AT&T Brand Will Dominate After BellSouth Merger

Two brand names will be retiring once the $79 billion AT&T and BellSouth merger gets the final green light. But the disappearance of Cingular and BellSouth will be gradual.

"We want to transfer the equity of Cingular and BellSouth to the AT&T brand, so until that's done, we'll continue to use both brands in the marketplace," AT&T spokesperson Michael Coe said yesterday. "We'll know when that's done because we measure on a continuous basis."

The BellSouth brand change will come first, Coe said. Meanwhile, the switch on the wireless side from Cingular to AT&T will include an AT&T Cingular brand for an interim period.

Brand analysts are split on whether this is a smart move on the part of the companies, who invested heavily in trying to develop the Cingular brand after AT&T Wireless floundered.

"AT&T had become a category placeholder. They had high awareness but very little actual meaning when it comes to resonating values with consumers," said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys.



Cingular was branded with the bars of the old AT&T Wireless iconography and matched to a new tag line, "Raising the bar." Some $1.3 billion was spent in measured media to support the Cingular brand in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

"Initially, Cingular had very little meaning as well, but they were at least starting with the traditional blank slate where they could build themselves up to be whatever they wanted to be in a category that has become increasingly more commoditized," Passikoff added.

Jack Trout, president of Trout & Partners, said he would not have killed the Cingular name. "I would have kept Cingular for the cell phone business and the AT&T brand for corporate business. I would have used AT&T as a 'Brought to You By' name as in Cingular, brought to you by AT&T. They could have found a way to keep both names."

The combined AT&T and BellSouth would be the country's largest phone company, offering local phone, long-distance and DSL services in 22 states. The deal also places ownership of Cingular Wireless, the nation's largest cell phone provider, completely under AT&T.

The Department of Justice's antitrust division approved the deal, without any restrictions, last week. Now it's up to the Federal Communications Commission to sign off. The agency's vote, which was scheduled for Oct. 12, has been delayed for 10 days.

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