SBC adds long distance with $15 mil Texas push

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SBC Communications paints a not-so-pretty picture of long-distance phone companies as it launches its own Southwestern Bell Telephone long-distance service.

An estimated $15 million effort breaking today in Texas compares long-distance companies to plane flights that allow cigarette smoking, unappetizing school lunches and annoying brothers-in-law. One ad shows a young boy moving down a cafeteria line, his sectioned tray filled with lumps of bland-colored food, mystery meat and a slimy green dessert. "School cafeteria food. Do you miss it?" a voice-over asks. "You won't miss your long-distance company either."

The Texas launch of the advertising marks SBC's largest-ever single-state, single-product initiative in terms of media spending.

But while roster shop GSD&M, Austin, created the positioning and campaign, the ads may be short-lived. SBC recently shuffled its accounts, moving the long-distance work to fellow roster shop and Omnicom Group sibling shop Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. Interestingly, GSD&M won the long-distance launch in a creative shoot-out against Goodby earlier this year

An SBC spokesman said the company will stand by GSD&M's strategy of "you no longer need a long-distance company [since] Southwestern Bell can provide all the communication that a consumer needs--from local to long distance."

LOOKING TO EXPAND

No decision has been made if GSD&M's ads will run in other Southwestern Bell markets as the company gains long-distance approval, he said. SBC is trying to win that approval in 11 states.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission granted SBC approval to offer interstate long-distance service to its customers in Texas. The FCC's approval takes effect today.

Following this recent realignment, GSD&M will handle wireless and consumer information services such as 411 directory, Yellow Pages and online directory information. The agency will also continue to handle media buying for SBC, while Goodby takes on brand assignments and wired consumer service, including long distance.

SBC's new competitive ads come as it prepares for rivalry with the likes of AT&T Corp., MCI WorldCom and Sprint Corp. for consumers' business.

In addition to Southwestern Bell, SBC owns regional Bell operating companies Ameritech Corp., Pacific Bell, SNET and Sterling Commerce. SBC spent $241 million on advertising last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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