Case Study: Vodafone #Hashtag Holidays

Vodafone is the world’s 2nd-largest mobile telecommunications company. Vodafone owns and operates networks in 21 countries and has partner networks in over 40 more.

Many mobile users have received roaming offers from their local telecom providers. We’ve seen the unbeatable deals which leave us feeling confused and demotivated. The only thing triggering our emotions is the huge phone bill we receive a month after we get home from a trip. However, roaming is also about travelling, which is a nice thing. Unfortunately we don’t really put those two together. The reality is that in the 21st century we are going to use our phone on vacation… so why not get a good deal?



“When you see the word roaming, 80% of people think of ‘bill shock’. In this case it was honestly a good deal. So usually there would be a Twitter announcement: “roaming now just 2 euro per day for up to 32MB”,” says Mervyn ten Dam, Creative Director and Founder at Achtung!.

This time, Vodafone really had a good offer for roaming. However, this doesn’t automatically make the product interesting or exciting. The key was to find something attractive about roaming to communicate this good news. Travelling is definitely something most people would consider enjoyable and desirable and it is in fact, closely tied to Vodafone’s offer.


Telecom companies are fighting hard for each customer. The companies have flooded us with offers. Therefore, we don’t even notice if there’s a really good deal out there. Marketing teams behind these offers are often so big and complex, that it’s almost impossible to come up with a good overall strategy. Mervyn ten Dam’s agency Achtung! helps Vodafone (Netherlands) with theirs: “At Vodafone, there are a lot of smart people thinking about hundreds of propositions. We’re helping them out to pick the right one and more importantly find an original packaging for them.”


In this case, the target audience was mainly young people. The agency started to think of things that are ‘hot’ within this target. The obvious ‘touchpoint’ is social media. Twitter’s hashtagging was really taking the world by storm. People were using the term ‘hashtag’ both in social and real spaces. Another plus – it makes monitoring the social buzz a lot easier.

“We were looking at places in Europe and what hashtags came from which destinations. At any time of the day you would have different hashtags popping up. For instance #foodporn comes a lot from Rome and #yolo from Greece,” Mervyn ten Dam, Creative Director and Founder at Achtung!, on their observations. This was the beginning of a great idea for the campaign.




Vodafone promoted its all-in-one travel package by encouraging travellers to choose their holiday destination depending on which hashtags were trending in major European cities. The campaign, which ran exclusively in Holland, promoted Vodafone’s travel package which let travellers text, call and use mobile data for €2 (£1.74) a day when abroad. The campaign suggested that users choose their holiday destinations based on which hashtags, such as #YOLO (you only live once) or #romance, were currently trending.

They could then virtually “book” a holiday for two, using a specially created website, to have a chance of winning the holiday of their choice in a weekly competition. Introducing ‘the world’s first social travel agency’, where you can book a trip based on your favourite hashtag, e.g. #YOLO (you only live once), #foodporn or #romance. The only obligation was to send an invitation to one of your friends (as travel is most fun with friends). Every week, all people who have booked the trip received a notification that the check-in had started. The first person to check-in won a real trip to their chosen destination.


The most popular youth travel sites in the Netherlands partnered with Vodafone, meaning the ‘hashtag holiday’ could be booked via these sites. Banners and a YouTube video promoted the campaign via social media. A special algorithm helped to monitor the most trending hashtags of the week. In the first week, the most popular hashtags were #YOLO and #touristshit. The campaign lasted for 6 weeks with 2 winners announced each week.

Mervyn ten Dam says: “We cooperated with very popular youth travel sites in Holland and asked them if they would like to offer our holiday next to the existing trips. They were okay with that and we got our own section on their website. We got a lot of traffic from this simple trick because it’s something new.”


#hashtag holidays was more of an awareness campaign for Vodafone’s subscriptions. It’s hard to say if any of the participants actually thought of the roaming offer as a direct result. The idea was undeniably fun, in contrast to a rather ‘boring’ product. 35,000 holidays were booked during the campaign. The bookings equalled to 25% of monthly online bookings in the Netherlands. Vodafone’s sales increased 27% compared to previous year.



The key insight by Vodafone and Achtung! was that people didn’t really care about the (admittedly great value) roaming offer. It was about giving some entertainment value first. Roaming is travelling and travelling is enjoyable!

“Don’t start with functional stuff. In this case roaming is about something fun – travelling, not about data. Here you can put a lot of creativity in. In the end it is all about grabbing attention. If somebody booked our holiday, then we would mail them the offer. You have the contact moment and people coming back to you. You put something attractive out there in a relevant context to have a reason to talk about it. You didn’t have to purchase it. And we can say to them: if you like travelling then you would like roaming. We try to put people in the mind-set that they might be more interested in buying our products,” shares Mervyn ten Dam, Creative Director and Founder at Achtung!.


When asked about the things that could be done differently, Mervyn ten Dam said: “If you booked a hashtag holiday, you could invite a friend. Then you had to check in at a certain moment within an hour. That was a bad idea because people don’t want to be forced to a time slot in the digital environment. We should have ditched the time-frame part. Quite some people missed out on that moment.”



Joeri Van Den Bergh


“It’s a brilliant case of using the touchpoints and social trends that are close to the hearts of youth:

  • Wherever, whenever: the merge between offline, mobile and online in the campaign.
  • Traveling & holidays as one of their favourite leisure activities.
  • Sharing stories: by using the hashtag idea, foodporn trend.
  • Celebrating life & killing boring: by finding another surprising way of communicating the roaming offer, using YOLO and the serendipity trend: 2 days before the actual travel.

I think Vodafone and Achtung! understood that to connect with Millennials, you need to translate the added value of your services to the lifestyle and context of your target group. So in this case instead of focusing on the content (the smart deal of roaming) they focused on the context (where roaming is most relevant: abroad while traveling) and used this insight to sell the roaming deal through a surprising social media contest. In this way they increased the self-identification and relevance of the offer in a quite unique way using a different approach from the competition.”

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