T-Mobile's multimillion-dollar spokeswoman Catherine Zeta- Jones gets upstaged by a cartoon in Publicis in the West's new work for the telco. But it's no Mickey Mouse rendering: The cable TV and online effort features Japanese anime touting an all-in-one wireless device that works more like a personal digital assistant than a cell phone.
The effort, set to break this week, is for T-Mobile's color-screen Sidekick, which features Web browsing, e-mail, AOL instant messaging, phone and digital imaging capabilities. T-Mobile believes it is the first wireless carrier in the U.S. to use anime in ads, although a handful of other advertisers, including Wrigley, have employed the technique.
The campaign is the brainchild of Publicis interactive art director Lazaro Cangas. Working with Itsuro Kawasaki, director of the cult 1996 cyberpunk anime film Ghost in the Shell, making his American commercial-directing debut, and Production I.G. in Tokyo, the shop developed seven three-and-a-half minute Webisodes starring an action hero it created called Johnny Chase.
Chase is an ex-hacker who has been paid by the government never to touch a computer again. He is on the run from some "bad guys" and the feds, who are after him for violating their agreement. He uses his Sidekick to get himself and the people he cares about out of danger.
Two 30-second TV spots were pulled from the Webisodes. One has Chase eluding his pursuers by hopping onto a helicopter propeller. He receives messages from his girlfriend, who asks to meet him at Club Zero. In the second spot, he arrives at the club, talks with the bouncer in Russian, and is accosted by some more bad guys.
There is also a Web site, www. johnnychase.com, which allows consumers to buy the product, play games and hang out with Johnny, among other things.
Zeta-Jones appears only briefly in the campaign, as an animated form on a billboard in one spot.
"We were very focused on making this very different, but aligned [with previous efforts]," said client svp of marketing John Clelland. "We have no desire to create a separate sub-brand in the Sidekick."
"This is not a Catherine-type product right now, because it's not mainstream," added agency co-president and ecd Bob Moore.
T-Mobile has outpaced Sprint PCS as the fastest-growing wireless carrier in the U.S., although overall sales lag behind companies such as Sprint, AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless. That growth has been aided by pre-paid service and products like the Nokia videophone, and the "younger, sexier image" brought on by Zeta-Jones, said Ken Hyers, senior wireless analyst for Boston research firm In-Stat/MDR.
The Sidekick, similar to Sprint's Treo 300, has been "a breakout device for T-Mobile," Hyers said. "It's identified with them, and it's allowed them to penetrate a market that a lot of carriers are shooting at, which is youth."
Spending on the Sidekick campaign was undisclosed.