Viewers of the 90-second introductory spot were drawn into a behind-the-scenes story of a small publishing company called Gramercy Press and its employees' struggles to enter the information superhighway.
The marketing mind behind "Gramercy Press" is self-described "non-techie" John Donoghue, 29, VP-marketing, MCI Business Markets.
"Most of the advertising out there for computer software was really dull," says Mr. Donoghue. "I thought it would be much more compelling if we showed how real people interact with technology, including getting past fears and obstacles."
After the first of the 12 spots aired, millions of viewers tuned into the gradually unfolding series, which featured characters such as the old-fashioned employee conquering his fear of computers and Darlene the receptionist.
The series, created by Messner, Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, also successfully-and painlessly-promoted MCI's new $99 business software package called networkMCI Business.
Under Mr. Donoghue's direction, MCI also was the first major marketer to launch a campaign on the Internet. The effort allowed customers to interact with "Gramercy Press" by getting more information about the characters while adding their own literary contributions, poems and stories.
In doing so, Internet visitors were compelled to sample networkMCI Business features such as e-mail and online shopping through its marketplaceMCI and order the package. More than 3 million customers requested information about the service that also requires a monthly $50 fee.
"We provided intrigue, incentive to learn more about the story," says Mr. Donoghue, "and then we drew people directly into sampling the product."