AT&T Inc.CARROT TOP CAMPAIGN
IT'S ALL WITHIN YOUR REACH CAMPAIGN
PRIVACY MANAGER CAMPAIGN
175 E. Houston Street
San Antonio, Texas 78205-2233
Telephone: (210) 821-4105
Fax: (210) 821-4105
Web site: www.att.com
In 1982 the U.S. government mandated the breakup of the vast network of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) into smaller regional companies, the so-called Baby Bells. The regional companies handled local telephone calls, while AT&T continued to offer long-distance service. One area in which the new AT&T decisively lagged behind its competitors was in collect calls. The AT&T brand, 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls, had an uphill battle to overtake the category leader, or at least to gain market share, in long-distance collect calls, an area that was itself dwindling.
In order to address the problem, AT&T initiated a national campaign in 2001 to win the hearts and minds of young callers. The campaign was the brainchild of AT&T's longtime advertising agency, Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide of New York, but in October 2001 AT&T switched agencies, giving Young & Rubicam of New York all of its consumer advertising business. Young & Rubicam also inherited the latest ad campaign for 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls, which featured the brash young comic Carrot Top, the stage name of Scott Thompson. The integrated "Carrot Top" campaign consisted mainly of 15- and 30-second television spots, but it also included radio spots, print ads in newspapers and consumer magazines, outdoor signage, public relations work, ads shown in movie theaters, special events, and an online interactive component. The media expenditure for the campaign was in excess of $20 million.
By August 2003 the "Carrot Top" campaign had met or exceeded all of its goals, and in 2004 it received a Bronze EFFIE Award for its marketplace effectiveness. Not only did the brand become more recognizable to the target market, but market share and revenue increased over a period of more than two years.
The 1982 court ruling that broke up AT&T created numerous rivals in the telecommunications field. With the various regional Baby Bells providing local services, AT&T concentrated on long-distance services and ancillary businesses such as the sales of telephony hardware. At first this arrangement seemed to work well, but by the early twenty-first century the telecommunications landscape looked a lot different than it had 20 years earlier. In response, the leadership of AT&T decided to split the company into four units: AT&T Business, AT&T Wireless, AT&T Broadband, and AT&T Consumer. The consumer unit was responsible for most long-distance calling, including the 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls brand. "Carrot Top" was not the brand's first advertising campaign, nor was Carrot Top its first spokesperson; he followed the actor David Arquette. Foote, Cone & Belding ostensibly had chosen the edgy comedian because of his appeal to young people, and Young & Rubicam seconded the choice when it took over the account.
The majority of collect telephone calls were made by people between the ages of 16 and 24, and this was precisely the group for which Carrot Top held the highest appeal. He was well known as a comic on the college campus circuit and as someone who projected an anti-corporate image. This type of image was especially important in attracting people in the target age group, since in many cases the first instinct of such people was to question, or even reject out of hand, authority or corporate messages. Although collect calling was not something young people spent much time thinking about beforehand, Carrot Top was the type of celebrity with whom this audience could identify. A secondary target market consisted of people 25 to 34 years of age.
AT&T faced a variety of competition in the collect calling marketplace. The competition ranged from store-bought calling cards to the Baby Bells, Sprint, and, most important, MCI, whose own collect calling brand, 1-800-COLLECT, was the industry leader. A different type of competition altogether was coming from cellular phone services. As more and more people within both the primary and the secondary target markets were becoming cell phone users, cell phones were cutting into the overall collect calling market. In fact, from the beginning of 1999 through the end of 2002 the collect calling market shrank approximately 68 percent. Likewise, cell phones were deemed responsible for the decline in the number of public pay telephones, obvious points of usage for collect callers.
THE BREAKUP OF MA BELL
In 1974 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an antitrust suit against AT&T, seeking the breakup of the telecommunications giant popularly known as "Ma Bell." The suit did not come to trial until January 15, 1981, however. With Judge Harold Green presiding, the trial lasted until January 8, 1982, when both parties came to an agreement that called for the breakup of AT&T. The breakup took place on January 1, 1984. The regional phone companies, the "Baby Bells," took over local telephone service, while parent AT&T retained long-distance service. In effect, this was how things had stood when AT&T was formed in 1885. The nineteenth-century model, if that was what the DOJ was striving for, was turned on its head, however. Not only did AT&T have competition from other long-distance service providers, but through mergers some of the Baby Bells quickly became stronger than AT&T. In 2005 the one-time monopolistic corporation was taken over by SBC, a former Baby Bell.
