AD BUDGETS BOOM AS WIRELESS PHONES GET INTO BRANDING: CARRIERS ALSO HIKE SPENDING AS USAGE SHIFTS

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As advances in new digital wireless technology flourish, so do advertising expenditures, as previously little-known companies seek consumer brand recognition.

From full-year 1996 to the first 10 months of 1997, measured media spending jumped almost 100% among the top three wireless phone makers combined.

Those phone makers -- Qualcomm Communications, Nokia and Ericsson Cellular Phones -- along newer wireless carriers AirTouch Communications, Omnipoint Corp., Nextel Communications and Primeco Personal Communications -- are trying to get the early advantage in establishing wireless brands.

The four carriers had a combined spending increase of 45%, to $131 million, for the first 10 months of last year compared with 1996.

SEEK NEW USERS, TOO

The marketers are targeting consumers, expecting that segment of the market to be a growth area. Currently, about 20% of consumers have a cellular or digital wireless phone; that is expected to grow to 40% or 50% in the next several years, according to industry estimates.

In measured media, Qualcomm spent more than $11 million in the first 10 months of '97, compared to just $3 million the previous year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Qualcomm Group VP-Marketing Jeffrey Belk said the company will spend even more in 1998.

In the same period, Nokia's spending went from $1.4 million in '96 to $7.17 million and Ericsson from $16.7 million to $24.8 million.

Some of the jumps were even bigger on the wireless carrier side: CMR reported Omnipoint spent just $76,000 in '96 but more than $10.5 million in the first 10 months of '97. Nextel went to $18.4 million from $2.3 million and PCS Primeco jumped to $46 million from $16 million.

"These companies are not going to be regional players . . . and any company that wants to play on a national field has to build their brand now," said Jeffrey Kagan, analyst at Kagan Telecom Associates.

Two of them, Qualcomm and AirTouch, bought time on Super Bowl XXXII, a first for each.

Qualcomm, which bought two national spots via agency deYong, Ginsberg, Weisman, Bailey, Irvine, Calif., got an added boost by having its name on the stadium in San Diego where the game was played.

STADIUM NAME RIGHTS

Ericsson owns the naming rights to the stadium where the National Football League's Carolina Panthers play, making two of the 30 NFL stadiums named for wireless companies.

AirTouch used the Super Bowl to kick off a new TV, radio and print campaign from TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., with spot buys ranging from one to four spots in the 35 markets where the service is available.

In terms of ad spending, AirTouch's budget has increased little -- from $53 million in 1996 to $56 million in the first 10 months of '97 -- since it has been selling its service for four years, longer than most of the other marketers.

BEYOND BUSINESS

In the past, typical wireless users were high-end business callers or people who bought phones for safety reasons.

"The users are no longer restricted to emergencies or major deals," said Tom Bobich, AirTouch managing director of brand development. "And the competition is getting tougher with the number of players out there. So it's increasingly important to establish your name independently."

However, most agree the return on investment will take some time.

"We think we're going to get a big bump out of the Super Bowl, but we also realize it's not an overnight thing," said Mr. Belk. "It's a multiyear process, and we just started last summer."

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