Troubled Telco Breaks Biggest Campaign Yet

Buffeted by the resignation of its CEO amid a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, for the past year Qwest Communications has run advertising designed to regain consumer confidence. But with new rivals adding competitive pressure, the still-struggling telco is shifting from building consumer trust to wooing new customers, launching what sources estimated is its largest campaign, a $25 million-plus effort from Interpublic Group’s Foote, Cone & Belding in New York.

The TV, print, radio, direct-response and interactive effort breaks Aug. 5. Although it continues the Denver-based client’s year-old employee “testimonial” approach, the work does not show Qwest workers speaking about their passion for service. This time, they talk about how services such as unlimited high-speed Internet access, voicemail, caller ID, text messaging, and local and long-distance calling suit their own telecommunications needs in business or at home.

In one spot, a traveling businessman watches his newborn awaken via a “babycam” mounted on the child’s crib and his Qwest high-speed Internet connection. He calls his wife, Ali, a Qwest employee, to tell her the baby is up. She appreciates the service, she says, because as a new mom, she wants to keep in touch with her husband no matter how far away he is.

In another ad, touting unlimited local wireless calls, a woman continuously uses her cell phone to call her dad, a Qwest employee, from her college across town. Another spot shows a man in a noisy city using unlimited long-distance service to call his brother in the country to hear its sounds.

The tagline, “Spirit of service,” is supplemented by a new themeline, “Unlimited possibilities.”

Last year’s effort, FCB’s first for the $55 million advertiser, featured members of Qwest’s 55,000-strong staff and sought to build trust in a company whose CEO, Joseph Nacchio, resigned in June 2002 amid an SEC investigation launched earlier that year. He was replaced by Dick Notebaert, who, with svp of corporate communications Joan Walker, has tried to improve Qwest’s image and employee morale by using staffers in its ads. Execs at Qwest, which operates in 14 Western states, were unavailable for comment.

Qwest’s financial morass and the SEC probe continue, and with cable companies such as Comcast (which bought AT&T Broadband last year) expanding into the sector, Qwest has to stay competitive, said Anne DeLorenzo, evp, worldwide account director for Qwest at FCB.

A Qwest rep said 550,000 of its 25 million customers use its DSL, or high-speed, Internet service. But “cable companies have begun offering bundled services too,” said Henry Goldberg, a senior analyst at In-Stat/MDR in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Advertising and awareness are key for telcos to retain customers, because some of these service plans are complicated.”

AT&T Broadband/Comcast spent $110 million on ads in 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. DiMassimo Brand Advertising in New York was assigned third-quarter advertising for Comcast’s digital-cable and high-speed Internet service [Adweek, June 20]. The client’s lead agency for the Northeast region remains Red Tettemer in Philadelphia.