BUZBY


Buzby was a high profile advertising campaign run by Post Office Telephones and then by BT.  Whilst slightly annoying it was a great success.

An extract from the Post Office Telecommunications Journal
Summer 1977 Vol. 29 No. 2

EIGHTEEN months ago Buzby was not even conceived let alone hatched. Today he is to be seen all over Britain on television screens, on poster sites, on the London Underground and buses, on the Post Office's own huge fleet of vehicles, and at exhibitions. His jaunty figure is also familiar at County cricket grounds, on millions of Post Office leaflets, and he will shortly be appearing on telephone bill envelopes.

But that is not all. He is illuminated in Piccadilly Circus, and he appears in advertisements in national, provincial and local newspapers and magazines. He is already a T-shirt favourite and by Christmas there will be a range of Buzby toys and games. And last, but not least, Telephone Areas all over the country have invented their own ways of adapting him for use in their own local promotional material.

A meteoric rise indeed. But who is Buzby, why was he born and what objectives has he been designed to fulfil? It was towards the end of 1975, following two tariff increases in a short time that public concern was aroused and there was strong evidence that people thought the telephone service was much more expensive than, in fact, it was.

Research showed that public knowledge of the actual cost of a cheap rate trunk call was unacceptably low.

Indeed, many people thought it was up to six times as much as it really was. There was clearly a need to stimulate more calls and particularly to publicise the low cost of trunk calls made during cheap rate periods.

A start was therefore made early in 1976 with a national television campaign which showed a l0p coin rolling across the screen and telling people how far l0p could get them even in days of rising prices. Before-and-after surveys showed a steep rise in awareness during the period of the campaign, but there was a marked fall-off soon after the campaign finished.

When planning the campaign strategy for the year from April 1976 it was, therefore, vital to get as much continuity as possible, but it was equally important to achieve as much memorability and goodwill from the proposed advertising as possible. The question was how best to vest the advertising with an image that would be warm and friendly but, above all, memorable.

Since the objective was to humanise and personalise the Post Office image there were really two choices. A live personality could be used as presenter or a cartoon could be devised to fit the bill as the co-ordinating symbol for publicity.

The drawbacks of using a person as presenter were obvious. Whoever was selected would not be everybody's choice, and such advertising - particularly on television - could draw attention to the person and his image, often at the expense of the advertising message. Also there is the fact that any one person is vulnerable to human factors such as illness or other commitments.

There is the point, too, that it would be very difficult to select any personality who would appeal to both business and residential markets. This is borne out by the fact that no business, industry or corporation which advertises nationally has, over the past 20 years, used a live personality to present its case except in very minor campaigns.

The case for cartoon-type characters is altogether stronger. This is why the gas industry used Mr Therm, why Tate and Lyle use Mr Cube and why Shell has animated its own Shell symbol. The Telecommunications Business is very fortunate in the wide availability of outlets available for publicity purposes for, in addition to all forms of paid media advertising, it has the largest transport fleet in the country and it produces continuously, vast quantities of literature for distribution to its customers. About 50 million account envelopes reach the public in any one year, for instance.

There is wide evidence that cartoon characters appeal to most people regardless of class or age group. This is why Mickey Mouse is now celebrating a jubilee, why the Wombles sell over 16 million worth of toys a year, and why Robertson’s can still use the golliwog for their products. It was with this knowledge that Buzby was conceived and soon afterwards made his television debut.

Three commercials were used during 1976 showing Buzby in various situations on the wires near his telephone post. In one he was listening, entranced, to children wishing their grandma a happy birthday, in another he was speaking affectionately, supposedly to his girl friend, only to find to his embarrassment that it was his mother, and finally he did a daring high-wire act by riding a l0p coin across the line and marvelling at the cheapness of a call.

The first television campaign ran between May and July and the second was at the end of the year running into the current year.

Between these campaigns there was a national poster campaign all over the country using more than 1,000 of the very large 48-sheet sites. Two separate posters were used, one for daylight and one for the evening, with Buzby wondering whom he should ring to make happy.

In the meantime, the Post Office Telecommunications vehicles were using back-up posters on an ever increasing scale and this helped considerably to ensure that Buzby was kept permanently and prominently in the public's eye.

Towards the end of 1976 the original slogan “Make someone happy with a cheap rate phone call” was changed to accord with the policy of emphasising value once the price has been sufficiently established. It then became “Make someone happy with a phone call”. Currently, as Buzby is becoming clearly identified with telephone calls, the slogan is being further shortened to simply “Make someone happy”.

So what has Buzby achieved? Results have been spectacular on the internal front, where he has clearly filled the need of staff all over the country for a warm visual identification of the business for which they work. Enthusiasm in Areas to use him for every conceivable purpose has been unbounded.

As far as marketing objectives are concerned it is difficult to measure achievement precisely. Advertising is only one of many things which can influence people in the use they make of their telephones, and simply because there was a substantial increase in cheap rate trunk calls does not necessarily mean that it was due to the advertising campaigns. The only reliable method of measuring the success of advertising is by measuring the awareness of the public to the message conveyed through the advertising.

On this basis the Buzby campaigns have met all the objectives set for them. A more precise test in which Granada TV had heavier than average advertising, while Border TV carried no advertising at all, is now being assessed to see whether it can produce any additional information on what the campaign has so far achieved.

The programme for the 12 months from April this year leans more heavily on television advertising than 1976, and four new commercials have been produced to emphasise the happiness and value theme. In one, Buzby imitates show business star Max Bygraves, in another he shows delirious happiness by his laughter during a phone call, in a third he speaks to his mother with Irene Handl lending her voice, and finally he is made “bird brain of Britain” by giving the correct answer to the cost of a cheap rate call after doing rather badly on simpler questions.

