In 2020, we worked on a dream project for Vodafone: helping Paralympic tandem cycling gold medallist Tristan Bangma realize his dream of riding solo on a racing track. When we signed up for this project, we knew we were facing quite a challenge.
How it all began
Large telecom providers started rolling out 5G in the Netherlands in the summer of 2020. The new and improved service meant faster downloads, reduced latency and a more stable connection; a telecom milestone.
To inspire and connect
Vodafone’s objective was to become the leading provider in the Netherlands during the rollout. However, the majority of the Dutch public was not yet convinced of the projected 5G advantages and many felt disconnected from the topic. The fact that media reports focused mainly on 5G sceptics also didn’t help Vodafone’s cause.
Those two reasons prompted Vodafone to challenge Glasnost to develop an earned-first concept to sway the general public. The telecom giant envisioned a campaign that would lead their Dutch audience to associate 5G with Vodafone but that would also demonstrate how the new network could be a uniting force and add value to society.
The Vodafone 5G-network can make the impossible possible. The main difference with the familiar 4G network lies in higher speeds and unprecedented low latency. The latter may be counted in nanoseconds, but has the power to open up a world of new possibilities. New opportunities come to life through the powerful stories of authentic individuals. We needed a story that illustrated the positive difference a nanosecond can make. The focus of that story should lie on the main character with 5G as the connecting factor.
We were looking for inspiring stories where speed and blind faith are crucial and where it’s a thin line between fame and failure. These elements spell top-level sport and we zoomed in on a true hero. This story was going to be about a boy who dreamed big and bold.
A seemingly impossible dream
That boy is Tristan Bangma, a cyclist. At only 24 years of age, he has already won multiple Dutch and world championships. He also won a gold medal in Rio and was awarded The Knight’s Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau. Bangma is right up there with living skating legends Sven Kramer and Sjinkie Knegt who hail from the same province.
Even though he is on top of the leader board, Bangma is literally a backseat driver. At a young age, he was diagnosed with optic atrophy, a condition that interferes with the optic nerve’s ability to transmit impulses from the eye to the brain. Bangma currently has only 1 percent vision, and his vision is similar to seeing the world through very heavy fog. Hence the need for a pilot that he can blindly trust to guide him.
2020 was supposed to be about the Tokyo Paralympics, where Bangma would be racing for gold and eternal fame. The pandemic thwarted that plan, but it also opened up the possibility to chase another dream: riding a regular bike without a pilot on an indoor track.
In cooperation with FROLIC Studio, we developed an innovative technological aid that enabled Bangma to navigate a cycling track. The device, which was commissioned by Vodafone and made Bangma the first visually impaired cyclist to ride solo, was based on the new opportunities that 5G offers. This is the ultimate moment where fame and failure are only nanoseconds apart.
It is an established fact that most blind and visually impaired persons are better at determining the source and distance of sound than the average person. Bangma is no exception. We knew that fact should be the starting point of our story, but we needed to find a way to translate the 3D-world into sound. We succeeded by combining existing technologies and using them in a novel way.
The track and the other racers are mapped by two LiDAR sensors on the front and back of the bike. The sensors, similar to those used in self-driving cars, act as a radar system and map the track and the other cyclists in a cloud of more than 40,000 sampled points per second. This enormous amount of data is sent to the cloud via a microprocessor and a mobile phone in a customized casing on Bangma’s bike. The data is then rendered into 8D-audio*. The sound is beamed to Bangma’s earphones, enabling him to gauge his surroundings from the intensity of the sounds he hears. The whole process takes only a fraction of a second and could be accomplished only because of the speed and stability of the Vodafone 5G network.
To cast as wide a net as possible for this unique story, we opted for a cross-media approach. The many angles of the story meant we could divide it into several storylines to suit different target audiences. We employed PR for the human interest side of things, while the technical 5G story was put in the spotlight through paid partnerships.
Earned publicity was achieved by organizing (a corona-proof and small-scale) press day where the innovation was demonstrated on the cycling track at Sportpaleis Alkmaar. Selected media outlets were allowed ample time to talk to Bangma one-on-one and thus find their own angle for his story. After the press day was over, we sent out a press release to other relevant media outlets.
An important element of the press mailing was a short documentary describing Bangma’s story and the road that led to the decisive moment at Sportpaleis Alkmaar. The 5G-angle played a subtle connecting role but was never the focus. The short film was complemented with an audio description and made available on platforms for the visually impaired. Several different versions as well as the original documentary were marketed on Vodafone’s owned media channels.
A commendable finale
One of the reasons that Bangma participated in the project was the platform it gave him to inspire young athletes–which is a fundamental element of his professional life. Vodafone reciprocated by making the technology available to Fonds Gehandicaptensport–the Dutch sports foundation for the disabled–after the campaign ended. The foundation will use the device at events and gatherings to inspire visually impaired persons to engage in sporting activities.
The cross-media approach resulted in over 51 million impressions and a media value of nearly €900,000 euro. Looking at ‘brand fit’ and ‘distinction’, we can say the activation easily surpassed the pre-test benchmark, making it one of the most successful Vodafone activations of the past few years. Bangma’s story helped link Vodafone and 5G in the public’s mind. This was not just an exemplary brand story that validated Vodafone’s purpose of ‘connecting for a better future’; it also generated potential future business impact.
Bangma himself was put in the spotlight of the entire Dutch media community and was inundated with praise as well as interview requests from the moment the campaign went live. He was very pleased with the outcome, because more than just telling his story, he wanted to raise awareness for Paralympic tandem racing. And that is exactly what he did.
The campaign was featured on the national TV news and the national youth television news, Jeugdjournaal. National daily Algemeen Dagblad wrote a large article about the press day and interviews with Bangma was published in the January issue of Helden Magazine.
Vodafone proved the connecting value of 5G and claimed its rightful place on the winner’s podium of the telecom industry.
*If you would like to experience it first-hand, put on your headphones and listen to this.