AT&T Appears to Cut Short ‘mLife’ With Goodby Hire

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ arrival last week on the AT&T Wireless roster, which reunites the shop with a former client, likely spells the end of the “mLife” campaign.

“In an industry like this, you are always on the lookout for new ideas. The ‘mLife’ campaign has produced great results for us, but you always want to move on and ahead,” said client representative Mark Siegel. He would not comment specifically on the fate of “mLife.”

“We’re adding an agency that has a strong track record in doing brand work,” he added. “We love their ideas, and we’re looking forward to a terrific contribution from them.”

The pitch for the $120 million corporate branding account “was a real challenge to work on,” said Jeff Goodby, agency co-founder. “The category is incredibly competitive right now, with a lot of new names making headway. I feel this is a brand that has been around for centuries, and that has to be an asset.”

Industry observers noted that the Redmond, Wash.-based company spent an inordinate amount on Ogilvy & Mather’s “mLife” campaign, which was widely criticized for offering a generic message with a confusing name. Ogilvy won the business in July 2001, and broke its first work on the Super Bowl in 2002.

“After that big launch, everybody scratched their heads,” said one source.

AT&T Wireless spent $350 million supporting the “mLife” campaign in the U.S. last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, and $160 million from January to April this year.

Explained one source: “AT&T Wireless brought in a new marketing director well after ‘mLife’ was launched—it was not his campaign, now he doesn’t like it, and Goodby was his agency.”

That executive is Mike Sievert, who joined the client as chief marketing officer in March 2002 and worked with Goodby while at E*Trade.

Ogilvy focused on the human element of mobile technology with the tagline, “mLife is mobile life made better.” The agency tried to bridge the ethereal quality of “mLife” with work that more effectively explained what “mLife” is about, but its attempts have not been seen as particularly successful.

“The message of what this service offers is not clearly communicated,” said Chris Ambrosio, director in the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics in Boston. “They are trying to hit it on an emotional level and not doing it very effectively.”

For Goodby, the win comes just five months after the San Francisco shop lost the estimated $100 million SBC Communications account and parlays the agency’s nine years of experience in the category. Goodby was hired in 1994 by Pacific Bell, which was acquired by SBC in 1997.

“We’re really happy to be working in telecom again, and I think we’ve proven that we’re really good at it,” said Goodby.

The agency’s first work will launch this fall.

WPP Group’s Ogilvy, New York, will continue to work on retail newspaper and b-to-b advertising, as well as the client’s pay-as-you-go service, GoPhone.