MCI WorldCom says hello with $100 mil ad thrust

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MCI WorldCom not only bursts out of the box with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang on its side, but a multiyear marketing alliance with Time Warner.

The day after the Federal Communications Commission signed off on WorldCom's $40 billion purchase of MCI Communications Corp., the telecommunications behemoth hit the airwaves Sept. 15 with a TV campaign for MCI's ongoing Sundays promotion, one element of a new yearlong $100 million-plus media push.

Now a product of MCI WorldCom, the TV spots pair NBA superstar Michael Jordan--the WorldCom pitchman--with Bugs Bunny and Warner Bros.' stable of Looney Tunes characters.

THEN, BRANDING PUSH

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, created the campaign, as well as a separate branding push for MCI WorldCom that broke last weekend.

The initial TV spot in that effort employs imagery of the railroad joining the continental U.S.; it features the company's new logo.

Earle Palmer Brown, Bethesda, Md., was WorldCom's agency before the merger, and company executives said it isn't clear if EPB will continue to do work for the merged company.

Negotiations to license the Looney Tunes characters spurred the larger alliance with Time Warner.

The contract commits MCI WorldCom to make ad buys on Time Warner's TV networks, including the WB Network, CNN, TBS Superstation and Turner Network Television, and magazines including Entertainment Weekly, People and Time.

Other details will be hammered out in coming months, but MCI WorldCom has options to tie into Warner Bros.-produced films, music, TV programming and online properties.

`MIL-LOONEY-UM'

MCI WorldCom also could have a presence at Warner Bros. Studio Stores, and may tie in with "Mil-looney-um," a millennium-theme licensing and marketing effort for the Looney Tunes franchise.

The pact gives MCI WorldCom exclusivity in a few, unspecified categories.

Definitely protected is the company's use of Looney Tunes.

"We would not allow anyone [else] in the consumer long-distance business to use the Looney Tunes characters," said Jordan Sollitto, VP-worldwide promotions and branded foods, Warner Bros. Consumer Products.

For Warner Bros. Consumer Products, the deal represents the most sweeping marketing alliance it has yet struck with corporate America.

The entertainment and media company also has deals with Frito-Lay and General Motors Corp.

For MCI WorldCom, the merger and the deal with Time Warner effectively end a marketing alliance with News Corp., which used to have an equity stake in MCI.

"At this point, it is a relationship we are not actively pursuing," said Gretchen Gehrett, VP-advertising and communications for MCI WorldCom.

JORDAN SPONSORSHIPS

MCI WorldCom is the third advertiser to pair Mr. Jordan with the Looney Tunes characters, following Nike and McDonald's Corp. The concept was spun into the 1996 Warner Bros. film "Space Jam."

Messner Vetere, working with Warner Bros.' animation division, is creating at least 10 spots in the Jordan/Looney Tunes campaign. One appropriates a hit song from "Space Jam"--R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly"--but turns it into "I Believe I Can Call."

SUCCESSFUL COMBINATION

"Michael and the Looney Tunes characters are a very successful combination and enjoy a warm relationship, so we felt this relationship lent itself well to a message about staying in touch with the people closest to you," said Ms. Gehrett.

She said Mr. Jordan may also be used in MCI WorldCom's branding efforts.

MCI WorldCom and Warner Bros. executives wouldn't comment on the value of the pact or the media budget for the new campaigns, although it's said spending could top $100 million.

MCI spent $243 million in measured media this year through May and $455 million in 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Its spending dwarfs WorldCom's previous expenditures of $5 million through May and $7 million in 1997, per CMR.

Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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