was a star on the rise and he has evolved."

Phillipps says the initial marketing campaign was never aimed at youth, but at "middle New Zealand", launching with cheaper prepaycalls.

2degrees' prepay service started in August 2009, monthly plans in September that year, and business plans in July 2011.

The most successful marketing campaign so far had been "carry-over" minutes on pay-monthly plans, Phillipps said.

Friend and family deals made it harder to bring customers from Vodafone and Telecom, but less sothan in the past.

With the growing use of the mobile phone for accessing content and as a "mobile wallet", Phillipps said 2degrees had to innovate, especially given the scale of its competitors.

He insisted that as a small company, 2degrees would be able to move more swiftly. Growth was linked to specific changes - like the end of the Telecom CDMA network in July.

2degrees has been allocated the 022 prefix, but has 250,000 customers who have brought the prefixes 021, 027 or 029 with them.