Powertel Breaks TV Blitz

Pollak Provides 7-Spot Package for Cell Phone Client
ATLANTA-Pollak Levitt & Nel here introduced the first of seven new television commercials for mobile phone service provider Powertel last week, the largest TV package ever for both the client and the agency.
“Last year radio was our primary medium,” said Mike Bashaw, the West Point, Ga.-based company’s vice president of marketing. “This is a sign of our growth. We’ve been advertising primarily on an affordability message and we wanted to mix in some of our other core messages . . . without getting stale.”
The humorous mix of television spots, which combine branding the product with promotional elements, vary dramatically in look, theme and tone.
In the cartoonish “Family Dinner,” splashy Sunday comics colors dominate the set design, as an overly expressive family talks by cellular telephone during dinner because Powertel’s rates are so reasonable.
In the action short “Fugitives,” two escaped criminals run at breakneck pace, seemingly from the law. They collapse, exhausted and gasping, inside a dilapidated barn. One convict pulls out a cell phone, then screams in dismay when a close-up of the unit’s display screen indicates it is still charging roaming fees. A voiceover breaks in: “Looking to make calls without paying roaming fees?”
In the faux drama “Campers,” a couple lost in a forest bicker as they try to build a fire while night falls. Suddenly, the woman remembers she has her cell phone. The pair is jubilant, until the man points out, “Wait. . . Peak calls can be really expensive!” and they despair anew. A voiceover then emphasizes Powertel’s fixed rates.
In the ersatz documentary “Bird Watchers,” shot in stark sepia tones, eccentric ornithologists spy on Powertel users, dropping double entendres about “hearing their calls throughout the Southeast,” and “their tiny, tiny bills.” A voiceover puns that people are “flocking to Powertel.”
“Eskimo” and “FBI Guys,” emphasizing fixed out-of-state rates and a cell phone sale, broke the week of May 10. The remaining five spots, including the special effects-driven “Bus Stop,” roll out May 24 in 15 Southeastern markets in six states, on popular network and cable prime time programming like ER and Ally McBeal.
While Powertel would not release an annual media budget, Pollak account director Patti Siegel said it has been increased “by about 20 percent” for 1999. Bashaw said half of this year’s budget is devoted to television advertising. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Powertel spent $10.7 million in 1998. Bashaw termed that figure “a little low.”
Credits for the campaign include creative director and art director Andr Nel, copywriters Harry Hayes and Mark Zito, and film director Tracy Helms. ƒ