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AT&T Wireless drops ad agency

SAN FRANCISCO-AT&T Wireless Services Inc., in the early stages of a possible merger with Cingular Wireless L.L.C., is parting with its advertising agency, Omnicom Group’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, executives familiar with the situation said.

AT&T Wireless moved its estimated $125 million branding account to San Francisco-based Goodby Silverstein in July 2003 from WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather, New York, which will continue to work on a retail account. An executive said the business is expected to be consolidated at Omnicom’s BBDO Worldwide, which is Cingular’s agency.

Goodby Silverstein in October produced three heartfelt commercials for the wireless carrier. In one, a traveling salesman makes his way from hotel to airport only to find his flight has been canceled. He is seen talking with his little daughter at the airport, but she is really at home on the phone. In another a woman, stuck on a bus in traffic, is able to hear her son play the piano at a school recital because her husband holds up a cell phone during the performance.

In addition to tugging at the heartstrings, the Goodby campaign aimed at nostalgia, bringing back the famous AT&T tagline “Reach and touch someone,” shortening it to “Reach out.” The campaign succeeded Ogilvy’s “mLife” effort.

AT&T Wireless spent $799.1 million in measured media in 2003, up from $664.3 million in 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Ogilvy, which retained the bulk of the account, which includes retail, newspaper and business-to-business advertising, will continue working on the retail portion of the account with some focus on AT&T Wireless’ prepaid phone service, GoPhone, according to an executive familiar with the situation.

WPP’s Mediaedge:cia has AT&T Wireless’ media planning and buying account, while Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Newspaper Marketing Services handles newspaper buying.

The Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department are in various stages of reviewing Cingular’s proposed $41 billion acquisition of AT&T Wireless, which would make Cingular the largest wireless carrier in the United States, overtaking industry leader Verizon Wireless. Wall Street analysts, however, are reporting that AT&T Wireless is losing customers at a rapid rate, especially to Verizon.

Mark Siegel, an AT&T Wireless spokesman, said because the merged company will be branded under the Cingular name, “it certainly didn’t make sense to invest in a [AT&T Wireless] brand that will eventually go away.” He said the split with Goodby Silverstein had “nothing to do with the work, which was outstanding” and “created real traction.”

An Ogilvy spokeswoman referred calls to AT&T Wireless. A spokesman for BBDO referred calls to Cingular.

AT&T Communications, looking to expand its bundled offerings as its fixed-line business declines, said it plans to regain the AT&T Wireless name and begin reselling wireless services in bundled packages in an arrangement with another carrier, such as Sprint, which resells wireless service for Virgin Mobile.

Alice Z. Cuneo writes for Advertising Age, a sister publication to RCR Wireless News. Claire Atkinson contributed to this report.


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