AT&T puts $250 mil bet on Net

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AT&T Wireless Services the week of May 22 begins to shepherd its Internet image with a $250 million advertising assault tagged "Your world. Close at hand."

The branding effort supports AT&T's new company formed as a tracking stock. The campaign kicks off May 22 with a commercial showing a shepherd and his flock in the Basque countryside bordering France and Spain.


In the first commercial, the shepherd stands on a hill and uses his phone to make a series of calls--which result in throngs of people rushing to the hill via taxi, helicopter, limousine, horseback and foot. One group of arrivals includes a Japanese delegation, which bows to the shepherd. The voice-over discusses how needed information will come "to you when you want it." The spots end with a visual of the world. "Welcome to the future. Wireless from AT&T."

Other spots within the effort will break later this spring, featuring the newly announced AT&T Digital PocketNet. The shepherd returns in those executions--with his flock on Wall Street, at a tennis club and in downtown Los Angeles.


The PocketNet is targeted at fast-paced consumers of all ages and in all walks of life. Subscribers buy one of two Internet phone models, at a cost of about $100, and then sign up for plans ranging from $20 to $150 per month. The phones, available at 10,000 electronics chains and via the AT&T Web site, provide for a digital voice service with access to more than 40 Web sites modified specifically for PocketNet--including, and E-Trade--as well as sites forecasting everything from weather to horoscopes. The basic plan also includes a personal Web page to be used as a personal portal site. The personal portal also can be accessed via PC.

For an extra $6.99 per month, customers can access e-mail and fax services. A premium plan, for an additional $14.99 per month, includes a calendar, list of personal contacts and to-do list, as well as access to any Web site.

FCB Worldwide, San Francisco, is the agency for AT&T Wireless Services. In addition to TV, the effort includes outdoor, radio and direct mail. Spots will run first locally in 65 markets on prime-time, sports and news programming, and transition to a national buy when the product is available nationwide. Media Edge, New York, is the media buying agency.

"The shepherd is a central character who represents all of us," said Geoff Thompson, chairman-CEO at FCB's San Francisco office and executive creative director, FCB Worldwide. He said the PocketNet campaign illustrates that "Metaphorically, you can be a lot of places doing a lot of things at once."

Mr. Thompson said the agency looked for an actor to play the role, but eventually tracked down an actual Basque shepherd, relocated to northern California, to play the part.

Last year, AT&T Wireless spent $293 million on advertising, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Previous efforts, also from FCB, were promotional-oriented and based on a "freedom" theme, introducing low-rate AT&T wireless phones as an alternative for traditional wired phones.


With 12 million customers, AT&T has become the No. 2 player in cellular phones behind Verizon, a combination of GTE, Bell Atlantic and AirTouch. Sprint is third with about 5 million customers. Overall, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association estimates there are currently 93 million U.S. wireless subscribers.

Competing in the wireless Internet space are Sprint, Nextel and Palm Pilot's Palm 7. "AT&T is throwing its hat into what has become a very important ring," said telecommunications industry analyst Paul Kagan.

The new campaign doesn't simply aim to reach the 1.3 billion consumers expected to have mobile Net services in 2004. It also may become the linchpin of AT&T Chairman C. Michael Armstrong's plan to make the sluggish "Ma Bell" an Internet leader.

AT&T's stock, which closed at $35.69 on May 19, has been hovering at lows not seen since September 1998, and a recent Yankee Group study found the telephone company giant needs to retool its brand for the Internet age. In addition to its Internet push, AT&T is looking to broadband to turn the company around.

Contributing: Tobi Elkin

Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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