The Player: Sievert takes on challenge of translating AT&T's mLife

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You could call Michael Sievert the monkey man-he was part of the E-Trade Group marketing team when the online financial-services provider used a primate in its first Super Bowl ads in 1999. "It really created E-Trade as a household name that people liked and set us apart from the competitors. That's [had] a lasting impact," said Mr. Sievert, who now has the formidable task of creating a clear identify for AT&T Wireless as its new chief marketing officer.

In his new role, Mr. Sievert inherits a controversial and some say unintelligible ad campaign just two months out of the gate and one in which he had no role conceiving. Only two days before the Super Bowl XXXVI debut of the AT&T Wireless mLife campaign, insurance giant Met Life sought to block AT&T from using the mLife slogan, which it viewed as similar to its own. Met Life dropped the request and discussions between the two continue.

Of the mLife campaign, created by new AT&T Wireless agency WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, Mr. Sievert said, "When you think about what it is and will be, an articulation of the company's strategy and vision, we're at the very beginning here. I wasn't here for the first volley, but I'm a big fan of it." That goes for the agency selection, too. "[O&M] can handle the complexities of a business like AT&T Wireless."

One of the biggest challenges facing AT&T Wireless is to deliver on the promise of mLife via real products and services and to simplify a wireless category that continues to befuddle consumers. "We are putting mLife into the lexicon of the American public so it can be a platform that we can use it to sell products," Mr. Sievert said.

So what does he make of criticisms the campaign is too cerebral? Initially, "probably some people couldn't see the whole strategy and how it would unfold," but he believes the confusion was only over a teaser campaign leading up to the Super Bowl that didn't carry the AT&T Wireless brand.

Mr. Sievert cut his marketing teeth at Procter & Gamble Co. and IBM Corp., then spent three years at E-Trade, rising from VP-marketing to chief marketing office during a period in which the company experienced hypergrowth and the dot-com downturn. At P&G for six years, he did what he calls a "classic tour," from product to brand manager on brands such as Pepto-Bismol and Crest. At IBM, he learned product management from the ground up as program director-worldwide marketing for the commercial PC business. "It's an environment where you learn to anticipate demand," he said.

Now, one of Mr. Sievert's main goals is to lead customer relationship marketing at AT&T Wireless, the No. 3 wireless-services provider behind Verizon and Cingular. While he concedes the wireless industry is new to him, Mr. Sievert is a self-described technogeek who got his first computer, a clunky RadioShack number, in 1977. Today, he juggles no less than half a dozen wireless devices-all equipped, of course, with AT&T Wireless service.

Fast Facts

Name: Michael Sievert

Age: 32

Now: Exec VP-chief marketing officer, AT&T Wireless

Challenge: To bring mLife to life in consumers' minds with strong, hard-hitting executions that differentiate the brand.

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