Gaining ground on the enormous lead in market share enjoyed by MCI's 1-800-COLLECT was the priority of the "Carrot Top" campaign. MCI's 1-800-COLLECT advertising also used celebrity spokespeople, ranging from basketball superstar Michael Jordan to pop singer Britney Spears. In addition, as Young & Rubicam acknowledged in the EFFIE Awards Brief of Effectiveness, 1-800-COLLECT had become the generic name for the category, making it more or less the default number for collect callers, which presented a major obstacle to overcome. Two other obstacles acknowledged in the Brief of Effectiveness were the facts that there was no obvious benefit to callers to switch to 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls and that the brand was not part of a subscriber service. Thus, continual reinforcement was required to gain market share.
Young & Rubicam identified four objectives for the "Carrot Top" campaign, with the achievement of each of the first three objectives leading to the next one. The first of the goals was to instill recall of the 1-800 Call ATT number in the target audience. It was believed that this would lead to achieving the second goal, which was to increase interest in the brand. Increased interest would, it was believed, then lead to the third goal, an increase in market share. The final goal of the campaign was to equal or exceed planned revenue.
Young & Rubicam, which took over the 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls account from Foote, Cone & Belding in October 2001, retained Carrot Top in the advertising. The comedian had been AT&T's collect calling spokesperson since June 2001, and Foote, Cone & Belding deemed him able to deliver on the objectives of the campaign. The decision was not without controversy, however. Outside the target market Carrot Top was seen by some people as having an obnoxious persona. Media critics in particular seemed to enjoy reviling him, with at least one writer appearing to border on the libelous. In a Brandweek article by Todd Wasserman, Carol Eversen, general manager for 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls, responded to the Carrot Top criticism. "We've noticed it," she said. "He is noticed. [There are] no questions within the market we're targeting he's been a big success."
Carrot Top's success as a comedian was explained by his irreverent attitude, his sense of humor, and his in-your-face attitude. This was exactly what appealed to the target audience. Furthermore, within the spots he used catchy phrases that reinforced directly either the product or its benefits. These included turning the brand name into a rhythm—"C-A-L-L-A-T-T"—and by making it easy and cool to use the number—"Dial down the center." This phrase referred to the fact that the letters CALL ATT were positioned on the center numbers—2, 5 and 8—of the telephone keypad. Another pivotal phrase was "Free for you and cheap for them," bolstering the target market's argument for dialing 1-800 Call ATT, presumably to phone their parents.
Perhaps more than for most advertising campaigns, it was important that the "Carrot Top" spots be placed where they would have the highest visibility for the target market. The obvious choices, therefore, were music, sports, and sports entertainment, including professional-wrestling television programs. By 2003 "Carrot Top" spots were seen during telecasts of MTV and MTV2, VH1, Much Music, ESPN and ESPN2, and WWE professional wrestling. Not only did these shows attract a high percentage of the target market, but they also melded readily with Carrot Top's persona.
One interesting feature of the "Carrot Top" campaign evolved from a spot that was originally scheduled for theatrical release. Young & Rubicam hired the director Billy Jayne, who shot the spot with a Sony 24p high-definition camera. As Debra Kaufman reported in Millimeter, "[Young & Rubicam] producer Paisley McCaffery felt confident that the AT&T commercial could be shot 24p and then easily transferred back to film for big-screen theatrical exhibition. Eventually, the theatrical commercial evolved into a 14-spot national television campaign—all shot in 24p." Kaufman also quoted McCaffery on the switch to the less expensive digital high-definition: "Originally, when we inherited the account, it was a very simple commercial. Now we're telling bigger stories with multiple setups, and making it visually a lot more active and action-packed in the way we can tell the story. Working with the HD camera allows us to capture more when we're in an ad-lib situation, and it's affordable enough to allow us to use two cameras." The "Carrot Top" campaign became one of the earliest high-profile national campaigns to be shot with a Sony 24p high-definition camera.
In September 2003 Carrot Top himself alluded to the ad-lib situations in an interview with Gregory Solman published in Adweek: "We shoot what's approved, and we shoot what I come up with. Then they can choose." In the interview Carrot Top also discussed what Solman termed his "love/hate persona," something Young & Rubicam had played up in the spots: "As long as I'm part of the joke, I think it's great … I think it's great to make fun of myself."
That attitude and the evolving tone of the spots both came through when the 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls brand was connected with a NASCAR promotion in which Carrot Top was teamed up with popular race car driver Rusty Wallace. Running during April 2002, the promotion used radio and print media as well as television. As Wasserman described it in Brandweek, "At the end of the TV spot Wallace exits with denim miniskirted model Angie Everhart … and gives a shove to Carrot Top, who doubles over." The object of the promotion was to encourage people to use the 1-800 Call ATT number by running a contest in which 20 randomly chosen people were matched with drivers for a specific race. The winners were those contestants whose drivers finished among the top three. Winners received two tickets to any future NASCAR race, $300 in spending money, three days in a hotel, and airfare. The hook was that the more a person used the 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls service the better his or her chances were of being chosen.
