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L.A. Cellular this week introduces its wireless phones to regular folks.

In a $25 million campaign from new agency Deutsch, Marina del Rey, Calif., the phone company uses a tow truck driver, a grandmother and a frenetic husband to show how cell phones can come in handy in everyday situations.

The campaign's humorous b&w TV spots are shot as mock testimonials, with the characters explaining ordinary yet funny ways they used their cellular phones.


In one commercial, for instance, a pudgy man named Jerry talks about his recent visit to a "weight-loss retreat," where he loses his willpower. Using his wireless phone, he secretly calls for a pizza. When Jerry asks the delivery man for discretion, the reply is: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we go there all the time. We know the drill."

The spots are Deutsch's first effort for L.A. Cellular since winning the account in May. BBDO West, Los Angeles, handled previously.

L.A. Cellular wants to target customers who are just beginning to discover the convenience of wireless phones.

"What we think is important about this campaign is for the first time, at least in the southern California market, we're beginning to put a face on the service," said Greg Farrell, VP-marketing at L.A. Cellular.

He said the branding spots will air in rotation with promotional ads and spots using independent research about the quality of service.

Business users have typically been the target of wireless companies. However, phone companies, such as AT&T Corp., and other technology companies, such as Motorola, increasingly are using everyday situations, rather than technical talk and pricing, to connect with a mass audience.


"This is a category that's coming of age and this is the kind of advertising that's going to do it," said Eric Hirshberg, exec VP-creative director at Deutsch. "Now we have to start showing people how this is going to enrich their lives every day."

As part of its research for the campaign, Deutsch conducted an experiment: It gave cellular phones to people who had never used them before and pried them from the clutches of cell phone addicts.

The agency found that while people say they want a wireless phone for safety or business reasons, "the reasons people buy cellular phones tend not to be the reasons people love them," said Mr. Hirshberg.

At the end of the test, the new users were reluctant to give back their phones and longtime users cheated by using someone else's cell phone.


L.A. Cellular, jointly owned by AT&T Wireless and BellSouth Cellular Corp., faces stiff competition in the southern California market. The company hopes its real-people campaign will not only attract new users but lure away existing customers of other providers.

The L.A. market is unusual compared to other large markets because it has a lower wireless-phone penetration, Mr. Farrell said.

According to InfoCom, a division of NFO Worldwide, the Los Angeles/Long Beach market has a wireless phone penetration of 39%. The average wireless penetration of metropolitan areas with a population of 2 million or more is 49%.

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