XO Begins Battling Telecom Elite

They can’t. We do”is the mantra driving McKinney & Silver’s rebranding effort forbroadband telecommunications provider XO.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based agency’s first campaign for XO—formerly known as Next-link Communications, which merged with Concentric Network earlier this summer— employs TV, print and direct mail. It is expected to run through the fourth quarter.

Four irony-filled, 30-second TV spots revolve around the fictitious “Charles Gaines,” CEO of a competing telecom, who wants to outdo XO in performance and customer service.

“Gaines is the stereotypical executive out of touch with the real workings of his company,” said McKinney copywriter John Guynn. “He’s trying to make it good, but it can’t work.”

In one commercial, Gaines’ 24/7 help desk is manned by the Goth-like “Balkazar,” who paints his fingernails black while customers ring for service. His mates hang from the ceiling like bats. Another ad, “Tommy,” shows Gaines recalling a former hard-charging, can-do thinker who might have saved his company—if he hadn’t been fired. The tagline: “They can’t. We do.”

Guynn said “Tommy” is about packaging products such as voice and Net access into bundles, and cited its subtext: ” ‘We’re not the kind of company that kicks out good ideas.’ “

The ads attempt to mount an assault against telecom-industry leaders, such as AT&T and MCI WorldCom, by showing what XO can do and what competitors cannot, Guynn said.

Spots are airing on broadcast and cable. Print is slated for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other major dailies.

Spending is about $20 million. The shop won the business earlier this summer after a review. Prior ads by Copacino in Seattle conveyed a dismal portrait of local phone providers with images such as a rotten tomato.

Headed by former MCI president Dan Ackerson, XO in McLean, Va., has a fiber-optic and wireless broadband network in various U.S. cities. The $2.4 billion Concentric merger added Web-hosting and Net capabilities to XO’s mix of B2B services.