Interpublic Agency Beat out Arnold for National Work

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Verizon Wireless, the nation's top wireless carrier, today named Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, New York, as its agency for an estimated $400 million national creative advertising account.

The other finalist in the review was

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Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston. WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York, was eliminated in a previous round. Pile & Co., Boston, conducted the review. The advertising media buying remains with Publicis Groupe's Zenith.

'Test Man'
With 39 million customers at the end of 2003, Bedminster, N.J.-based Verizon Wireless, owned jointly by Verizon Communications and Vodafone, has staked its reputation for quality on an ad campaign featuring the nerdy-looking "Test Man" character, who goes around asking "Can you hear me now?"

Test Man campaign was created by Bozell; the account shifted to Lowe, New York, in early 2003 after Interpublic merged the two shops.

The win was a victory for Interpublic following a 13-week review involving nine agencies. Verizon Wireless last year began challenging creative presented by Lowe, eventually asking Interpublic to offer work from other shops in its fold. Verizon Wireless in January declared that it was unsatisfied with Interpublic's efforts and was putting the account in review. McCann was the designated Interpublic agency, and was guaranteed a finalist spot in the pitch.

In a first-quarter report, Verizon said it added 1.4 million customers during the fourth quarter.

No 'crystal ball'
"We are very happy with Test Man," said Brenda Raney, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman. "The campaign has performed very well for us in terms of brand recognition and delivers a message of brand quality," she said, but added that "I don't have a crystal ball" as to how the campaign might evolve under McCann.

But in the fast-moving telecom business, some industry experts have become somewhat concerned about Test Man's future, especially as network quality becomes a given.

Independent telecommunications industry analyst Jeff Kagan said wireless service has become a commodity with little differentiation among carriers. "Verizon has done a great job, but it's time for great new messages," he said. While Test Man "will be warm and fuzzy for a while," he said, Verizon Wireless has "ridden Test Man as far as they can ride him." Mr. Kagan expects Test Man will become an "exclamation point" in advertising.

Cingular and AT&T Wireless
At the same time, competitors Cingular and AT&T Wireless will merge by the end of the year, pending approvals from the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission. A merged Cingular and AT&T Wireless would eclipse Verizon Wireless as the No. 1 carrier. Nevertheless, "Verizon is continuing to grow in leaps and bounds," Mr. Kagan said. If that continues, he said, "Verizon may overtake [Cingular] at some point," perhaps as soon as a year and half from now.

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