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DRAMA DRIVES MCI ADS DARLENE AND CO-WORKERS SUCCEED LITTLE ANNA PAQUIN

By Published on .

If the Taster's Choice couple had fallen in love at work, there would have been no better place than MCI's Gramercy Press.

Gramercy Press is the fictitious publishing company that's the setting for a new ad campaign for the networkMCI Business service. But instead of a twosome cooing over coffee, viewers will be treated to the soap opera-like activities of Darlene the receptionist and her co-workers.

There are intriguing characters, tricky office politics and hints of romance in the 12-part commercial series from MCI Communications Corp.

The estimated $25 million campaign kicked off Sept. 2. Two widely aired 15-second network teaser spots starring Darlene closely resembled a promotion for a new TV series.

Created by New York agency Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, the drama began in earnest Sept. 9 with a :90 providing plot background on Darlene and 10 of her fictitious co-workers. Darlene, a brunette in her late 20s, began the series by telling viewers: "See these people? They work for Gramercy Press. Their lives are about to change utterly. How? I can't talk about it on the elevator," which was jammed with harried-looking co-workers.

The rest of the series, all :30s, will unfold in the next several weeks, each introducing a new chapter of life at Gramercy Press-and how networkMCI Business telecommunications products solved the company's problems.

Of course, the series will build to a climactic final episode in its bid to slice through the clutter of "horribly boring" business-targeted telecommunications advertising, said Mark Pettit, a spokesman for MCI Business Markets.

Targeting business decisionmakers at companies of all sizes, the marketer hopes viewers will tune in to the drama, enhancing MCI's overall brand awareness.

"People love stories, and we wanted to use a dramatic plot to show the fear, the interpersonal dealings and the struggles people are facing in dealing with high technology applications in business. There's a lot of fear," Mr. Pettit said.

MCI admitted its tactic borrows a bit from the series of TV spots featuring Nestle Beverage Co.'s Taster's Choice couple, created by McCann-Erickson Worldwide-and other series for Eveready Battery Co.'s Energizer (Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.) last year and Unilever's Ragu (Waring & LaRosa, New York) in 1988. But Mr. Pettit said MCI's goal was to create true-life, enthralling drama.

MCI's shift to soap opera from surrealism marks its first product-specific effort for networkMCI, launched last January with highly publicized spots starring Anna Paquin, the 11-year-old Oscar-winning star of "The Piano." In that surreal campaign, Anna provided a childlike interpretation of the future of digital communications and the information superhighway.

"We got people's attention with that campaign, and we got them thinking," Mr. Pettit said. "Now we're going to apply networkMCI to our Business Markets division, bringing the vision down to a visual, and to specific products and services we offer."

Those offerings include a wide range of global long-distance calling services, equipment networking, data transfer, the management of incoming and outgoing calls, and the integration of complex computer applications with telecommunications technology.

Unlike its first networkMCI campaign, "Gramercy Press" won't use well-known actors or actresses, Mr. Pettit said.

But will there be romance between Darlene and one of her co-workers by the final episode?

Mr. Pettit confided: "Let's just say that love isn't always returned."

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