When Cingular Wireless announced its intention to buy AT&T Wireless in February 2004, executives from both companies were already thinking about the marketing campaign that would herald the union once the deal was finalized.
It took eight months to clear regulatory hurdles, but the team spent that time coming up with a comprehensive yet tightly integrated campaign, with the help of ad agency BBDO in
Using the theme “Raising the bar,” the goal of the campaign was not only to introduce the new Cingular but to trumpet to consumers and business users that the wireless industry was changing for the better.
While the combined entity was the largest of its kind in the nation, with 46 million customers, that wasn’t what Cingular wanted to focus on, said Daryl Evans, Cingular’s VP-advertising and marketing.
“Beyond the fact that there was a new No. 1 was a company with real news that would change the industry from a network perspective, a product perspective and an overall promotion perspective,” he said. “ ‘Raising the bar’ is a double entendre. It is literal in terms of signal strength but also as a broader statement about what we were doing in the industry.”
The tag initially began as a line in the copy of BBDO’s earliest proposed ads, but both Cingular and BBDO kept gravitating to it as a bigger idea. The campaign targeted both consumers and b-to-b customers, but Cingular and BBDO knew from the beginning that the b-to-b message would have to be strong. The combined company had the largest business data network in the country, and AT&T had the stronger equity in the business space. In fact, a key reason for the purchase was AT&T’s business market strength.
With that in mind, the team took an integrated approach to the media buy, the new iconography and symbolism. They used the AT&T blue for the color of the word “Cingular,” kept the orange “X” Cingular figure and added “Raising the bar” under the name icon. The very first ads even showed the two logos merging. Other imagery in the launch TV spots showed the series of five raised bars—an element from an old AT&T ad—blown out in a variety of ways, from cityscapes to coffee cups to birds flying overhead. Print ads stressed “More bars in more places.” Eye-catching outdoor ads featured the raised bars with the fourth and fifth ones seeming to burst through the top edge of the board.
“AT&T is an old, iconic Fortune 500 brand, and Cingular was a newer one with a more playful approach, almost humorous,” Evans said. “We grew Cingular up a bit, and ‘friendlied-up’ AT&T a bit.”
The b-to-b focus—“the place to be the least playful,” Evans said—was included in all advertising but came through clearly with the “leadership” part of the campaign. The raised bars in those print ads were depicted as business-themed and included stacks of files, cargo containers and stairs in an office scene.
At the beginning of summer, the leadership campaign added case study advertising to the mix, featuring customers TaylorMade, Avis Rent A Car System and FedEx Corp. Each case study pointed to a different feature the sales staff uses as a proof point to sell services and equipment to businesses—specifically, expertise, applications, network and server. (A fourth ad is expected soon.). Additional rotating print includes product focuses on business communication devices Palm Inc.’s Treo and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry.
“The success and seamlessness of the marketing owes much to a really strong central theme, ‘Raising the bar’,” said Charlie Miesmer, BBDO New York senior executive creative director. “We held steadfast to that fact and didn’t muddy it up with secondary messages.”
The results have been better than expected, Evans said. Cingular signed up 1.8 million new customers in the fourth quarter, an industry record for a single quarter. On the business side, the company has not only retained the bulk of its accounts, but added premier ones to the Business Markets Group. New customers include the U.S. Navy, McDonald’s Corp., Ross Stores, Sun Microsystems and CIBC World Markets.
Executives from both Cingular and AT&T run the business side, including two of the top four sales managers from each, and that’s going smoothly as well, Evans said. “The cultures have come together well. The inclusion of the [AT&T blue] color was a marvelous internal signal to the AT&T people that we were combining the best of both companies,” he said.