SunCom Seeks To Solidify, Expand Southern Roots

SunCom is counting on the Southern charms of Harry Connick Jr. to sell the South it already serves as well as consumers the wireless carrier inherited through a deal with Cingular.

The New Orleans-born singer stars in five TV spots from MDC Partners’ Margeotes|Fertitta + Partners that break this week. The work is part of a planned $30 million marketing push this year, almost double last year due partly to SunCom’s expanded territory, executives said.

Ads retain the client’s longtime tagline, “We get it.” In one spot, Connick descends a staircase in a beautiful home holding his cell phone. He says, “I use this thing all the time. Sometimes, it’s all I have to connect me to my family. I need a wireless company that respects that.” He goes on to explain SunCom’s new “Truth in Wireless” pledge—”Clear simple plans, a reliable network and technology that works for you. Isn’t it time for a company that does things differently?” In other spots he talks plainly about taxes inflating phone bills and tells viewers, “No wireless network is perfect, but SunCom’s is pretty darn good.”

SunCom’s parent, Triton PCS, last year traded assets with Cingular property AT&T Wireless. In return for its 400,000 customers and stores in Virginia, SunCom picked up 220,000 users in North Carolina’s “Triangle,” a region outlined by Greensboro, Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem. The firm also got $175 million in cash and subscribers in Puerto Rico, ending up with access to a population of over 18 million people, about 5 million more than it did before the deal.

“We’re going to have to reintroduce ourselves to a huge segment of the population,” said Carla Hudson, executive director of advertising and communications.

The use of the clean-cut Connick is an effort to tap into the “core values” of family, friends and “being straightforward and honest and making sure you’re doing the right thing,” said Jane Reiss, a managing partner at MF+P in New York.

The ads are a departure for SunCom, which previously ran animated spots from MF+P in which phones sprouted wings and minutes disappeared from clock faces for a flat-rate fee structure it touted as “The Un Plan,” in 2003. Last year, spots promoting that plan used Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’. “

In the Carolinas, as it does in most of the Southeast, Berwyn, Pa.-based SunCom attempts to compete with the national calling plans of larger telecoms like Sprint and Nextel by focusing on its regional and local services.

The new campaign could play to that strategy, with Connick focusing on staying close to family and friends, a value MF+P’s research showed ranks high among Southerners, said William Power, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co. in Dallas.

Near term, the property swap with AT&T Wireless has created uncertainty among customers, Power said, estimating that SunCom lost 2,800 subscribers last year. If SunCom can overcome that obstacle, as well as some technical difficulties, it could rebound. In 2002 and 2003, SunCom added 144,000 and 64,000 customers, respectively. Currently, the firm counts about 1 million subscribers.