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Bell Atlantic and Ameritech unveiled major marketing initiatives last week, with the two rivals taking polar-opposite approaches as they get ready to enter the long-distance phone wars.

While Ameritech's advertising is more in keeping with traditional, regional telecom imagery, Bell Atlantic appears to be trying to break away.

Neither company would disclose spending levels, but Bell Atlantic Corp. and Nynex Corp., its recent merger partner, spent $160 million on advertising last year and Ameritech Corp. spent $73 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.


Although again featuring voice-over by actor James Earl Jones, the new Bell Atlantic campaign-the first branding effort since the merger-licenses award-winning children's characters from Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." This is the first time Mr. Sendak has licensed his creations for advertising.

The ads, from Lord Group, New York, use the monster characters to show customers the way through the communications jungle.

Outdoor ads, including a 300-foot board in front of New York's Grand Central Station, went up last week. They're intended as teasers and don't carry the Bell Atlantic logo.

On Oct. 13, the outdoor ads will be branded and a 15-second TV commercial begins airing.

In the first TV spot, the theme line "Wild things are happening" appears on a white screen while the audio is of approaching heavy footfalls. One of the "Wild Things" monsters tears through the theme line screen and pulls down a screen showing the Bell Atlantic logo as if he were pulling down a map or window blind.


The full campaign kicks off Oct. 27, with spread ads in major newspapers and magazines plus 30- and 60-second spots. The longer spots show one of the monsters helping a child through the maze of the jungle. The expanded tag will read, "Wild things are happening. Bell Atlantic. We'll see you there."

Another Jones/Sendak execution is planned for December, with more to follow in 1998.

"The advertising will establish Bell Atlantic as the friendly, gentle giant leading customers through the communications jungle," said Bell Atlantic CEO Ray Smith.

Ameritech's campaign, from new agency Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, uses employee stories to emphasize the long-standing bond between the company and its customers.

The advertising is designed to move customers from brand recognition to brand preference, the company said. Ameritech's research shows that 95% of the people in their region recognize the brand; four years ago that number was only 8%.


"When you're doing telecommunications, you're doing something that makes a difference to the customer. The phone can be a lifeline. That makes our employees feel very important," said Karen Sheriff, director of corporate marketing and branding.

Three TV spots show relatives of employees talking about the dedication and commitment of their loved ones. One is a wife, another an uncle and the third a nephew of Ameritech workers.

Ameritech's multimedia campaign broke in the 21 key cities it services Oct. 6.M

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