What Happened to Orange?

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Few brands have caught the public’s imagination like Orange. It arrived at a time when mobile phone networks were things called Mercury One2One and Vodafone Airtouch and in its wake, completely changed the face of branding in the UK forever. Along the way, it also racked up plenty of subscribers, quickly becoming one of the UK’s very biggest mobile networks. In 2016 though, the Orange brand is no more, so what happened to the company? Let’s find out.

The Orange brand came to life with the purchase of Microtel Communications Ltd by Hutchison Whampoa (the owner of Three). Before that, the company had been a joint venture of Pactel, British Aerospace, Millicom and Matra, before later becoming a venture wholly owned by BAe. Whampoa took a controlling stake in the company via a stock exchange deal with BAe and quickly named the company to Orange Personal Communications Services Ltd in 1994, before launching the ‘Orange’ 1800MHz GSM network into the UK.

That brand turned out to be a total masterstroke. Created by the internal team at Microtel and headed by Chris Moss, with support from Martin Keogh, Rob Furness and Ian Pond, its stark simplicity made mobile networks both cool and interesting, rather than geeky and complicated. They handed the advertising duties over to Wolff Ollins, who came up with the brand values, logo and advertising.

Growth was explosive and in June 1996 it was listed on the London Stock Exchange and NASDAQ, becoming the youngest company of all time to enter the FTSE 100, valued at an astonishing £2.4 billion. By 1999, the company had attracted the eyes of some of the most valuable companies in the world, and was acquired by Mannesmann AG for $33 billion, which in turn triggered a hostile takeover bid from Vodafone, who acquired Mannesmann for $183 billion. Vodafone were not allowed to hold two mobile licences though, and so sold Orange to France Telecom for $37 billion in August 2000, $4 billion more than it had be bought for just 7 months earlier.

It then lived under the France Telecom brand until 2009, when it merged with Deutsche Telekom company T-Mobile in order to form Everything Everywhere, which was then shortened to EE. This marked the beginning of the end for Orange, though the contact number for Orange was still operated to service existing customers. As the Orange brand was phased out in July 2015, it became clear that EE was about to be purchased by BT for £12.5 billion.

Now, with the BT-EE deal complete, there’s now no Orange branding left on the high street, online or to people on grandfathered contracts. To all intents and purposes, the brand is now dead, but it lives long in the memory, and its impact on the Britain cannot be overstated.

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