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Celebrity Endorsement Deal Is Industry's Longest-Running

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose celebrity endorsement deal with T-Mobile is the wireless industry's longest running, was given a two-year contract extension by the telecom.
Photo: AP
Catherine Zeta-Jones will continue as T-mobile's celebrity spokeswoman.

The nation's No. 4 wireless carrier said Ms. Zeta-Jones will continue to appear in TV, radio and online advertising and on retail collateral. The Seattle-based telecom declined to specify the deal's value, or to be more specific on the terms other than to say it would last "multiple years." Details were never released on Ms. Zeta-Jones' first T-Mobile contract, but reports on its value at the time were as high as $16 million to $20 million. Some executives familiar with the business, however, believe it was in the range of $7 million to $8 million.

Mask of Zorro
Ms. Zeta-Jones, who is British and married to actor Michael Douglas, has starred in films including The Mask of Zorro, Entrapment, The Haunting and Traffic.

Ms. Zeta-Jones helped launch the T-Mobile brand in the U.S. in 2002 after Deutsche Telekom purchased VoiceStream and formed T-Mobile International. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis was VoiceStream's spokeswoman.

"Catherine has put a human face to the brand," offering consumers "reassurance," while other carriers have focused on coverage area, phone plans or features, said Jim Goodwin, vice president of Integrated Marketing, T-Mobile USA.

$400 million ad budget
T-Mobile has upped its advertising budget from $212 million in 2002 to $340 million in 2003 to $400 million in 2004, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Ms. Zeta-Jones appears in about a dozen ads a year. In many of the spots, a customer has a problem with cell phone service. Ms. Zeta-Jones appears and leads the consumer to a T-Mobile retailer where the solution is found. A call and e-mail to Ms. Zeta-Jones' agent was not returned by deadline.

"Our branding scores have gone up over time," said Mr. Goodwin, citing a study which found the company's unaided awareness jumped from 35% in the first quarter of 2003 to 55% for the first quarter of this year. Total awareness went from 72% to 94% over the same time period.

T-Mobile, with some 17 million subscribers, ranks a distant fourth behind the leaders in the field starting with Cingular Wireless and its 50 million subscribers.

No T-Mobile Zorro tie-in
Mr. Goodwin said T-Mobile will not participate in promotions for Ms. Zeta-Jones' upcoming Zorro sequel because "I want the consumers to believe in her as a person and not as an actress. Catherine is the star of our show," he said.

The company also garnered some notoriety earlier this year from another celebrity: Paris Hilton, who appeared in a spot for the marketer's Sidekick phone/organizer/camera. A hacker broke into Ms. Hilton's device and put its contents on the Web. T-Mobile was red-faced from the security breach and believes one of its employees inadvertently passed along security information. The security issues have been resolved, the company said. However, re-upping Ms. Hilton in T-Mobile work "is not in the cards," Mr. Goodwin said. Her Sidekick ads, in which she appeared with other celebrities, are no longer on air.

Roger Entner, vice president for wireless at research company Ovum, said unlike Ms. Hilton, Ms. Zeta-Jones adds a sophistication to T-Mobile, which lacks compelling fictional characters like Verizon Wireless' nerdy "test" man and Sprint's secret agent-type in a black trench coat. In fact, Mr. Entner said he expects the Sprint spokesman will be killed off following government approval of the pending Sprint/Nextel merger. His suggestion: a spot in which the Sprint guy is run down by Nascar drivers. Nextel is a major Nascar sponsor.

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