RCN claims superiority in Lowe's $35 mil effort

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Amid the welter of bundled broadband service offerings from Verizon Communications, AT&T Corp. and the newly monikered Cingular Wireless, RCN Corp. is boldly touting the superiority of its fiber optic network in its latest campaign.

The $35 million effort is from Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, New York -- former agency for RCN rival Ameritech Corp., owned by SBC Communications. The spots carry the tagline "Forget broadband. This is the Megaband fiber optic network from RCN."

Spots playing up the company's bundled telephone, cable and Internet services are being introduced in RCN's markets as the company gains penetration. RCN, a $276 million company, offers the communications package in Boston, Chicago, New York, Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington. Next year, it will enter Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle.

"The advertising talks about how much better our network is," said Kim Ketchell, VP-marketing at RCN. The campaign is aimed at extending the "revolution" metaphor used in the company's previous campaign from Angotti, Thomas, Hedge, New York, that depicted the fall of old-line Communist leaders to signal a new telecom regime.

In the first spot, an over-caffeinated urbanite paces the street of a sleepy suburb as he extols the virtues of Megaband. "It's a live wire of content," he shouts and adds, "Wake up and smell the new reality."

"We're still this revolutionary telecom company, but the thing that differentiates us from our competitors is our Megaband network," Ms. Ketchell added. "It's well beyond any broadband network that exists. It has excess capacity and it's a true bundled network."

FIRST FROM LOWE

The campaign is the first from Lowe Lintas since the agency was tapped for the account in late March. HN Media & Marketing, New York, handles media buying.

Ms. Ketchell said RCN plans to add long-distance service in 2001. Its ResiLink package of local, cable and high-speed Internet access, offered in all markets it serves except some areas in Manhattan, represents its strongest source of revenue.

But despite its all-in-one claims, cable is still RCN's key sales driver, analysts said. The company competes against myriad local providers for services.

"It's difficult to categorize them," said Joseph Galzerano, executive director of high-yield research for CIBC World Markets, who said the company falls somewhere between telco and cable.

In many cases, broadband pro-viders are trying to create demand for the bundled services before they can deliver on them, often to help them gain quicker market approvals. The telco industry grew 9% to $269 billion, according to a September Federal Communications Commission survey of providers.

"It's something we'll all be watching because when RCN came on the scene a couple of years ago, cable providers hadn't updated their systems," said Mr. Galzerano. "Now because RCN is competing, the incumbents are building networks."

`SOME SUCCESS'

In the Chicago market, for example, Ameritech has come under fire for its service and capacity problems. What isn't clear is whether RCN will avoid similar difficulties.

"They've had some success in Massachusetts, but in other places sometimes it doesn't work as well," said Mr. Galzerano, adding that execution and service will be key in spreading word-of-mouth buzz. "If RCN offers one bill and great service and if everything works it will be fantastic," he said. "But that's not easy."

Regarding competitors such as Verizon, AT&T and others that have also been touting bundled services all on one bill, Ms. Ketchell said: "At the end of the day, they're still running on copper wires."

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