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September 06, 1995 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-09-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Phone ads
a'turnoffi
to many
customers
0 Attack ads lead to
boomerang effect
between companies
WASHINGTON (AP) -The multi-
million-dollar mudslinging contest the
phone companies are waging on TV is
"really annoying ... a turnoff," com-.
plains Mark Jaffee, an AT&T customer
in Meriden, Conn. And he's hardly
alone.
Though the long-distance companies
say the ads work, TV viewers and ex-
perts suggest they do more to repel
customers than attract them.
The ads are biting and direct:
In one MCI ad, former game show
announcer Don Pardo is host of the
"AT&T True-False Quiz" Pardo asks
whether "every AT&T customer gets
true savings." A buzzer goes off
"False," he says. "Forty million sav
nothing."
In another ad, AT&T attacks
MCI's discounted calling circles in
which "MCI asks you for the names and
numbers of your family and friends so
they can solicit them to switch to MCI.
... At AT&T, we don't ask you for
names and numbers.... Privacy, that's
your true choice, AT&T."
"I don't get anything out of them,"
said Jaffee, the annoyed AT&T cus-
tomer.
Jack Kramer, an MCI customer in
Washington, agreed, calling the ads
"phone soup." To make a true rate
comparison, he said, one has to look at
a complex set of factors. To this end,
the ads are of little help. "It's too
confusing to figure out. That's why I
tune out."
AT&T and MCI blame each other for
the use ofnegative ads, which, they say,
account for less than 20 percent of all
their advertising.
"We're goingto answer AT&T when-
ever it comes into the market and bashes
MCI," said MCI's advertising director
William Pate.AT&T, MCI and Sprint
combined spend $1.2 billion a year on
advertising.
Nearly 19 million people switched
long-distance companies last year. And
both AT&T and MCI, the main users of
negative ads, contend they are effective
in acquiring and retaining customers
The companies decline to quantify such
gains.
Dan Clark, an AT&T vice president,
noted his company's ad attacking
MCI's calling circles emphasized pri-
vacy. "That's a hot-button issue to
consumers and they responded favor-
ably," he said.
Prof. David Stewart, chairman of the
University of Southern California s
marketing department, said, "We don't
have a lot of evidence that these ads
have been particularly effective in get-
ting people to switch from one carmerto
another."
Esther Thorson, associate dean for
graduate studies at the University of
Missouri's School of Journalism, said,
"There's good evidence that compa-
nies run the risk of the boomerang ef-
fect."

Stewart and other experts said pro-
motions are more powerful inducements
to switch long-distance service.
In using the negative ads, AT&T and
MCI run the risk of confusing and an-
noying people, losing credibility and
smearing themselves as well as their
rival, the experts suggested.
"The companies must believe their
message is working, but in my mind
they are canceling each other outand
confusing the public," said Joseph
Turow, a communications professor at
the Annenberg School for Communi-
cations at the University of Pennsylva-
nia.
In one MCI ad, an operator peeks out
from behind a computer and asks: "Are
you out there, AT&T? ... You're not
going to like this."
She then says that MCI, responding
to an AT&T accusation that MCI
doesn't tell customers the truth about
savings, will provide customers with
'a written statement. "I hate to say it,
AT&T, but you asked for it," she
says.
With such ads, Thorson said, "stud-
ies have found that companies can dam-
age their own reputations at the sam
time they are trying to diminish thei
rivals'."
Another unintended consequence
of the negative campaign between
AT&T and MCI is that it may hel
Sprint.

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