In addition to the NASCAR promotion, other special events were used to reinforce the "Carrot Top" campaign message. These included advertising on MTV Spring Break, the MTV Video Music Awards, the National Basketball Association All-Star Game, the ESPN X Games, and WWE Wrestlemania. There also was an interactive website allied with the campaign.
The "Carrot Top" campaign for the 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls brand achieved all of its goals. The first goal was to increase the recall of the 1-800 Call ATT number by 7 points per year. Recall actually increased by slightly more than 28 points during the 18-month span from February 2002 to August 2003. The campaign also met its goal to increase interest in the brand by 5 points, and by August 2003, 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls had even exceeded rival 1-800 COLLECT. This allowed the brand to narrow the market share gap with 1-800 COLLECT from almost 16 points to 10 points by the end of 2002. Over a two-year period the AT&T brand increased its market share by 8 points, and by August 2003 revenue had exceeded the target by 12 percent. The "Carrot Top" campaign was also a success within the industry, winning a Bronze EFFIE Award in 2004.
While business was looking up for the 1-800 Call ATT for Collect Calls brand, the AT&T Consumer division as a whole did not fare as well. In the fourth quarter of 2003 AT&T had only 9 percent of all revenue in the telecommunications market, though it was still the long-distance leader, with a 28 percent share. In 2004, however, the company threw in the towel on its AT&T Consumer division to focus on business-to-business services. In a 2004 Brandweek article Wasserman speculated that the company's $50 million television and print business-to-business campaign "could be the swan song for the 119-year-old brand."
AT&T executives noted that approximately 80 percent of the company's revenues were linked to its business-to-business services, and most analysts felt that the decision to drop the consumer division was probably made to prepare the company for acquisition. Wasserman quoted Randy Ringer, a managing partner of the branding firm Verse Group in New York, who said, "I expect that the AT&T brand itself will disappear soon or will live on as a trademark that is licensed by others who will put it on phones, equipment and so on." This prediction of AT&T's future were correct, for in 2005 SBC acquired AT&T, and in the acquisition the AT&T name was retained. Ironically SBC had originally been Southwest Bell, one of the Baby Bells created by the breakup of AT&T in the 1980s.
"For the Record." Advertising Age, October 29, 2001.
Grimm, Matthew. "False Consciousness." Brandweek, September 3, 2001.
Kaufman, Debra. "Seeking HD Spots." Millimeter, March 1, 2003.
Norton, Justin M., and Andrew McMains. "AT&T Wireless Sends Feelers Out: Keeshan, Ex-Saatchi Exec, Is Overseeing $300-400 Mil. Search." Adweek, March 12, 2001.
"1-800 CALL ATT for Collect Calls: Carrot Top." EFFIE Awards Brief of Effectiveness, 2004.
Sheridan, Patricia. "Carrot Top." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11, 2002.
Solman, Gregory. "Carrot Top on the Spot." Adweek, September 8, 2003.
Wasserman, Todd. "Promotions: AT&T Redials Carrot Top, Hitches Ride with NASCAR." Brandweek, April 1, 2002.
――――――. "Strategy: AT&T: We're All About Business Now." Brandweek, August 9, 2004.
"Who/What/Wi-Fi." CFO: The Magazine for Senior Financial Executives, March, 2003.
In the 1990s the telecommunications giant AT&T found itself competing against new rivals. Telecommunications companies had expanded their products and services beyond long-distance telephone service and were offering cellular phones, Internet access, and cable television. Consumers were satisfied with the new low-priced choices available to them but were often overwhelmed by the number of companies entering the telecommunications marketplace. AT&T chose to address this increasing complexity by establishing an emotional connection with consumers in an advertising campaign tagged "It's All Within Your Reach."
Introduced in early 1997, "It's All Within Your Reach" did not address the nuts and bolts of AT&T's product offerings, nor did the campaign mention the pricing of its various services. Instead the TV spots that ran through 1998 depicted scenes in which communications technologies made customers' lives better in various ways. For instance, one spot showed a working mother who was able to field a conference call while entertaining her children at the beach. Another commercial showed a son visiting Vietnam in order to understand what his father experienced there as a soldier; during his trip the son made an emotional phone call to his father using an AT&T calling card. The campaign's budget was $53.3 million in its first year and $44.6 million in its second.
The campaign was well received by consumers and advertising-industry critics, and it won numerous awards, including a Gold EFFIE in 1998. Although AT&T continued to employ the campaign tagline in 1999 and 2000, it did virtually no corporate-image advertising in these years, and its brand image came under fire for its lack of focus and relevance.
