When Choosing Between Two Brands, Why Keep The Less Popular One?

from the go-figure dept

The real clincher for AT&T’s buyout of BellSouth was its desire to control Cingular, their wireless joint venture. Cingular, you might remember, bought AT&T Wireless back in 2004, and spent a good chunk of change on rebranding efforts to make consumers aware of the change. Given that, it was a little curious to see the news that AT&T plans to quickly phase out the Cingular brand as it seeks to unite all its units, services and products under the AT&T name. But it wasn’t just the money that made it strange, it’s also the fact that the Cingular brand represents something very different than the staid, old (albeit well-known) AT&T one. Cingular’s brand is all about wireless, and represents something much more forward-looking than the old fixed-line mentality AT&T evokes. However, a marketing research firm has added a little more fuel to the fire with a report saying the Cingular brand is much more popular than the AT&T one. Granted, its metrics sound a bit fuzzy, but it reports that AT&T is the least talked about telecom brand, and when it is mentioned, fewer of those mentions are positive than any other telecom brand in the US as well. Things get even stranger when you consider how AT&T said that AT&T Wireless had broken its brand by offering such poor customer service and gaining such a bad reputation. It’s hardly clear why AT&T thinks it’s got more to gain by consolidating everything under its less popular brand name. While the AT&T brand may have a lot of recognition, the thoughts that follow aren’t necessarily good ones.

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Comments on “When Choosing Between Two Brands, Why Keep The Less Popular One?”

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John Byrne says:

AT&T brand

The decision to rebrand Cingular to AT&T is a natural extension of SBC’s decision to go with the AT&T brand following the SBC/AT&T merger. The company has spent millions this year on AT&T brand marketing, though obviously not in the area of wireless. Short-term, yes, Cingular has probably got a stronger brand recognition, but the decision to go with the single AT&T brand is part of the company’s long-term strategy to offer a number of converged products that will combine wireline, wireless, video, IP services etc etc. So the sooner the company can get people to see AT&T’s wireless operations as part of a larger AT&T brand, the better off the company is in the long run.

Anonymous Coward says:

ATT Mobile was going to be the name for awhile

I think they decided to drop the name. Looks like they knew enough to grab the domain, tho.

The AT&T brand is a much better brand than Cingular. Believe me, AT&T did their own market research before making a decision like this. Not a chance this wasn’t analyzed to death. A strong unified brands is much better than trying to maintain 2 or 3 brands. And I’m sure they spent a lot more money on their research than whoever funded this report did.

The fact is, almost everyone who is ever going to own a cell phone has one. The carriers are looking to score large corporate accounts now. AT&T plays better in the boardroom.

Dosquatch says:

Re: multiple brands

A strong unified brands is much better than trying to maintain 2 or 3 brands.

Untrue. Or, at least, not necessarily true. Diversification of brands has an insulating quality. If or when one brand does something that generates backlash, you as a parent company continue to float comfortably on the strength of your other brands. See Gap/Old Navy, Pizza Hut/KFC/Taco Bell/PepsiCo, Ford/Lincoln/Mercury/Mazda, Dodge/Chrystler/Jeep/Mitsubishi, Honda/Acura, Nissan/Lexus, Chevy/Cadillac/Hummer/Pontiac/GMC… I could go on. The point is, multiple brands are not automatically a burden, and quite often are a benefit.

misanthropic humanist says:

Never kill a brand

A brand is something that should never lose its value. Think of it like a property, it can have many owners and be bought and sold, but over the years it should grown in value. Unless the company does something *really* bad to sully a brand name it should never be decomminsioned. I’ve talked about brand robustness before, how the Neumann name is legendary in the microphone market even when products exist with 10 times the value for money. Or another example is how Sony, despite all its mistakes and outright malice against its customers is still a strong brand in many peoples minds. I hear people say, “Well, yes, Sony are fucking evil criminals, but you know, they do make good products don’t they”. Even though Sony may become synonymous with invasive and deliberately defective technology, there is a kind of paradox which means the previously established image of Sony as a reliable and quality brand survives. Of course there are some names that will never live down the reputation that is attached to them. Union Carbide is indelibley stained with the image of 10,000 choking, dying Indians. General Dynamics, Haliburton etc will never be known for anything other than images of human bodies torn apart. But if you can establish a “good” association to a name that also has a powerful logevity.

I can’t think of an example that will mean much to Americans. But in Britain we had a chain of supermarkets called “Fine Fare”. Back in the 1970’s there was a FineFare in every town, they were the Tesco of their day. But in just a few years after they were bought out by Gateway the brand dissappeared. It exists only in the minds of old farts like me now.

But here’s the thing that the current owners probably don’t realise. If I were to walk into a street with an ASDA (Wallmart) and I saw a FineFare shop I would choose to go there in an instant. Those memories from the 1970s are as strong as ever, the brand is still synonymous with “good value” in my supermarket schema.

