Cingular Brand Set to Vanish

DALLAS AT&T expects to drop the Cingular brand when its merger with BellSouth is completed sometime before the end of the year.

But the company has not indicated whether it would seek a new agency to rebrand the wireless communications division under the AT&T banner or add it to the workload of current roster shops GSD&M and Rodgers/Townsend. (AT&T said in March that the Cingular name would be discontinued. It would not comment on how it would be advertised or which shop would do the work.)

“I’m sure everyone is wondering about it,” said search consultant Judy Neer of consulting company Pile and Co. in Boston, which led the 2004 Verizon Wireless search that shifted the $300 million account to Interpublic Group’s McCann Erickson from Lowe.

The new AT&T, created by SBC Communications’$16 billion acquisition of AT&T, revealed last March that it would replace the names BellSouth and Cingular with AT&T. Currently, San Antonio-based AT&T is in the midst of a rebranding effort whose cost is estimated at $500 million, by far the most expensive in U.S. telecommunications history.

BellSouth, with a 2005 ad spend of $115 million, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, is currently represented by Grey in New York. BBDO offices in Atlanta and New York have worked on Cingular, which spent $870 million on ads last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The first campaign used the tagline, “What do you want to say?” The agencies declined comment on the future of the account.

Paid media spending for telecommunications accounts have grown 27 percent between 2001 and 2005 to $6.2 billion, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan said that number is expected to rise dramatically with the saturation of broadband that will allow delivery of new services, particularly TV over fiber DSL.

“Advertising from the individual players is going to be expanding while the number of players is decreasing,” he said.

A number of ironies complicate the advertising message for the telecom giants. Comcast now owns the cable system that once belonged to AT&T. Cingular Wireless will assume the name AT&T Wireless, a brand that previously existed but disappeared through acquisition. Getting consumers to understand who is offering what will be a challenge, said Neer.

“What’s happening [with the mergers] is blurring the lines of the business and that causes confusion for the consumer,” Neer said. “To the real techies, they get it and they understand it. But to the average consumer, it’s very confusing.”

While neither GSD&M nor AT&T would comment on who will develop the new ad message for the BellSouth region, sources close to the shop said the current theme, “Your world, delivered,” is highly adaptable to a growing customer base.

AT&T enjoys an advantage in name recognition, and the local phone carriers are more respected than the cable companies, Kagan said. Thus, GSD&M and independent Rodgers/Townsend of St. Louis are focusing on building brand awareness as the client rushes to expand its customer base, he said.

Comcast now owns the cable system that once belonged to AT&T. Thus, when “the new AT&T” begins advertising video service, it must explain that the new product is not the same as the cable operation once owned by the previous company known as AT&T.

“Brand loyalty is going to be the No. 1 factor for the consumer, assuming the provider offers the products they want at the price they want,” Kagan said.