How Do You Spell Lawsuit?

When Boone/Oakley developed its latest campaign for Dialog Telecommunications in Charlotte, N.C., everyone at the agency and client chuckled over the ad copy. “ell outh,” it read. “We’ve taken the BS out of phone service.”

BellSouth, which offers phone service in Dialog’s coverage area, was not amused, and it wrote a letter expressing its outrage. The Atlanta phone giant would sue Dialog, it said, if the billboards, TV and newspaper ads were not pulled.

Rather than pay the cost of a protracted legal battle, the upstart Dialog began removing the ads last week. Sort of. The campaign will continue but with the offending copy blacked out and replaced with the phrase, “The big phone company wouldn’t let you see this.” The print ads reference the threatened lawsuit and include the copy, “How can they afford those lawyers? High phone rates.”

The changes allow the agency not only to get a similar point across but but also to salvage the campaign by providing a quick alternative message for ad space already bought. “It’s the classic David and Goliath story,” says Boone/Oakley president Phil Smith. “We knew BellSouth wouldn’t be happy with it, but we didn’t expect this much of a reaction.”

BellSouth confirmed that it sent the letter April 29 and continues to pursue the matter. “We are not happy with the speed in which these billboards are being removed,” a company rep said last week.