The company name AT&T was at one time synonymous with long-distance phone service, but during the 1990s the telecommunications industry underwent dramatic changes. Competitors such as MCI and Sprint were steadily gaining market share at AT&T's expense. In the wake of deregulation, long-distance and local phone companies began dipping into each other's markets, offering the variety of services AT&T once had a unique hold on. New, smaller, and more aggressive competitors had also surfaced, offering "dial-around" services that gave consumers the ability to punch in an access code to circumvent their long-distance carrier. In addition, emerging technologies such as Internet access, electronic commerce, and wireless phones were changing the face of telecommunications and forcing AT&T to alter its business strategy.
In this fiercely competitive marketplace AT&T's growth had stalled, and its stock value was falling. The consumer division was losing customers more rapidly than the company had anticipated. In 1996 AT&T's consumer long-distance revenues grew only 1 percent, and its business-division revenues climbed just 5 percent. AT&T claimed 54 percent of the residential long-distance market in 1996 as opposed to 60 percent just one year earlier.
"The telecommunications market had steadily become a commodity category. It was all about price," stated Elizabeth McKee, vice president and account director at Young & Rubicam Advertising. In the early 1990s AT&T was swept up in the price wars with other long-distance providers. In 1997 it recognized that, as a leader and the company with the most to lose, it needed to step above the price fray. Although separate advertising campaigns were used to promote specific products and services, AT&T sought to generate broad emotional resonance around its brand with the "It's All Within Your Reach" campaign—and to do so in a way that portrayed it as attuned to the changing telecommunications landscape.
The intended audience for the brand campaign was, accordingly, "primary active networkers," which AT&T defined as people who were balancing family and work and who actively communicated by traditional phone, wireless phone, or the Internet. AT&T was not alone in targeting this core market. The entire telecommunications category had begun shifting its focus from long-distance callers to the active networker. Technological innovations were rapidly providing consumers with multiple ways to communicate. In order to stay competitive, telecommunications companies needed to provide a full spectrum of these products and services. Some unusual corporate alliances formed in 1997 to take advantage of synergistic technologies. For instance, the Internet giant America Online (AOL) created a joint offering with Tel-Save, a long-distance provider. According to Wendy Brown, vice president of electronic commerce at AOL, online users tended to have higher than average incomes and higher than average monthly phone bills. While the average consumer spent about $22 each month on long distance, the average online user spent about $40.
CONFUSING, COMPETITIVE, AND DOWNRIGHT NASTY
Telecommunications commercials historically performed poorly in consumer polls that measured campaign popularity and effectiveness. Of more than 90 spots reviewed by USA Today's Ad Track since 1995, telecommunications spots consistently ranked among the least popular and most disliked campaigns. Consumers complained that the commercials were often confusing, competitive, and mean-spirited.
Despite its declining long-distance market share, AT&T was well positioned to compete in this new marketplace in which companies sold a bundle of services not limited to long distance. A BusinessWeek article in 1996 noted that AT&T had all the right ingredients for success: an expansive cellular network, plans to offer local service in every state, a stake in pay-TV service, and an Internet strategy. In order to gain and keep the business of these active networkers, AT&T recognized that it would have to fulfill active networkers' needs in fresh ways. AT&T WorldNet president Dan Schulman told Advertising Age, "As we look into the future, we will start transitioning our customer care from 'fix it when it's broken' to 'help people with the new technology and enable them.'"
In previous years the long-distance market was AT&T's stronghold. But in the face of so many new competitors, it found itself losing ground. According to the Yankee Consulting Group, AT&T's market share for long-distance phone services was chipped from 62.7 percent in 1995 down to 60.6 percent in 1996.
The breadth of telecommunications services had expanded to such an extent that simply defining AT&T's competitors was difficult. Two years earlier the so-called "Big Three"—AT&T, MCI, and Sprint—had controlled 90 percent of the long-distance calls in the United States. Suddenly smaller, more flexible rivals such as Telco Communications, Excel Communications, and Qwest were nipping at that market share. AT&T, as the market leader, took the hardest blows. In July 1996 AT&T reported a scant 5 percent growth in long-distance call volume compared with 15 percent for MCI and 19 percent for Sprint. Local phone companies also presented a challenge to AT&T when they began providing long-distance service. A Price Waterhouse survey in 1997 showed that 40 percent of those consumers polled preferred to get their telecommunications service from a local phone company, while only 21 percent wanted it from a long-distance carrier. "Dial-around" companies also bit into AT&T's market share. These services offered callers the ability to dial into a discount service on a call-by-call basis, circumventing their long-distance carrier. Prepaid calling cards presented another assault on AT&T's core business. These cards allowed callers to pay in advance for calling time with smaller, alternative carriers.
