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The long-distance phone wars are firing up again this week.

MCI Communications Corp. was expected to break Sept. 7 a campaign introducing Sunday calling for 5¢ per minute. Today, Sprint Corp. will kick off a new flat-rate collect-calling product-directly attacking MCI's 1-800-COLLECT-with a multimillion-dollar campaign from J. Walter Thompson USA, San Francisco.

AT&T Corp. remained silent, but past behavior would point to swift retaliation by the telephone market leader. The Big 3, especially AT&T and MCI, are known for going tit-for-tat when it comes to lowering per-minute prices and offering package deals.

MCI was expected to hit the market with a barrage of TV and radio spots from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, said an executive with knowledge of the plans; MCI declined to comment.

Its Sunday deal comes on the heels of Sprint's free on Mondays calling offer introduced last week (AA, Sept. 5). Sprint's Monday Nights Free & Clear offer is tied into the National Football League and is good from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., with a $50 monthly limit.

MCI last week was running teaser spots on the 5¢ Sundays. The purposely vague spots pictured reunions and family scenes with a simple "Find out on Sunday" tag.

Sprint's new 1-800-ONE-DIME launch begins with two edgy, 30 second commercials that show family and friends doing interventions on 1-800-COLLECT abusers.

In one, a family locks their son into a room and confronts the young man in a tearful parody of real intervention. The second commercial features two older teens jumping out of a car to corner their brother at a pay phone on a dark street.

In addition to TV, Sprint will break radio advertising this week, followed by print ads, banner ads on Internet Web sites and, after the initial push, special local promotions in college markets.


The target audience for 1-800-ONE-DIME is 18-to-24-year-olds like the ones pictured in the commercials. Young people in that age group are the biggest users of collect phone calling.

1-800-ONE-DIME opens a new door in long distance. Until now, there has not been a flat rate price for collect calls. MCI's 1-800-COLLECT and AT&T's 1-800-CALL-ATT have per-minute rates that vary widely. Building on the brand strength of Sprint's "dime" campaigns that began with Candice Bergen spots, Sprint plans to charge 10cents per minute for collect calls made from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays and on weekends from midnight Friday to midnight Sunday; a flat rate of 25 cents per minute would apply the rest of the time.

All those calls have a $1.59 set-up charge.

"This is changing the paradigm of that market. We really think this sets a new standard," said Tom Kessler, assistant VP for marketing at Sprint.

Sprint was the first to debut flat rate pricing for regular long-distance calls

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