Telcos take a twist

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Consumer long-distance telephone service, a staple of U.S. advertising for the last 15 years, is slipping down on the priority list for major telecommunications marketers.

Major players are shifting emphasis to the most profitable new areas of communications: wireless communications, broadband, data and networking services.

AT&T Corp., which has undergone a year of turnover and change, brought in longtime agency veteran Cathy Constable in the fall of 1999 to help steer its new brand initiatives and manage its various agencies.

"It's a very different world we operate in today," says Ms. Constable. "We're seeing a decline in the long-distance business as a whole because of substitution and the proliferation of choice. We're trying to switch the paradigm about long-distance so it's not all about price . . . instead we're trying to get people to think about it differently."


AT&T continues to advertise consumer long-distance and wireless services as high-quality products, but there is less emphasis on direct response TV and direct marketing than in the past.

To help retool its image, AT&T has launched a new corporate image campaign themed "Boundless," via New York agencies Y&R Advertising for TV and and FCB Worldwide for print.

Ms. Constable is playing a key role in helping shape AT&T's various campaigns, and her mission is to ensure consistency of the AT&T brand across its various lines of businesses.

On a somewhat parallel path, WorldCom is overhauling its corporate structure and leadership as it continues a big push in leading-edge telecommunications for businesses.

"The consumer unit, while not a growth unit, is a value unit because of the consistent revenue it delivers," says Terry Macko, senior VP-mass markets for MCI WorldCom.


For its broadband, networking and data services, the company now uses WorldCom as its brand. But Mr. Macko says the MCI name has "tremendous equity" and will continue in use on the consumer side.

Mr. Macko is helping shepherd a variety of WorldCom's brand marketing efforts. Among them is the company's "Generation d" campaign from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York. " `Generation d' symbolizes our evolution from a voice carrier to a data and Internet-centric service provider," says Mr. Macko.

SBC Communications can be expected to develop a $170 million to $250 million effort for U.S. wireless operations. The recently merged company is now No. 2 in wireless with 17 million customers -- 2 million more more than AT&T Wireless.

Verizon has become a powerful force in telecommunications, with merger partner Bell Atlantic's imprint still in evidence.

A new network TV campaign promoting Verizon as an all-around telecommunications company uses the voice-over of actor James Earl Jones, long associated with Bell Atlantic's advertising, for Verizon Wireless.

Janet Keeler, a former Bell Atlantic marketing executive, is now leading the company's brand efforts as senior VP-brand management and marketing services.

Verizon still uses the services of several agencies that previously served both Bell Atlantic and GTE, and despite the difficulty of establishing a brand from scratch, the company's leadership in the wireless category and its quasi-national reach has turned it into a brand to be reckoned with.