Alltel Turns To Humor For Holiday Spots

Alltel ad spot featuring Fred Willard

Everyone loves a heartwarming holiday story, and Alltel is hoping to sate that desire with a trio of holiday commercials employing comedic actor Fred Willard.

The television, radio and online effort, which broke earlier this week, features Willard (known for roles in "This is Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and several television guest spots) as the teller of cheerful holiday stories featuring Alltel's longtime spokescharacter Chad and his nemeses representing the big four wireless carriers.

The first television commercial, "The Woman and the LG," broke earlier this week. In the commercial, Willard tells the story of "Heather, who was stuck in a contract that seemed like forever." As the four competitors challenge "a new phone means more of us," Heather heads to an Alltel store, where Chad offers an LG phone with a one-year contract. Further commercials will break on Black Friday and the day after Christmas (with a message that it's not too late to get a new phone).



"The challenge in the holiday period is to break through," Lynette Jurgens, senior strategic marketing leader for Alltel, tells Marketing Daily. "[Alltel agency] Campbell Ewald came up with this storyteller approach, knowing that the rhyming and tone of the campaign catches your ear."

For years, Alltel has used Chad -- a good-looking blond man -- and his four nebbish cohorts to promote various services, including Alltel's once-groundbreaking "My Circle" calling plan. But as other carriers have introduced similar plans, Alltel this year is promoting different services. "With all that noise around circle plans, we launched one-year service contracts," Jurgens says. "So our holiday campaign is focusing on those contracts. And we've expanded My Circle to include unlimited texting to those friends, and we'll be focusing on that."

With the change in tactics, the company felt Willard's inherent familiarity and acting ability could help the spots break through in a crowded holiday period, Jurgens says, adding: "He's immediately recognizable and brings credibility to the brand."

In January 2009, Verizon Wireless purchased most of the Alltel wireless network. But antitrust agreements required that about 2 million customers in areas where the two brands combined would have been dominant be put in a trust owned by -- but run separately from -- Verizon. Over the past year, the trust has continued to promote the Alltel brand and its services, Jurgens says.

"We've actually been growing our base since January," she says. "Our mission is to compete, so we've done what it takes to compete."

The unique business situation has also led to a sales platform promoting one-year contracts. Knowing that customers might be ware of signing a long-term contract with a company's whose future is up in the air, Alltel devised the one-year contract that is being promoted in the current commercial.

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