Long-distance upstarts aim ads at category's Big 3

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Upstart long-distance phone companies Qwest Communications and Frontier Communications are taking aim at the Big 3--AT&T Corp., MCI Corp. and Sprint Corp.--with their first national ad campaigns.

In one approach in its more than $50 million campaign, Qwest tosses humorous barbs at the entrenched long-distance telephone companies, which together spend more than $1 billion annually on advertising. The campaign breaks today in Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Sacramento, San Francisco and St. Louis.

Qwest is also testing a second approach that touts its new fiber optic network. Both approaches use the tagline "Ride the light."

CONSUMER FRUSTRATION

Advertising, created by Omnicom Group's Focus Agency, Dallas, taps into the frustration of consumers who have been overmarketed to on long distance, said Mark Miller, Focus CEO.

"Our research gave us feedback that said the long-distance companies are making it harder for consumers to choose," he said. "Is 5¢ on Sundays better than 10¢ on weeknights?"

Stephen Jacobsen, Qwest senior VP-consumer markets, said both components of the campaign are based on Qwest's guarantee to always give consumers a price lower than that of any of the Big Three. He said consumer reaction to the two approaches will be monitored to determine which should be the primary focus going forward.

The humorous TV spots focus on Bob, an employee of a "big long-distance company." In one, Bob threatens to jump from a building. The once-concerned crowd turns ugly when Bob reveals his occupation. A second spot shows Bob in the hospital where a priest and a nurse both begin beating him when they find out who his employer is.

The campaign was conceived by Focus Chief Creative Officer Tom Moudry, best known for his work as creative director on the recent exploding mosquito commercial for E. McIlhenny Sons Corp.'s Tabasco sauce from DDB Needham Worldwide, Dallas.

ETHNIC ADS

Qwest also breaks today a multi-ethnic campaign from Muse Cordero Chen, Los Angeles, first airing in five cities in California and Texas. The commercials use the birth of a baby as a metaphor for the birth of the new Qwest network, and are being adapted for five ethnic groups--Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Filipino.

Frontier, meanwhile, is going after the long-distance companies' grip on small- to medium-size businesses with a multimillion-dollar effort. Radio breaks this week, with print and TV to follow in March. Mark Russell & Associates, Syracuse, N.Y., handles.

Copyright February 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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