ATLANTA-Pollak Levitt & Nel here broke the first of seven new television spots for mobile phone service provider Powertel last week, the largest TV package ever for both the client and the agency.
"Last year radio was our primary medium," said Mike Bashaw, the West Point, Ga.-based company's vice president of marketing. "This is a sign of our growth. We've been advertising primarily on an affordability message and we wanted to mix in some of our other core messages . . . without getting stale."
The humorous TV spots, mixing product branding with promotional elements, vary dramatically in look, theme and tone.
In the cartoonish "Family Dinner," splashy Sunday comics colors dominate the set design, as an overly expressive family talks by cell phone during dinner because Powertel's rates are so reasonable.
In the action short "Fugitives," two escaped criminals run at breakneck pace, seemingly from the law. They collapse, exhausted and gasping, inside a dilapidated barn. One convict pulls out a cellular telephone, then screams in dismay when a close-up of the unit's display indicates it is still charging roaming fees.
In the ersatz documentary "Bird Watchers," shot in stark sepia tones, eccentric ornithologists spy on Powertel users, dropping double entendres about "hearing their calls throughout the Southeast," and "their tiny, tiny bills."
"Eskimo" and "FBI Guys," emphasizing fixed out-of-state rates and a cell phone sale, broke the week of May 10. The remaining five spots roll out May 24 in 15 Southeastern markets in six states, on popular network and cable prime time programming like ER and Ally McBeal.
While Powertel would not release its media budget, Pollak account director Patti Siegel said it has been increased "by about 20 percent" for 1999. Bashaw said half of this year's budget is devoted to television. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Powertel spent $10.7 million in 1998. Bashaw called that figure "a little low."