Cingular Gets People Talking in BBDO Ads

Cingular Wireless’ branding campaign, a celebration of self-expression that launched in 2001, failed to stop subscribers from switching to other services last year. Now the client makes a switch: to a more hard-sell message that features Cingular customers talking about how the service improves their lives.

The national TV effort out of BBDO in New York and Atlanta breaks this week, backed by what sources said is “in the ballpark” of 2002’s $430 million in media spending.

BBDO, which won the account in October 2000 and introduced the brand the following January, began work on a new strategy last fall, when Stanley Sigman joined the company as CEO. Sigman said in a speech last month that research showed the previous campaign was not effective in attracting customers.

The new work is tagged “Cingular fits you best” and positions the client as the choice of customers who really understand the nuances between wireless services, said Charlie Miesmer, BBDO New York senior ecd, who supervised both campaigns.

The 10 new spots all consist of testimonials, shot in black and white. One shows a group of handsome 20-ish triplets explaining why they need Cingular’s Family Talk plan, which allows them to talk as much as they want at no additional cost. Another features a dad who hails the “7-to-7” plan, in which nighttime minutes start two hours earlier than other services, so he can chat with his son on the way home from work.

Other spots feature an accountant who promotes rollover minutes and a real estate agent touting 5,000 night and weekend minutes.

The first ad broke Sunday during CBS’ coverage of the NCAA tournament and on Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle and King of the Hill. The CBS ads also highlighted a text-messaging feature that allows NCAA fans to participate in polling during game broadcasts.

Last year’s effort, also from BBDO New York and Atlanta, was tagged, “What do you have to say?” One spot featured Savion Glover tap-dancing a call over his cell phone, and another starred the cast of the off-Broadway show Stomp.

Roger Entner, program manager for Boston-based research and consulting firm The Yankee Group, said that when the self-expression-themed campaign broke, cell-phone customers were attracted to “value” service providers that offered the lowest prices. Now, consumers’ needs have become more sophisticated, he said, and many gravitate toward “quality” service providers. In today’s marketplace, Verizon Wireless is perceived as the “quality” leader, Entner said.

Cingular, a joint venture of SBC Communications and BellSouth, lost 107,000 subscribers in third-quarter 2002 and 121,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter alone. The Atlanta-based client now has about 22 million subscribers, behind category leader Verizon Wireless’ 32 million-plus subscribers and just ahead of AT&T Wireless, with about 21 million customers.

Cingular also ranks behind both those competitors in media spending: Verizon put $730 million into paid media in 2002, and AT&T spent $615 million last year, according to CMR.

“Cingular got squeezed,” Entner said. “The company has suffered in the last couple of quarters because it was the most undifferentiated [company in the category]. But they have a good chance of attracting new users with this campaign.”

The “self-expression” brief for the first campaign “was a platform nobody else owned,” Miesmer said. Advertising in the category was a “junkyard of clutter,” he contended, and Cingular wanted to be different. The initial effort, he said, “was a great way to launch a brand, especially with the little ‘jack’ icon,” referring to Cingular’s five-pointed orange logo.

The new campaign, by contrast, is more “demonstrative” of Cingular’s services, said Vance Overbey, Cingular Wireless executive director of advertising and sponsorships. “The original launch campaign in 2001 created an awareness of our company. We wanted to leverage that strength to driving traffic to the stores [with the new campaign].”