The advertising campaigns produced by AT&T's major competitors continued to fan the flames of the price war. MCI promoted the value of its long-standing Friends & Family calling plan and 1-800-COLLECT service, and Sprint commercials featured actress Candice Bergen explaining the company's low-cost calling plans. Advertising for the smaller telecommunications companies focused almost exclusively on their inexpensive rates.
In the emerging telecommunications category of Internet services, AT&T was up against large competitors such as AOL and Microsoft as well as local Internet service providers. This market represented tremendous future potential; once the glitches in Internet-voice-communication technology were resolved, the Internet promised to be a new source of long-distance and international calling. In the expanding arena of wireless services, AT&T's strongest competition came from NexTel Communications and Sprint. In April 1997 Jeff Kagan, president of Kagan Telecom Associates, a telecommunications consultancy group, summed up the competitive environment in a USA Today article. "AT&T has got to move quickly," Kagan said. "A year from now, it will either be on top of the world or eating dust. It won't be the same. The world is moving too fast."
In 1997 AT&T worked with Young & Rubicam Advertising to develop a new marketing strategy. AT&T no longer wanted to compete solely on the basis of price. The new strategy would focus on building long-lasting relationships with customers, not simply selling specific services or products. "To move from being product-centered to being customer-focused is seismic, not insignificant," AT&T president John Walter told USA Today. "Every aspect of what we are doing is about the customer. That is a total reversal in our procedures and our strategic intent."
In order to heighten consumers' perceptions of AT&T as a brand, the commercials took what Burke Stinson, district manager of media relations at AT&T, called "an old-fashioned approach." He explained, "The approach was cinematic rather than commercial. The AT&T products on display are incidental to the central theme of people communicating." Each spot featured an emotional glimpse of life in the high-tech 1990s. Ted Bell, worldwide creative director at Young & Rubicam, told USA Today, "AT&T is not just a phone company. It's selling a lot of sophisticated high-tech services, and that can sometimes scare people. One of the best ways to offset the fear is to focus on the emotional needs that can be met by using AT&T's products."
The corporate branding account helmed by Young & Rubicam—one among numerous AT&T advertising assignments—was allotted $53.3 million of AT&T's nearly $1 billion total marketing budget in 1997. That year's spots included "Teen Date," in which a teenage girl came home from a date and continued her budding flirtations with the boy online. Another spot, "Beaches," depicted a working mother whose young daughters convinced her to play hooky from work and take them to the beach, where she was able to take an important conference call using her cellular phone. In a spot titled "Rocket Man" a husband traveling on business faxed his wife from the airplane, asking her to be on the porch to take his call that night. Each of the commercials featured classic pop or country songs that appealed to baby boomers' nostalgia. National print ads used the same tagline and similar imagery.
The same spots continued to run in 1998 and were supplemented by new ones, including a Super Bowl commercial that showed teenagers gossiping—via fax, E-mail, pager, and other new technologies—about a romance that was developing among their ranks. The most striking of the 1998 spots, however, had actually been filmed and slated to run in the campaign's first year. Set to the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song "Long Time Gone," the commercial recounted a young soldier's trip to contemporary Vietnam, where his father had fought a generation earlier. The journey's emotional resonance reached its dramatic peak when the son, using an AT&T calling card, phoned his father in America to tell him where he was. AT&T executives, fearful of offending people still sensitive to the unresolved issues surrounding the Vietnam War, had withheld their approval to run the spot for nearly a year before yielding to the pleas of Crosby, Stills, and Nash's David Crosby and Young & Rubicam's chairman and chief executive Edward H. Vick (a highly decorated Vietnam veteran), both of whom felt passionate about the spot. The budget for the campaign's second year was $44.6 million.
In a field of telecommunications commercials that virtually shouted about low prices, AT&T's commercials were a welcome change to many television viewers. In recent years telecommunications advertising had become something that consumers endured rather than enjoyed. The AT&T campaign proved to be an exception. In fact, advertising critic Dottie Enrico of USA Today reported that "AT&T's latest corporate ad campaign has achieved the near-impossible in the telecommunications industry." She explained that almost one-third of the consumers questioned in an Ad Track poll conducted by the newspaper said that they liked the AT&T "All Within Your Reach" campaign. The ads were especially popular with women—41 percent of women and 19 percent of men said they liked the ads very much—and with consumers in the 18 to 24 age bracket—almost 40 percent said the campaign was effective, versus 24 percent of those polled in the 30 to 39 age range.
