BellSouth Extends Its Reach

BellSouth has wasted little time in launching its first campaign for long-distance service.

Broadcast and print advertising created by erstwhile agency Merkley Newman Harty & Partners in New York broke last week.

The Atlanta-based client’s new agency, Grey, through its Dark Grey division, handled media planning and buying. The budget is undisclosed.

The launch follows the May 15 decision by the Federal Communications Commission authorizing the company to enter long-distance markets in Georgia and Louisiana.

According to Alan Blount, Bellsouth’s vice president of advertising, the telecom has been trying to break into the competitive long-distance arena since 1996.

Using “Same company, longer distance” as a theme, the “awareness” campaign touts simple plans and straight-forward billing.

“One thing customers are fed up with is the long-distance wars,” said Blount. “We looked for an execution that mirrored that strategy.”

One 30-second television commercial focuses on BellSouth’s ubiquitous white vans as a way of leveraging what Blount called the firm’s core equity, its local presence.

Four print executions running in USA Today and other dailies, plus regional editions of Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and Time employ minimal text. “If I switch to Company X, who’s gonna fix my phone lines?” asks one ad.

Another ad uses the outline of a standard phone wall jack. Merkley substituted symbols for plugs. A palm tree denotes California, for example. The headline states, “Now you can call California and everywhere else.”

Television messages will air on network affiliates and cable channels including A&E, CNN and MSNBC.

According to Blount, follow-up advertising developed by Grey in Atlanta will promote discounts for bundling local and long-distance service, high-speed Internet access as well as wireless and interactive paging through its joint venture in Cingular Wireless.