After Bruising Ad Battle, AT&T Looks to Rebrand as Lifestyle Company

Telecom to Integrate All Communications Under 'Rethink Possible' Theme, Introduce Updated Logo

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NEW YORK ( -- AT&T is undertaking an ambitious rebranding effort under the banner "Rethink Possible" that includes a redesign that updates its trademark logo.

Esther Lee
Esther Lee
The new theme attempts to position AT&T as a lifestyle company and elevate it from the recent ad sniping with rival Verizon. "Rethink Possible" will inform all advertising from the country's fourth-largest spender going forward. "It's not going to be the old model that there's brand work, and then there's consumer work or enterprise work; it's all 'Rethink Possible,'" said Senior VP-Brand Marketing and Advertising Esther Lee. "All of our communications across all of these channels is 'Rethink Possible' and this integration of design."

The TV campaign from Omnicom Group's BBDO introduces the tagline during the broadcast of the Masters golf tournament, which begins today. Ms. Lee declined to provide specifics on creative, media mix or spending, but said the rolling launch is the beginning of an integrated campaign that includes print, outdoor, digital and "non-advertising marketing." AT&T spent $1.87 billion on measured media in 2009, according to Kantar Media.

AT&T standbys such as rollover-minutes spots might disappear if they don't fit under the new framework. A new design will also roll out from Omnicom sibling Interbrand that, among other things, trades in the $125 billion company's characteristic orange coloring on retail locations and packaging for more colors. The AT&T globe will also now appear alone without the copy "AT&T" beside it. Other agencies handling work include Publicis Group's Razorfish and design consultancy Frog Design.

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The goal is to move AT&T's brand perception among consumers from telecommunications company to innovation company. "There's so much innovation happening at the company that I think people don't know," said Ms. Lee. "We spend an average $18 billion to $19 billion a year on our network, our technology and our inventions in order to drive the future of how people are going to live on our network."

The brand launch follows reports that the iPhone will soon be available on Verizon. AT&T's iPhone exclusivity expires this year, after the carrier's been under fire for dropped calls on its data-stressed network. Aided by the iPhone, in 2009, AT&T netted 7.3 million wireless subscribers, the company's best-ever annual total.

This is the first major shift in AT&T messaging since Ms. Lee, a former global chief creative officer for Coca-Cola, took the lead on brand marketing, ad creative and media strategy last summer. Prior to AT&T, Ms. Lee was CEO-North America of global brands for Euro RSCG Worldwide. Even with that resume, Ms. Lee calls this move to recast AT&T as a lifestyle company in many ways the "most complex thing I've ever done."

"We set a high bar for ourselves," she said. "'Rethink Possible' is also how we'll have to approach our marketing."

Shift from Verizon ad wars
The new approach veers from the telecom ad wars that AT&T and No. 1 wireless carrier Verizon have waged over 3G coverage. Verizon started the fight with its "There's a map for that" ads that claimed AT&T's coverage is spotty and less expansive; AT&T responded with ads featuring Luke Wilson that refuted those claims, along with a lawsuit. One thing's for sure: "Rethink Possible" is a definitive attempt to change that defensive back and forth.

"It's dominated more our industry conversation than our consumer conversation," Ms. Lee said in response to the Verizon ad wars, adding that it's time to "get past the competitive conversation and talk about what's in it for the consumers."

Zooming out from AT&T voice services will mean shining a brighter light on new products and apps out of AT&T's emerging devices arm -- products that require AT&T data network to operate. AT&T seems to be focusing on creating a demand for the internet since with more usage, AT&T sells more wireless service. Ms. Lee points to the company's recent consumer cloud applications announced at the mobile conference CTIA that provide a way for customers to store addresses, photos and music on the internet to be accessible across devices. AT&T will also soon release a mini cell-tower to improve service in customer's homes.

AT&T's aim to be seen as an innovation company is reminiscent of General Electric's ad efforts in 2009. The conglomerate most often associated with light bulbs supported a major push to tout its improvements in smart- grid technology and health care. GE agencies for the work also included BBDO, as well as Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Barbarian Group.

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