Calling AT&T

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The internet raises two fundamental issues when it comes to brand-building. One concerns the Web as a tool, a resource. How do marketers put the Web to work in getting their message, product and service across? The other concerns the Internet as a phenomenon, a way of life.

This latter concern in some ways is more significant, and elusive, than the first. A brand has to look, feel and sound relevant in this digital age -- or risk being dismissed by consumers as passe. Ask Ma Bell.

Consultant Yankee Group in a recent report concluded the AT&T brand "has become increasingly irrelevant." Rather than establish a unifying message about where it fits into cutting-edge digital offerings, AT&T Corp. presents comedian Paul Reiser pitching 7-cents-a-minute calling plans. Yankee Group offered three courses of action; the most extreme would scrap the AT&T brand in favor of a new identity.

Before resorting to drastic measures, however, AT&T should concentrate on breathing new life into the AT&T brand. In fact, its slowness to reposition the brand may have contributed to the departure last week of Stephen Graham, its VP-marketing communications worldwide. Why get hung up on 1-800-CALL-ATT spots with pay phones when you should be thinking broadband and wireless?

This summer, AT&T should close its $60 billion MediaOne merger and unveil a new corporate identity effort. If it heeds the Internet's call, Ma Bell will finally start looking wired rather than tired.

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