Advertising aficionados found plenty to like about the commercials, too. The campaign won a Gold EFFIE Award for its effectiveness in the category of corporate reputation, image, and identity. "Teen Date" was singled out by Adweek as one of the 50 best spots of the year. "Beaches" was a finalist for an International ANDY Award. In the American Advertising Awards (ADDYs) national competition, AT&T received an ADDY for the "Beaches," "Rocket Man," and "Teen Date" trio and also received citations for two individual commercials. At the District 2 ADDY Awards, AT&T took home three awards. A spot called "Father and Son" was a finalist in the prestigious One Show. At the New York Festival's International Television Advertising Competition, the campaign won Best of Show and Best Campaign for Telecommunications. At the same festival AT&T took home a silver for print executions of the campaign.
Despite these successes, 1999 saw AT&T virtually abandon the branding strategy introduced with "It's All Within Your Reach." The company's corporate-image advertising expenditures were slashed, accounting for a mere $8.9 million of its overall marketing budget that year. Although the "It's All Within Your Reach" tagline remained in place through 2000, AT&T focused its marketing resources on individual business segments as it continued searching for ways to update its overall brand. The most prominent AT&T campaigns in these years included one in which the actor Paul Reiser touted the company's long-distance rates and one in which the actor David Arquette pitched the dial-around service 1-800-CALL-ATT. A critical May 2000 report issued by the Boston market-research firm Yankee Group, titled "AT&T in the Brave New World of the Internet: A Brand Out of Time," suggested that AT&T had failed to create a consistent brand image and risked becoming irrelevant in the Internet age.
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NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1999 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, Ameritech became AT&T Inc. The essay continues to refer to Ameritech, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
The first campaign for Ameritech from its new advertising agency, Ammirati Lintas Puris of New York, was launched on October 6, 1997, in an attempt to move customers from simply recognizing the brand to preferring it over other telecommunications companies. The following year's campaign took an even more aggressive stance, with the goal of creating "active preference" in consumers—in other words, that they not only prefer the Ameritech brand but actually switch to it from other brands or expand their existing Ameritech services.
The company provided firepower for such an ambitious goal. In an article by Sally Beatty in the Wall Street Journal, Richard Notebaert, CEO of Ameritech, was quoted as saying, "We have never had a product test this good." He was referring to the Privacy Manager system, a service that worked in conjunction with Caller ID, whereby Ameritech intercepted calls from unidentified callers and requested that they identify themselves. In test runs 7 out of 10 calls did not make it through this first screening process and ring through to the customers, and as with collect calls, those that did offered customers the option of accepting or rejecting the calls depending on the callers' recorded identification of themselves. With the rise in unsolicited telemarketing calls flooding into homes, Privacy Manager "satisfied a need that consumers have been pleading to have resolved," said Notebaert.
The 1997 campaign personalized Ameritech by presenting a number of its employees as profiled by their own relatives—a wife, a nephew, and a father—who discussed the Ameritech workers' commitment to providing outstanding service to customers. The 1998 campaign further personalized Ameritech's services by presenting vignettes of inviolable family moments, such as reading a story to the kids at bedtime and shampooing their hair at bath time. Beneath these serene scenes Ammirati superimposed text about the Privacy Manager: "Would you interrupt this moment for an aluminum siding deal? Introducing Privacy Manager, a new service from Ameritech. It stops unwanted, unidentified calls before your phone even rings. Interested? For availability in your area, call 1-800-PRIVACY." The understated simplicity of the spots won critical praise, and the launch of the Privacy Manager system was a business success.
In July 1997 Ameritech awarded the creative portion of its $100 million advertising account to Ammirati Puris Lintas, which beat out contender BBDO of New York, to end a four-month account review. The move consolidated Ameritech's corporate, small business, and residential advertising, which had been split between Fallon McElligott of Minneapolis, DDB Needham of Chicago, and Leo Burnett of Chicago. According to Joan Walker, Ameritech's senior vice president of corporate communications, as cited in an Adweek article by Alison Fahey, Ammirati won the account on the strength of its "strategic and creative insights." Ammirati creative director Tom Nelson explained, "Everybody came together and the creative department came through. Usually, we have great strategy and [fine tune] the creative later. This time it was a total lock." In order to service the account, Ammirati established an office in Chicago, where Ameritech was headquartered.
Ammirati revamped Ameritech's existing tag line—dating back to 1993 and revised in 1995 to become "Your Link to Better Communication"—changing it to read "In a World of Technology, People Make the Difference." The 1997 advertising campaign focused on three Ameritech people: repairman Ted, customer service representative Angela, and emergency relief worker Jack. But instead of portraying them telling their own stories, Ammirati shifted the focus to family members speaking about their dedication. This displacement maintained the humility of the workers while contributing to the atmosphere of the campaign, which sought to highlight Ameritech as a company that fostered lasting familial relationships with its customers.
