First Paris Bennett, now this. Reborn telco giant AT&T plans to ditch the Cingular brand name and replace it with something it finds more "elegant." And what might that be? Why, AT&T Wireless, of course.
Cingular's corporate parents, AT&T (nee SBC) and BellSouth, have spent an estimated $4 billion to turn it into one of the best-known names in the country and, through sponsorship of "American Idol" and similar shows, given it strong appeal to the younger set.
AT&T Wireless, on the other hand, may sound vaguely familiar to consumers of a certain age. That's because there's already been an AT&T Wireless. The name changes in the telecom industry the last few decades have been so constant and so confusing, it's like trying to keep the players straight at a Jim Smith convention, so we won't repeat it all here.
But marketing professionals are aghast at the notion that AT&T would throw its red-hot Cingular brand into the dustbin in favor of AT&T, which Advertising Age said conjures up little more than "images of the rotary dial."
(Note to younger readers: Once upon a time, telephones were attached to the wall with a wire. There was a circular dial, sort of like an alloy wheel, that the user had to physically spin with his or her finger. This was called "dialing.")
AT&T says what it would be expected to say -- that the name change will "eliminate customer confusion and make a much more elegant solution."
What AT&T is trying to say is that it is still transfixed with the notion of "bundling," which it has been talking about since at least the 1980s. Bundling basically refers to selling the consumer everything you can think of -- landline, wireless, cable, broadband -- on a single account.
The concept has been popular with traditional telephone executives for at least a generation but it has never quite caught on with consumers, partly because no one yet offers an entire range of services under one brand but also because consumers are always looking for the next new thing, perferably with a singularly appealing new name, like Cingular.
Whether or not bundling matters, marketing experts interviewed by Advertising Age had little good to say about renaming Cingular.
Jonathan Asher, president of Dragon Rouge USA, a branding and design consultancy called AT&T "my father's brand of telephony."
Its only good attributes are "incredible recognition, incredible heritage and somewhat reliable." Its not-so-good ones -- "stodgy, old fashioned, big, heavy and dated."
Cingular's hip image just may be obliterated when it gets pulled into AT&T's logo, which many advertising types refer to as the "death star." Check back with us a few billion dollars from now for the answer.