AT&T adopted “Rethink possible” as the theme of its advertising in a corporate image campaign that began in April 2010. The upbeat theme was intended to buff the AT&T brand, rather than sell specific products and services, and promote the company as an innovator in telecommunications for consumer and business customers.
Two years later, the campaign is being refreshed with ads that are to begin appearing on Monday, some of which will help introduce the Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone. The campaign includes commercials on television and online and a robust presence in social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
The new elements of the campaign will include the addition, in ads aimed at consumers, of the phrase “It’s what you do with what we do.”
The phrase, which will appear along with “Rethink possible,” is meant to acknowledge significant shifts in the marketplace since 2010, particularly how much more consumers want to be in control of brand experiences.
“We did a lot of insight research about how people live with technology,” said Esther Lee, senior vice president for brand marketing, advertising and sponsorship at AT&T in Dallas, which included “ethnographies, shop-alongs and spending time in people’s living rooms.”
When the “Rethink possible” campaign was developed, most consumers “felt overwhelmed with technology,” Ms. Lee said, but only a short time later many have “found ways to integrate it in their lives” — and some even “talk about it with love.”
“The real innovation that’s happening is what people are doing, and how people are dealing, with technology,” she added, and “the unique ways they use it to make their lives better.”
That is the message that “It’s what you do with what we do” is intended to convey, Ms. Lee said, describing the phrase as “a step-up line, a bridge line” that will now lead to the “Rethink possible” theme.
The decision to adjust “Rethink possible” is emblematic of the midcourse corrections that marketers will make in campaigns as circumstances change in the marketplace. Such adjustments acknowledge the need for different approaches, but avoid the expense and risks of a complete overhaul.
For instance, in 2010, Nissan North America replaced its brand theme, “Shift,” with the theme “Innovation for all.” The word “Shift,” however, still continues to appear in ads. And in 2007, when the actor Gary Sinise was hired to narrate commercials for the Army, succeeding the actor Josh Charles, the theme of the campaign remained “Army strong.”
The phrase “It’s what you do with what we do,” while new to AT&T’s ads, echoes vintage ad themes that include “We do it all for you,” for McDonald’s, and “We’d do it like you’d do it,” for Burger King. (There is also a U-do We-do Laundromat in Philadelphia.)
Unlike the fast-food themes, which were focused on the “we” — that is, the advertiser — the AT&T ads are “all about you, the consumer, and how we’re proud to help you do what you can do,” said David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO North America, part of the BBDO Worldwide unit of the Omnicom Group. The Atlanta and New York offices of BBDO North America serve as the creative agency for AT&T.
“It’s the difference between ‘We prepared a meal for you’ and ‘We’re your partner,’ ” Mr. Lubars said.
There was no thought given to replacing “Rethink possible” because “it’s still an idea that resonates with people,” he added. “You don’t want to change it because it’s relevant.”
By augmenting the theme with the new phrase, Mr. Lubars said, “we put a new suit on” the campaign and emphasized “how people’s lives are entwined with technology” and the benefits of “life on the network” (the AT&T network, natch).
In two new commercials aimed at consumers, “It’s what you do with what we do” is superimposed on screen near the end of each spot.
In one commercial, an aspiring young actress named Alex gets a part, which an announcer sardonically describes as “the coveted role of ‘Coffee patron No. 4.’ ” She subsequently seeks advice from family and friends on how she should deliver her one line, “Latte, please.”
“Good thing AT&T gives you unlimited calling to any mobile,” the announcer says, “so you can call everyone.”
In the other commercial, a young man named Colin seeks to woo a young woman named Megan by showing off his new Lumia 900, much as years ago a guy would try to impress a girl by driving past her in his new Mustang II or Camaro SS 396.
“See, Megan, Colin has lots of friends,” an announcer says good-naturedly.
There are also new commercials aimed at business customers. Spots for small businesses feature actual companies like Genco Services of McAllen, Tex., which rents heavy equipment. AT&T offers “a network of possibilities,” an announcer says in the Genco spot, “helping you do what you do even better.”
Business-to-business ads feature fictional firms like insurers, tow-truck operators and car-repair shops. “It’s the AT&T network,” an announcer says, “doing more with data to help business do more for customers.”
The budget for AT&T’s advertising is expected to be in line with what the company has spent in previous years. According to the AT&T 2011 annual report, the company spent $2.4 billion on advertising last year, $2.9 billion in 2010 and $2.8 billion in 2009.
According to Kantar Media, AT&T was No. 2 in ad spending last year in the United States, behind only Procter & Gamble.