According to Sean Horgan, writing in the Indianapolis Star, the strategy arose from in-depth research suggesting that "consumers always expect technological expertise and competitive prices, but make their final decisions based on which company is the most attentive to their needs." Ameritech thus sought to present itself as user-friendly and responsive to customers' needs. Lest these claims ring false, the company backed up its statements by spending as much as $1 billion over three years on substantive changes that included consolidated billing, employee and customer service training, and expanded products and services for small businesses. Above all, Ameritech sought to present its employees as attentive to the paramount importance of the telephone in modern life. "When you're doing telecommunications, you're doing something that makes a difference to the customer. The phone can be a lifeline. That makes our employees feel very important," said Karen Sheriff, Ameritech's director of corporate marketing and branding, in an Advertising Age article by Beth Snyder.
By the time Ameritech hired Ammirati, the telecommunications corporation had achieved its goal of capturing consumer awareness, increasing brand recognition in its region from 8 percent in 1994 to 95 percent in 1997, or near complete saturation. Ameritech's brand message thus had to become more sophisticated, moving consumers from merely recognizing the brand to preferring it over competitors. "People are looking beyond technology for people who can help them," said Ameritech's Walker in an Adweek article by Trevor Jensen. Hence the "people-centered" campaign of 1997.
Ameritech did not, however, abandon technological innovation as a means of appealing to consumers and of distinguishing itself from competitors. At the time the hot telecommunications technology was Caller ID, which displayed the name and telephone number of the incoming caller. As of September 1997, 19 percent of households in the United States had Caller ID, whereas a year later some 31 percent of the country's households were using it. The Caller ID feature was not exclusive to Ameritech, however, and so the technology did not offer a clear point of distinction between Ameritech and the competition. Ameritech shrewdly extended the Caller ID concept into a more proactive system, gaining exclusivity with Privacy Manager. Ameritech applied for two patents to maintain the exclusivity and, in fact, intended to license the service to other telecommunications companies.
Because the best means for growth for each company would be to carve into the other's regional strongholds, Bell Atlantic, which had merged with Nynex Corp., represented Ameritech's major competitor. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Bell Atlantic spent $160 million on advertising in 1996, compared to Ameritech's $73 million. Both companies launched new advertising campaigns in 1997. Whereas Ameritech's campaign leveraged family values and used fairly traditional techniques, Bell Atlantic attempted a more innovative strategy by riding the popular wave of animated advertising. Bell Atlantic did not abandon the past, however, as it retained the deep, resonating sound of James Earl Jones for its voice-overs. In addition, it used characters from Maurice Sendak's popular children's book Where the Wild Things Are, the first time Sendak had licensed the characters since his creation of them in 1963.
Bell Atlantic's ad agency—the Lord Group of New York—applied current advertising strategies to give its campaign a fully contemporary feel. The campaign commenced with unidentified teaser ads, a contemporary advertising technique for creating interest in a campaign by capturing consumers' attention and then further peaking their interest by leaving the identity of the advertiser a mystery. The teaser campaign started with outdoor advertising, including the 300-foot billboard adjacent to Manhattan's Grand Central Station, a hub of commuter traffic and hence a highly visible site. Fifteen-second commercials, which began running on October 13, 1997, followed up on the outdoor effort by depicting the approaching footfalls of a Sendak cartoon monster, who burst through a white television screen containing the message "Wild things are happening." The monster then pulled down a new screen containing the Bell Atlantic logo, like a history teacher pulling down a political map.
Two weeks later, on October 27, 1997, 30- and 60-second spots broke, accompanied by magazine and newspaper spreads, fully unveiling the campaign by extending the tag line to read, "Wild things are happening. Bell Atlantic. We'll see you there." The ads supported the theme by portraying the Sendak monsters guiding children through mazelike jungles. Snyder pointed out in her Advertising Age article that, according to Ray Smith, Bell Atlantic's CEO, the campaign, which continued into 1998, was intended to "establish Bell Atlantic as the friendly, gentle giant leading customers through the communications jungle."
AMERITECH IRONS OUT THE IRONY
Numerous commentators pointed out the irony of Ameritech offering its Privacy Manager system to residential customers to block out unsolicited telemarketing calls from even ringing into the home. After all, Ameritech's business included an arm devoted to telemarketing. Bob Garfield, the most acerbic of critics, commented in his Advertising Age review that "Ameritech protecting you from telemarketers is like R.J. Reynolds selling nicotine gum." Commentators who picked up on this irony were quick to add, however, that Ameritech's potential conflict of interest did not negate the benefits of the Privacy Manager system for consumers. Ameritech responded that it was simply answering consumer needs. "We have a variety of customers, some of whom have asked us for an intelligent way to manage calls into their home," said Ameritech representative Dave Onak in a 1998 Adweek article. "So we really see no irony in this." Furthermore, Ameritech maintained that "outbound" telemarketing, or calls into the home, represented a mere fraction of its overall business.
