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May 10

Thinking about AT&T’s rethinking

AT&T, the one sour note in iPhone’s symphony, has been running a new brand campaign called Rethink Possible for about month now (via agency BBDO). Of course, this is much bigger than AT&T Mobile. This is about AT&T revamping their overall image across the spectrum of things they do: mobile, phone, Internet and TV.

When I look at marketing from companies like AT&T, I have two questions. Is it creative? And will it do them any good?

My cheery weekend spirit requires me to start with the positive: Damn, I love this campaign launch commercial. We see dozens of new animation techniques every year, but this one is so beautifully simple and mesmerizing, I never get tired of it — which is fortunate, because I seem to see it everywhere.

I’ve honestly never liked the Pure Imagination song from Willie Wonka, as I’ve seen it used before and it’s always felt corny and lame. Here it feels like genius. Layering such an innocent song over this combination of live action and animation works really well. And then the one line of copy at the end of the spot is near perfect. (I can only say “near” because I was trained long ago that perfection, like the speed of light, is unattainable.)

Go to the AT&T Rethink Possible website and you’re greeted by animated text, again well written. There you can view the other commercials in this campaign, which, especially when viewed in sequence, start feeling like typical, slick, big-agency BBDO-style commercials. Unlike the launch spot, the humanity in these spots is more expected and sappier.

Happily, with this campaign AT&T seems to be putting the bad memory of Luke Wilson and all that juvenile back-and-forth with Verizon out to pasture. Kudos for that.

It’s when you start thinking about the reality of AT&T’s situation that things get significantly less happy. What about this strategy? How believable is it to cast AT&T as the company that can really “rethink possible”?

AT&T certainly has the right to revamp its image. You can’t expect them to tie themselves to a post and accept 40 lashes. (Well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to ask.) But I don’t imagine a lot of viewers will be leaping from their chairs eager to follow AT&T down the golden path. The company is held responsible for a a great many telco evils, iPhone’s network performance being only one.

If AT&T sees itself as the innovation leader, most will see that for what it is: pure imagination. Having read their entire site, I don’t see a single thing I’m not already getting from Verizon.

Basically, AT&T is a monolith doing what monoliths do. They’re trying to convince us they’re innovative by telling us they’re innovative — when they should instead be demonstrating it with fresh ideas and products.

This campaign changes nothing. Rethink possible is a great employee motivation campaign and T-shirt. To the outside world, it’s just a lot of fluff. But I have to admit — in the launch commercial, it’s truly first-class fluff.

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  • Josh

    It’s amazing how AT&T’s problems have given Verizon a virtual free pass. I have been a Verizon customer for years and I can’t wait to bail. Verizon’s customer service is notoriously bad, its countless hidden fees, its disabling of phone features that require monthly payments to re-enable, its terrible user interface forced upon all of its handsets (until recently). I am not an AT&T customers, but I can’t think of a single “innovation” Verizon has brought to its customers, unless it’s a novel way to charge for things that were once free.

  • qka

    In the new AT&T campaign, I also like the future President ad, which AT&T title “Ripple Effect”. Of the other ads (other than the above) I have not seen – maybe because I have T-W and not AT&T cable TV.

  • sfmitch

    I like the video but really dislike the music. I watched it muted and enjoyed it.

    My view of advertising is that 10% is really good & effective, 10% is horrible and does more harm than good (to the brand) and 80% is completely useless/forgettable/unremarkable.

    There is nothing any of the 4 cell phone companies can say to change my opinion of them.

  • AT&T has SERIOUS major problems that a simple “rethink” campaign will not solve. The problems are systemic.

    For example:

    A client of mine had ZERO INTERNET at their place of business for 4 FULL DAYS because AT&T technicians couldn’t figure out how to setup their new U-Verse DSL Service. This was at their office! Could you imagine an office not having Internet for 4 days?

    You see, the geniuses at AT&T disconnected my client’s old DSL service before setting up their new DSL service, so they were left with no Internet at all.

    Yet the technicians that came onsite were truly uncaring, unknowledgeable, and honestly unwilling to help. It was a bunch of finger-pointing to “other departments” at AT&T, but nobody actually could solve the problem — or cared about solving the problem.

    At one point, we were on hold with AT&T around 5pm, when all of a sudden, we got a message saying that everyone at that department had left for the day and to call back tomorrow.

    Multiple calls to AT&T tech support were completely unhelpful, even after — 4 days later — the problem was solved.

    AT&T tech support couldn’t even tell me how to login to the router and then turn on DMZ mode on the router… I had to figure it out on my own.

    AT&T is a complete disaster, from start to finish.

  • ToddB

    @Scott: That’s typical of all telco’s, not just AT&T. If anything, Verizon is worse. Why it takes them 60-90 days to provision an Internet circuit when the physical wiring is already in place (aka flip a couple of switches and process some paperwork through a dozen disconnection 30 yr old systems) is beyond me. If AT&T wants to “rethink” – how about not charging $5 for about 100kb of data (aka 200 texts), don’t upcharge me the same “subsidized hardware” cost if you aren’t actually subsidizing my hardware, and actually figure out how to keep a voice call from dropping every 3 minutes if you’re on the move. That would be a novelty.

    As for the ad…meh. Not bad, definitely not as cheesy as one would expect with that song, and thank his holy noodliness that Luke Wilson is nowhere to be seen.

  • Chris

    From a production/creative standpoint, this spot is great. From a branding perspective, it’s a fail. No one’s buying it. Could be for HP, Sprint, Palm, Amazon….

  • yeah i agree, the spot is really nice and i don’t mind seeing it everywhere, as a matter of fact … the only weak spot in the spot is the fact that it’s for AT&T …