AT&T U-verse and Naming Obfuscation

January 30, 2006

As AT&T was swallowed by SBC to become the new AT&T last year, my colleagues and I were all in agreement that maintaining the AT&T name was absolutely the right thing to do. The AT&T name has tremendous resident equity among consumer and business audiences alike. With an incomparably rich brand heritage and deep reservoirs of goodwill, the AT&T brand offered a unique opportunity for massive reinvention while recognizing some built-in efficiencies of huge brand awareness.

My reaction to the new mark and the current campaign are decidedly less enthusiastic, but that’s a whole other story. My beef today is AT&T U-verse. The first time I saw this perplexing name, I thought it had to be a typo or a placeholder. In fact, launched in 2005 as SBC U-Verse, this initiative is the company’s sub-brand for a suite of IP-based next generation services.

Ed Whitacre, current CEO of the new AT&T and former CEO of SBC stated upon the original launch of the initiative at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show: "The U-verse experience perfectly describes what this new set of services is all about. It's about ensuring that the entire universe of communications and entertainment services works for and around you.”

To read the various press releases, the promise of this initiative – while vague - sounds great. Seemlessly integrated services, a universe of choices, totally customer centric. Finally, perhaps, a pay-off to the elusive goal of convergence. But if the overwrought and completely confusing name are indicative of how the new AT&T will deliver on this promise, our convergence dreams are still well out of reach.

One has to assume that consumers have grown tired of quixotic promises of their entire worlds effortlessly at their fingertips across all media with unimaginable reward. Now here we’ve got the new AT&T: Approachable, Insightful, Self-Assured, Genuine, Enterprising. At last, here is the company that will help us figure this thing out, talk to us in a straightforward manner that eschews the fantastical and helps us to understand this exciting technology and apply it to our everyday lives.

But what do we get? U-verse.

To be fair, the folks at SBC coined this phrase before the AT&T acquisition happened. Yet the AT&T re-branding was the perfect opportunity to right this wrong in the SBC architecture by giving this product set a name that could help consumers navigate their way through this convergence morass. Instead, the company seems to have fallen into the same trap that has befuddled communications marketers for years, getting so caught up in the ultimate promise of a new technology that they forget to make it relevant and meaningful to consumers in the present.

It’s not too late, new AT&T. If you can’t change this hideous name, at least surround it with intelligent, clear-cut messaging. With investment, you can certainly build meaning into even the silliest and most uninspired of names, but only if you rely on more than the name itself to tell the story. If you want to again make AT&T synonymous with leadership in communications service and technology – and you expect U-verse to help you get there – show us how the future happens. Lead us there, step-by-step. We’ve seen the giant leap thing ad nauseum – and frankly, it totally confuses us. If you can’t do any better, U-verse (whatever it is, whatever it hopes to become) will fall on millions of deaf ears.

- Jonathan Paisner jpaisner@corebrand.com

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