AT&T Wireless shepherds strong idea into effective ad

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MARKETER: AT&T Wireless
AGENCY: FCB Worldwide, San Francisco
RATING: Three stars

Ever eat a gyro (pronounced, approximately, "hero," which would make it a genuine hero sandwich, except that gyro refers in this case to the spiral cut of the meat as it rotates on a spit)?

Did you ever? Well, we have, and there's this image we can't get out of our heads: a whole sheep being impaled on the spit and lathed into that perfectly uniform hunk of gyro meat. Sheep locked in. Goggles down. Switch on.

Bahh-haa-aaah. Veerum veeerumm rummrummrummm veerum. Bahh-aah. Veerrrumveer. Bah. Veerummmmmmmmmmmm.

The actual process, of course, is very different (albeit plenty disgusting in its own right. Key words: "inflation" and "recomposition"). But we're fixated on the reductionist imagery, because that's how we think.

Were we ourselves in advertising, we'd be inclined to carve, whittle and lathe ideas down to some sort of essence, to find the perfect single image--witty, poignant or otherwise--to stand for whatever benefit, or USP or brand meaning we were trying to communicate.

That's not the only way to do creative. It's not even necessarily the best way. But, as hostages of our own left brain, it's our way. And we certainly know it when we see it.

Enter AT&T Wireless from FCB Worldwide, San Francisco. The centerpiece of a quarter-billion-dollar campaign features 75 un-gyroed sheep, one mobile-phone-equipped shepherd and an international cast of hundreds in service of one reductionist idea: As the poet said, it's a small world after all.

"What if you could be far away and still be close to everyone and everything that's important to you?" a voice-over begins, as we look from above at a lush, hilltop pasture. On it: a flock of sheep and a shepherd with a wireless phone.

More voice-over, asking that you imagine "if you could talk to anyone in your family the instant you thought about them, or have a meeting with foreign business associates like you were in the same room."

Now, converging on the hilltop: a teen-age girl in a bathrobe and fluffy slippers, a limousine full of gray-haired suits, a biker astride a huge Harley hawg, a cowboy on horseback, a copterful of Japanese businessmen and a New York Yellow cab (Yeah, right. "Sorry, mister, I don't go to Crete.")

Now, we personally don't like people who use cell phones while droving, but never mind. Soon, hundreds of people are, yes, flocking to the shepherd.

"What if you could have the information you need come to you when you wanted it, and you had the power to make all pieces of your life come together more than you ever imagined?

"Welcome to the future from AT&T. Your world is getting smaller, and staying at the center of it just keeps getting easier. Wireless from AT&T. Your world. Close at hand."

Well, yes. So it appears. If you have your AT&T Wireless phone, you cannot be isolated. Even if you are on some remote Greek hilltop (or, in this case, actually, Basque hilltop) the world is just a Little Bo Peep li'l ol' beep beep beep away.

The symbolism is not unexpected. Nor is it particular ingenious. What it is, however, is clear, simple, communication--not a bad approach to selling AT&T's promise of clear, simple communication. It's a reductionist ad, but not reductio ad adsurdum. Rather, it's reductionism that adds meaning.

Furthermore, as the campaign expands to embrace Web hookups, etc., the shepherd will quickly be understood as the quintessential beneficiary of connectivity. And with no audience effort required to get the symbolism, AT&T will be free to augment simple reductionism with another unassailable advertising principle:

Product as gyro.

Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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