AT&T ADS' CONFUSED MESSAGE BOOSTS MET LIFE
Cryptic 'mLife' Theme Leave Viewers Thinking Health Insurance
February 25, 2002 By Rance Crain (Ad Age)
A column or two ago, I wrote about the great good fortune of Andersen Consulting being forced to change its name to Accenture -- just in time to avoid the Enron flap. Now, in a second stroke of luck, AT&T Wireless is giving Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. a load of free advertising.
AT&T Wireless is blanketing the media with ads for "mLife," which most people assume is another name for Met Life. Isn't it logical for the insurer's name to go from Metropolitan Life to Met Life to "mLife"?
Met Life's first inclination was to sue (and it did). But cooler heads prevailed and the suit was settled. Met Life must have realized the AT&T Wireless advertising was so indecipherable that it would play to Met Life's advantage. Heck, Met Life should sue to force AT&T Wireless to keep running the campaign.
We first were introduced to mLife in the days just before the Super Bowl telecast. Then a series of teaser spots in the game had us guessing what mLife was or did. Since nothing came immediately to mind, many of us jumped to the conclusion it must be some new form of life insurance or employee benefits,
or perhaps a 401(k) plan easily transferable from one company to another.
When AT&T Wireless began to unravel the mystery by taking us "on a tour of belly buttons young and old," as our own Bob Garfield put it, we thought mLife had something to do with health insurance. The spot worked backwards to childbirth, where we saw the umbilical cord about to be cut, thus introducing the notion that mLife was health insurance for babies.
Confusing print ads
The print ads didn't help. The headline reads, "Welcome to mLife," followed by very long lines of copy that are quite hard to read. The first line of copy says, "mLife is your life made truly mobile." If you have a certain mindset, you could easily think the ad is referring to an mLife 401(k) plan that you can take with you when you join a new company.
Maybe, in time, consumers won't think of Met Life when they see an mLife ad. But AT&T Wireless has to work doubly hard: first, to get you to stop conjuring up another company when you see an mLife ad; and, second, to get you to focus on the merits of AT&T Wireless' own product. What mLife offers that the other mobile phone companies don't is not made clear.
Breaking and entering at Taco Bell
These are examples of the unintended-consequences school of advertising. Another is the latest Taco Bell campaign. It shows a character similar to the Dell Computer "dude" slipping into a hotel room and invading a golf club to somehow relate these nefarious acts with the enjoyment of eating at Taco Bell. As the guy sneaks into the hotel room, the voice-over says: "Surprisingly, your finer hotels don't offer hourly rates. Not to worry. With a little bit of bravado and a keen sense of timing, you, too, can enjoy life's little luxuries -- like the superb taste of Taco Bell."
I've always said breaking and entering works up a big appetite. Surely the good folks at Taco Bell don't want us to come away with that anti-social message -- any more than AT&T Wireless wants us to think of Met Life every time we see mLife sprawled across the page or screen.
I'm not so sure this confusion with Met Life/mLife is more from the name than the advertising. The concept of your mobile company keeping you connected, etc. isn't new. Maybe the naming folks needed to go back to the drawingboard.