Befuddled construction workers peering at taxi-tops emblazoned with "mLife" were overheard wondering, "What's this mLife thing?" Cryptic teaser ads on TV and online appeared sans the AT&T logo.
When the "mLife" campaign officially launched on Super Bowl Sunday, viewers finally realized it promoted AT&T Wireless. But did they understand the concept? Making matters worse was a pesky debate in the media over Met Life's attempt to block AT&T from using the mLife slogan: The insurance giant thought the slogan was too similar to its own moniker. The request for a temporary restraining order just two days before the Super Bowl was dropped, but discussions between the two companies continue, says Mark Siegel, VP-marketing and brand media relations at AT&T Wireless.
But more importantly, will mLife, and the mobile lifestyle it espouses, resonate with consumers?
The complex effort created by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, constitutes $400 million in billings for the agency; a lot is riding on its implementation. The amorphous mLife concept-the idea that AT&T Wireless products and services enable freedom and mobility, and connect people to one another-is a big idea. It's also a bold idea for a category that's strewn with price and promotional offers referring to minutes and peak calling hours, roaming charges, free phones, upgrades and wireless data plans. Some analysts maintain the mLife brand platform will help AT&T Wireless break through the cluttered category to build a meaningful bond with consumers.
`WARM & FUZZIES'
"AT&T is trying to change the basis of competition ... and move toward competing on the warm and fuzzies," says Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst. "You can't compete on price; you have to change the rules of the game and terms of the debate."
Now, AT&T Wireless must back up mLife with real products and services, and that means talking about calling plans and minutes. The company already has rolled out text messaging and data products as well as new calling plans under the mLife umbrella.
"It's the challenge of a marketing communications group to find a way to differentiate those brands within apparently commoditized categories. We can do it," says Neve Savage, VP-marketing communications for AT&T Wireless; mLife "is a lot more than an ad campaign. It's an overall positioning for the brand, a platform for a service for the future and the vision for the company."
"We are attempting to change the dialogue in the category. At the same time, we have to sell every single day ... [but] we have to create brand preference," says Peter Intermaggio, Ogilvy executive group director.
One of the notable aspects of the initial push on mLife was a series of blind teaser ads-outdoor, online, print and TV. They didn't bear the AT&T Wireless name, leaving some wondering, after the secret was revealed, whether mLife would morph into the new AT&T brand. Executives emphatically deny it was ever a plan. "mLife as a company name was never discussed. ... It was never intended to be a brand or the name of the company-never," Mr. Savage says. Subsequent advertising has included the AT&T Wireless name.
The teasers resulted in 2 million page requests, the company says, and sent 681,000 unique users to mlife.com on Super Bowl Sunday, Jupiter Media Metrix reports. "Our intent was to create buzz about this thing called mLife ... we chose to keep it completely blind to create more intrigue," Mr. Intermaggio says.