Destroying a brand is simply destroying potential wealth. AT&T are extremely foolish to do so. I have no idea what Americans think of Cingular, but I can tell you what Americans think of AT&T – a company that snoops on their private conversations and actively sells their private information to sinister government agencies. Or, as saw it said on Slashdot once, “AT&T, the only company whos logo is the Death Star”.

hewitt says:

I was a customer of Ameritech, and became more disgruntled after each contact with them. Ameritech became SBC, and “disgruntled” grew into contempt. I used AT&T for LD, but gave up on them. The morph of SBC to AT&T came after we switched to Time Warner Cable, who now handles our land line (as well as cable tv and Internet), and I’m completely happy. Cingular handles our cell phones, and I’m happy with them. If the Cingular brand disappears, I expect my contentment to disappear along with the brand. If Time Warner Cable would offer cell phone service, I would try it. Otherwise, I’ll probably be looking at one of the other major cell providers. The AT&T brand leaves me cold, and I fully expect them to act like they are the only game in town, and to treat me like a statistic.

techmarketer says:

AT&T is a strong brand

I think that killing the Cingular brand is a good idea. AT&T is a good brand with a good history and will allow AT&T to centralize its spend on one thing. One thing that stands for something is better than two brands that stand for the same thing. Ries & Trout (see 22 immutable laws of marketing – look it up inthe search engine of your choice – Amazon makes it impossible to link to their reviews….) talk about categories dividing, but in this case I see category replacement. For many people, myself included long distance = cell phone service. Anyhow, I think this is a good move, for what it’s worth, although I’ll probably not switch from Verizon and Vonage – the former which does in fact deliver good service and the latter which is simply too strong on the low cost side to be tempted to switch. Flame at will.

Anthony says:

att vs cingular

i know for me…. it doesn’t matter who has the name as long as the service is there when i make a phone call. i also have certain requirements for my phone like uptime. if they run the cingular network then acdtually i iwll be fine. if they are able to keep their head above water and maintain reasonable customer service as cingular was not always so good. when all is said and done the cmda phones are a dying breed. they are much more useable on a sim card and because of that i can keep a spare phone charged and make a phone call anywhere. that is what it comes down to me. when i hit send will it connect.

that is the question.

RevMike (user link) says:

Unified services

My impression was that AT&T intends to roll out a tightly integrated set of services. For instance a single number might be tied to both a land line and cell phone. Another idea is that a land line and a cell phone could be tied to the same voice mailbox.

Unifying the brand might be worthwhile if they are also unifying the actual service offerings.

CoJeff says:

Sorry at&t

Every single time I hear the AT&T commercial on TV, “Your world delivered.” I was add in my head, “To the NSA.” I haven’t liked them since I told them to close my account and they left it open. Not only that but after it was closed they still kept contacting me about the account over a year later. It makes me sad that the iPhone will be on Cingular cause I will avoid anything that has connections to AT&T as much as possible.

Devious says:

Never Again

It is the buy out wars, it started with Suncom, (I had excellent service with them, the only company that I never had a problem or unresolved issue) who got bought out by At&t (the service went down hill fast), then Cingular (they killed the excellent deal I had with Suncom, the only company to offer nights and weekends from 7 to 7 at the time and free mobile to mobile) bought them out.
Then with Cingular, the service go so bad, I could never connect, my calls were constantly dropped( still charged for them), even had an instance where I tried to dial 911 over a dozen times and could not connect because the “network” was “busy”….
Needless to say, I have T-mobile now…..
I hae a Cingular phone from my work, and there has been no improvement. I just pick up my T-mobile phone when I need to make a call.

What’s worse, is that I Had Bellsouth for the home phone and DSL internet, can’t wait to see what happens now…. I might go back to dial up becuase the cable companies here are even worse than At&t ever thought about being….
Now that is bad.

Ruben (user link) says:

Re: This wasn't for us.

Plainly this change over wasn’t for us, the consumers. It’s for the boardroom, it’s for the investors. It’s for the namesake and overall strategy of at&t’s brand.

“A World Connected” can’t be if at&t isn’t in the wireless market. (this is your quing youtube videos from your home internet connection to view on your cellular phone so that you can text them to your favorite buddies so that they can email their friends… etc).

If I were them I’d want to keep the cingular brand as an imprint of at&t because of its equity and perceived value amongst consumers.

Cingular powered by at&t.
which would be abbreviated to Cingular ATT.
This way you can keep Cingular as well as at&t.

the drawback of course is that the brand is instantly less portable as a result…

rob says:

yada yada

spirint/nextel – cvs/revco = at&t/cingular, and I’m sure there are MANY more regional examples of this…

It never ceases to amaze me at the stupiidity of corporate decision makers.

Was I surprised when the word of the Cingular phase-out came down? No.

My first thought (being from the lowly SOUTH) was that it would be hard for AT&T Wireless to keep sponsoring NASCAR team in the NEXTEL Cup series, as the Cingular sponsorship was grandfathered into being allowed to stay with a team when Nextel took over, but NEW wireless sponsors are NOT accepted…. I wonder if that will make anybody mad??

Surely I have BETTER things to do today 🙂

Rick says:

How about the $$$ wasted on re-branding?

Forget the fact that I think Cingular has built a nice brand, and that I prefer it to the old AT&T. Just look at the big bucks (as in BILLIONS, not millions) spent so far to promote “Cingular,” and will now be spent to switch the name AGAIN. Why don’t they take those BILLIONS and improve the product / service? One argument: without all those ads, then AT&T won’t be able to gather enough customers to leverage economies of scale. But as my wife pointed out, why don’t they just save the BILLIONS and drop the price of the service? You don’t think they’d attract a huge customer base with 30-40% better monthly pricing??

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