Hype Sheet: What Happens in Vega$...

The Pitch We've seen this approach before, eh? Looks like one of those AT&T commercials in which a dropped call leads to an awkward situation—a mother spontaneously revealing her sexually licentious past, for example, or Roger Clemens pushing it one season too far. But this schlubby hubby's problem isn't poor reception. Rather, it's the fact that he's just lost $5,800 playing blackjack in Vegas—a revelation he conveniently buries midway through the conversation. His disgruntled, potato-peeling wife doesn't explode, but points out (correctly) that dear hubby seems to be a bloomin' idiot. Good thing the unhappy couple is taking advantage of AT&T's Rollover minutes—a promotion inherited from Cingular—or the call would be sinking them even further into debt. Why has AT&T forsaken its long-running "fewest dropped calls" pitch in favor of stressing its trademarked Rollover deal?

Rip-Off Of This is a rare instance in which a company is, uh, basically ripping off itself. I can't recall another instance in which the basic premise of a previous campaign's TV spots was retained, but the pitch details were altered so significantly. Almost makes me wonder if AT&T's ad agency originally set this up as yet another dropped-calls commercial, then was handed different marching orders at the last moment.


The Spin With its high-end wireless business humming thanks to the iPhone, AT&T is now going after low-end customers by flaunting its value options. Playing up those Rollover minutes is just one piece of the puzzle—the company is also revamping its contracts to make them less draconian, as well as offering a new buy-one-get-on-free Nokia deal. AT&T obviously smells blood in the water, as Sprint continues to hemorrhage dissatisfied customers. True, AT&T is still near the bottom of the brand-loyalty tables, and its customer churn lags behind that of Verizon. But things can change awfully rapidly in the wireless biz.

Counterspin Perhaps the AT&T bigwigs merely decided that their "fewest dropped calls" slogan had run its course. But I've got to think that outside pressure played a major role—no question that the company was playing fast and loose with the truth, especially in light of the latest J.D. Power survey. AT&T could have stuck to its guns by trumpeting its $2.5 billion effort to buy licenses in the 700-MHz frequency. But that plan isn't going to bear fruit for some time—and even when it does, expect the iPhone-lovin' crowd to benefit first, rather than the budget-conscious masses.

Takeaway Ad gurus have blasted AT&T for dropping the Cingular brand, which took billions of dollars to build. The latest quarterly results are a point in the Ma Bell progeny's favor, though—aside from making bank off the iPhone, AT&T is effectively reducing its customer churn. This ad should help, as Rollover can be a good deal (despite some fine-print drawbacks, such as the fact that minutes don't start carrying 'til your second billing period). The spot may lack novelty, but it's mildly funny and to-the-point: It'll definitely catch the attention of a lot of aggrieved cellphone customers, especially those who've suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous overages. Like Alltel, AT&T seems to have realized that low-end customers are resigned to the ineradicability of spotty service, and merely want to pay as little as possible.

Hype-O-Meter 7.5 (out of 10). The trademarked Rollover promo may turn out to be Cingular's most valuable legacy. Also, gotta love the way the degenerate gambler nervously glances around after revealing his loss; almost looks like he expects to get smacked upside the head, despite his wife being hundreds or thousands of miles away. Guess we know who wears the pants in that relationship.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired, a columnist for Slate, and author of the forthcoming Now the Hell Will Start. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.


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@styrofoam: I agree. That version is far funnier. 5800...dollar...chips. {chuckle}

@Windhawk: i understand that there's a subliminal level to advertising that this commercial is flirting with, but if you're smart enough to figure it out, then you're smart enough to know that it's a rediculous connection to make between an advertisement and real life. to point it out and then reveal that you might avoid at&t so as not to be $6000 in the hole is obtuse.