There will again be a national poster campaign from July until the end of November, and during the summer large posters will be on all the cricket grounds where Test Matches are being played and also on most County grounds. A supply of posters for Telecommunications vans will continue throughout the year and it is hoped that by Christmas the many toys and novelties featuring Buzby, now being developed, will be in the shops and on sale to the public.

Clearly Buzby has won an affectionate place in the hearts of Post Office staff and there is every reason to suppose that he will become a firm favourite with the public. His usefulness is constantly being extended and it seems he will be spreading his wings and his message for a long time to come.

Mr R. M. Stanley is head of Publicity Division at Telecommunications Headquarters and was responsible, in collaboration with the advertising agency, for devising the Buzby character.


Buzby - make someone happy !

Professor Nigel Linge
University of Salford

This article first appeared in the Telecommunications Heritage Journal, Issue Number 71, Summer 2010.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Buzby! Love him or loathe him, there is no question that an orange and yellow cartoon bird proved to be a tremendous hit with the general public and an enormous success for the Post Office and later British Telecom.

Buzby was hatched in May 1976 at a time when the Post Office had raised telephone tariffs twice in quick succession and concern was being aired about the impact that this was having on both existing and future customers. Something had to be done and the first response was a TV advert that featured a 10p coin rolling across the screen to stress the value for money of a cheap rate call. However, a more sustainable, memorable and endearing campaign was needed. Celebrities were considered but the problem with them is that their status waxes and wanes and you either love them or hate them. Cartoon characters on the other hand are more neutral and can be made to appeal equally to both young and old. So along came Buzby, a yellow cartoon bird who lived up on the telephone wires.

Figure 1 - Buzby posters

In the first instance, Buzby encouraged us to “make someone happy with a cheap rate phone call” but this soon changed to the catchier, “make someone happy”. Interestingly, when you look at the Buzby campaign, you can see that marketing of the telephone was now based, not on the cost alone but rather, more on the social benefits of keeping in touch with family and friends. Buzby was often featured talking to his mother thereby making us all feel a little guilty about whether we keep in touch as often as we should.

The voice of Buzby was provided by the well known actor Bernard Cribbins who was a household name as a Carry On film star, a regular on The Good Old Days, Mr Perks in the Railway Children, and the Wombles. Today, he remains a favourite of youngsters thanks to his role as Donna Noble’s granddad in Doctor Who. In addition to television, Buzby featured on telephone bills, the sides of GPO vans, posters, in children’s books and games, on mugs, badges and even an illuminated sign in Piccadilly Circus; Buzby was everywhere!

I never cease to be amazed by the range and diversity of Buzby memorabilia. Posters come in all shapes and sizes. Figure 1 shows several examples including a Christmas themed one in which Buzby says, “Give them the gift of the gab”, a love themed one which proclaims, “Absence makes the voice grow fonder”, and one in Welsh in which Buzby’s mother is answering the phone and saying, “Buzby who?”

Figure 2 - Buzby badges



Figure 3 - Buzby corporate stationery

The range of Buzby badges is huge as illustrated in figure 2. In addition to the fairly standard, “Make someone happy” badge, we have “Hung up on you”, “Be my early morning Buz”, “Just ringing in the rain”, “Ring around the clock”, a Christmas badge, one badge promoting local libraries, and another, the dial a disc service. There was also a Buzby and Junior Buzby club each of which had its own badges and newsletters. Also buried in this collection is a rather interesting badge that shows Buzby, wings outstretched, proclaiming, “Privatisation, No thanks”. This is clearly protesting against the privatisation of British Telecom in 1984 but who produced it?

Figure 4 - Buzby household items

Corporate stationery also featured Buzby. Figure 3 shows the back of an envelope that was used to post your payment cheque and a new telephone number card for sending to family and friends. Household items didn’t escape either. Figure 4 shows three Buzby mugs, each of which features Buzby in a different pose but which all carry the same “Make someone happy” slogan. To carry your mugs there was a splendid circular Buzby metal tray and some rather nice Buzby coasters to protect your table top but if you prefer a different sort of drink altogether then there were beer mats too!

For many people in the late 1970s, the telephone remained a luxury and so saving up to pay your bill was important. In figure 5 we see two nice Buzby money boxes; a ceramic one moulded in the shape of Buzby and the other a metal telephone box with Buzby inside making a call. Finally, in figure 6 we can see several more everyday items including a Buzby message pad, a Buzby eraser in the shape of a letter ‘B’, a key ring and a wind up plastic toy that walks.

Figure 5 - Buzby money boxes

 

 

Figure 6 - Buzby everyday items

The Buzby campaign was not only very effective at marketing the telephone but also spawned an incredibly successful range of merchandise. Buzby finally departed our world in the early 1980s to be replaced by a Jewish grandmother and her extended family. Maureen Lipman’s Beattie (Beattie being a play on words for BT) featured in several highly successful television adverts and is perhaps best remembered for proclaiming “He gets an ology and he says he’s failed” when she hears that her grandson Anthony has failed all of his exams except for pottery and sociology. “You get an ology and you’re a scientist!”

This article has been illustrated using examples of Buzby memorabilia taken from the telecommunications artefact collection maintained at the University of Salford.


Additional Information

The first Buzby advert was launched in May 1976 and the Buzby Club for children was formed in 1977 and had 50,000 members at it's peak.  BT stopped using the character for it's advertising campaigns in April 1985.

There was even an exhibition called The Buzby Special which toured the country by train.

 

 

 

 
 
BACK Home page BT/GPO Telephones Search the Site Glossary of Telecom Terminology Quick Find All Telephone Systems

Last revised: June 18, 2023

FM