Ammirati hired veteran director Bob Giraldi of bicoastal Giraldi Suarez Productions—known for what Advertising Age critic Bob Garfield called "bombastic '80s-era music videos"—to direct a series of five spots that introduced consumers to the Privacy Manager system. Giraldi responded with commercials that went counter to his stereotype, employing understatement instead of pushing the product with a hard sell. Giraldi easily could have resorted to presenting the problem, probably to great comic or shocking effect, by depicting the most heinous of privacy invasions by telemarketers. Instead, Giraldi and the Ammirati team—which included creative directors Jon Moore and Tim Kane, art director Sharon Dershin, copywriter Jody Finver, and producer Mary Ann Marino—chose to focus on the solution, depicting the kinds of familial and intimate scenes that would not be interrupted by unwanted telemarketing calls in those households that employed Privacy Manager.
"Rubber Ducky," one of the most memorable and effective of the spots, portrayed a father shampooing his son, who sat in a bathtub singing his ABCs. Giraldi positioned the camera to view the scene from the next room, with the bathroom door framing the shot, as if to respect the sacred space of this communal moment between father and son. Similarly, in the spot entitled "Snooze," he angled the camera from the foot of the bed so that the audience focused on the father's feet sandwiched between the two sets of his daughters' feet. Even the book, which the father held open to their nighttime story, hid their faces, maintaining privacy. No voice-over interrupted the scenes. Instead, information about Privacy Manager scrolled unobtrusively across the bottom of the screen, further supporting the sense of respect for personal space.
The advertisers were so confident of the desirability of the Privacy Manager system that they limited their sales pitch to one word: "Interested?" "Hell yes, I'm interested," Garfield responded in his review of the ads. Ameritech had succeeded in tapping into a nearly universal revulsion to telemarketers. "People don't like telemarketers," explained Fred Voit, consumer communications analyst with the Boston-based market research firm Yankee Group. While Voit stopped short of predicting the demise of telemarketing, as not all consumers annoyed by telemarketers would pay the extra monthly charges for Privacy Manager on top of the charges for the necessary Caller ID, he did, nevertheless, expect there to be a demand for the service.
Garfield, the tough ad critic for Advertising Age, gave the Ameritech Privacy Manager campaign a rating of 3 1/2 out of a possible 4 stars. He praised the marketing technique behind the five commercials in the campaign, which "dramatize the product benefits magnificently." He complimented director Giraldi for "turn[ing] out cinematic vignettes of surpassing tenderness." Describing the atmosphere of the spots, Garfield explained that the "mood, the moments are sublime." The Advertising Women of New York joined Garfield in praising the campaign by giving Giraldi a 1999 Addy Award in the category of best direction for his work on the campaign.
It was interesting that even the contingent that stood to lose the most from the innovation applauded it. The American Telemarketing Association released a press statement maintaining that the organization had "always supported consumer choice in receiving information on goods and services over the phone." The advent of the Privacy Manager sent the message to telemarketers that they needed to modify their strategies, since households were taking measures to protect themselves from existing telemarketing techniques. "I truly believe we're at the saturation level," commented telemarketing consultant Rudy Oetting of Oetting & Co. of New York. He saw the potential benefit of the Privacy Manager system to the telemarketing field in forcing it to improve techniques of targeting and reaching consumers who were truly interested in the services or products offered. Services such as Privacy Manager "will cause marketers who use the telephone channel to become more selective and creative in their approach so that people who do receive calls will be interested in what they're being called about," stated Oetting in Beatty's Wall Street Journal article.
Beatty, Sally. "Ameritech's New Phone Service Aims to Keep Telemarketers at Bay." Wall Street Journal, September 23, 1998.
Fahey, Alison. "Ammirati Wins Ameritech's $100 Mil. Consolidated Account." Adweek, July 21, 1997.
Garfield, Bob. "Ameritech Connects with Its Privacy Pitch." Advertising Age, October 12, 1998.
Horgan, Sean. "Ameritech Launches a New Ad Campaign." Indianapolis Star, October 7, 1997.
Snyder, Beth. "Bell Atlantic, Ameritech Follow Different Ad Paths: Ameritech Tries Traditional, Bell Atlantic Going a Little Wild." Advertising Age, October 13, 1997.
William D. Baue