Qwest ads bow with new image via consultancy

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Three months after a controversy over scuttled advertising and agency authority, Qwest Communications is on the air and preparing to launch its second round of TV creative.

The new ads, from Bright Sun, New York, promote the high-speed, fiber-optic nationwide network recently completed by Qwest. Visuals feature a slow-motion scene of a man out on a lake in a boat while a shooting star flies overhead; voice-over explains the large amount of information that can be sent "all in the time it takes for a shooting star to light the sky."

Two more executions are expected next month. All use the tagline "Ride the light." The media schedule includes network and cable.


The Bright Sun ads follow two completed TV campaigns that never made it on the air. That advertising, created by Focus Agency, Dallas, used satirical executions mocking big long-distance companies. One spot featured a suicidal long-distance employee being encouraged to jump off a building; the follow-up execution featured a priest and nurse beating up the same man in the hospital.

Both were slated for spot markets on Feb. 23, along with a third execution featuring Qwest's extensive fiber-optic network. A news report criticizing the ads appeared on that day.


Qwest officials at first said President-CEO Joseph Nacchio had reviewed the commercials over the preceding weekend and decided not to air them without specifying a reason. But Stephen Jacobsen, Qwest senior VP-consumer markets, said last week the commercials were actually scuttled because Qwest was in the process of buying another long-distance company, LCI International.

A multi-ethnic campaign from Muse Cordero Chen, Los Angeles, also was halted.

"We decided we didn't want to seed a brand position that might change," he said. "We made some tough decisions. I frankly think when the dust settles, [the industry] will see we made the right decision."

He denied the ads were pulled because of their controversial nature.


The TV spot upheaval seems indicative of what was happening behind the scenes at Qwest's two main agencies. Bright Sun, a self-described consulting company, handles brand stewardship and corporate advertising. Focus, a full-service offshoot of traditional agency DDB Needham Worldwide, handles the $50 million consumer account.

Peter Kim, founder and chairman of Bright Sun, said Focus only handles below-the-line and direct marketing efforts for Qwest. But Focus CEO Mark Miller said the assignment is broader than that.

"What we are told is that we handle all the consumer marketing. Our agreement is that we are the consumer marketing agency," Mr. Miller said.

Qwest hired Bright Sun more than a year ago through an existing relationship between Messrs. Kim and Nacchio. The two met when Mr. Kim was vice chairman-chief strategy officer at former AT&T Corp. agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, and Mr. Nacchio was president of the consumer division at AT&T. After both left those posts, they had a long conversation about Mr. Nacchio's emerging telecom company.

"We said, `Wouldn't it be great to get together and build a brand from scratch?' " Mr. Kim said. "It was the perfect opportunity for us as he was developing and deploying this network."


For now, the Focus TV work, which was paid for, is in limbo. Focus, GTE Corp.'s former lead agency, has a large telecom-experienced staff that it doesn't want to waste. In the meantime, Focus may be enticed to pitch other telecom business while waiting on the LCI acquisition.

"Everything is up in the air in two months. Everybody including Bright Sun, Focus [and agencies] LCI works with will be up for review. Once the merger goes through, everybody is expecting management to go through a review," said one executive close to Qwest.

LCI's lead agency is Ron Foth Advertising, Columbus, Ohio.

Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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