Blog Post

Cingular Vs AT&T: The Name Game

The changing pieces on the great telecom chess board has brought the grand old name, AT&T, into the lime light again. SBC, which had acquired AT&T quickly renamed itself AT&T. Now post BellSouth merger, even Cingular is going to go with AT&T brand name. Wow… Cingular brand name cost nearly $4 billion to build-up, and it could be gone….. just like that, just like those dumb Clemens-Johnson ads! A lot of people think it is a dumb idea, and well would make the phone company…. seem like the phone company!

To give up Cingular is a mistake,” especially in favor of AT&T, “my father’s brand of telephony,” said Jonathan Asher, president, Dragon Rouge USA, a branding and design consultancy. “I’m not sure how much value or what AT&T brings to the party.”

You can argue against the decision, but from the triple-play perspective, and the sole reason why SBC has been gobbling up the rivals, it makes absolute sense. AT&T as a unified brand – for wireless and wireline service – makes absolute sense. I have always maintained the brand alone was a reason for SBC to buy. But looks like I am in minority here.

Karl Barnhart, managing director, CoreBrand, New York, a former AT&T agency, agreed that changing the Cingular name “doesn’t make sense.” Cingular’s brand is “relevant for the younger audience; it’s a fun, hip, interesting, dynamic—everything you don’t think about AT&T.”

Clearly, AT&T would have to do a better job of marketing, designing their logo and image. The current logo and symbol of AT&T is just old and boring, and dowdy. What do you think? This AT&T-Cingular swap a good idea? Love to get your thoughts on this issue.

45 Responses to “Cingular Vs AT&T: The Name Game”

  1. indieseattle

    My 2 cents after reading all the comments…mostly all valid, except for the one that baby boomers respect the AT&T brand. Too many negative assns to say that’s true. Granted, the Cingular name is newer, cooler, has better flow, however, not sure anyone actually thinks about what AT&T stands for (i.e., Telegraph) and it’s still a strong brand–around the world. Not sure Cingular would work well as a sub-brand; there’s a trade-off between money you’d save promoting 1 brand vs. 2, and how much traction you’d get making Cingular an MVNO. Having worked for AT&T Wireless, it seems to me that many decisions aren’t made for good marketing reasons, but for managing the stock price. So perhaps the decision to go with AT&T was more about the investment community than anything else — good for short-term gain; perhaps not always the best for the long-term.

  2. eckter

    Does this mean i have to buy a new phone again? and do the infamous crossover again.maybe we should all crossover to a more stable company like verizon.

  3. I was one of the first dozen people to know the Cingular name back when i was on the double-secret-decoder-ring launch project with Ketchum. I got the piece of paper with the funny word on it from my boss in his CAR so that no one would hear the conversation, then had to stuff it in my purse and go straight home, and CALL him when I got home, at which point I stuffed it deep in my underwear drawer like a 13 year old with a pack of Newports. My job was to write messaging around the name. I did that, and never spoke the C-word out loud until I heard the boss say it in an all-hands meeting.

    So, I’m not sure if that makes me pro or con, but it definitely makes me paranoid.

  4. At&T is the Bank of America of telephony…too many people have been burned by their policies. Cingular has the edge because it doesn’t have so many bad associations…yet.

  5. I have been an AT&T/Cingular subscriber for about 8 years and to be honest, I was much happier with my service before Cingular took over. Cingular has gotten somewhat better but something needs to change. The in-store customer service is so bad, I will only do phone/service upgrades and changes over the phone with a CSR. Sometimes the on-hold time is long but it’s much more pleasant than dealing with the in-store sales people that only want to help you if you’re a new customer…There’s nothing wrong with a sales person making commission, but you have to remember to service your existing clients too.

    As for the name/logo, AT&T is fine but why spend so many billions of dollars changing? Name the entire corporation AT&T Cingular or Cingular Service by AT&T…

  6. Think about it this way: If you started a new telecom service from scratch today, what would you call it? “Cingular” wouldn’t be my first choice, but I definitely wouldn’t call it something that sounds like a state-run monopoly. “SBC” is even worse. Southwestern (provincial) and Bell (have you heard any phones that sound like bells lately?).

  7. Om stick to your initial premise, it does make sense!!

    Let’s not forget that SBC originally was Southwestern Bell. It’s brand and image was confined to a regional definition from Judge Green’s MFJ of the Bell System’s breakup.

    Southwestern Bell’s acquisition of Pacific Telesis (never understood the name … ) forced Southwestern Bell to think non-geographical and the brand SBC was born in 1997.

    SBC brand and all of the marketing dollars supporting it is only 9 years old.

    The att brand and all of the marketing dollars supporting dates back to 1876 , a brand over 130 years old.

    SBC move was spot on, and the decision to keep the brand and make it lower case was brilliant.

    In the US, the baby boomers are coming of age and they’ll better respect an att brand than any other brand.

    Globally, att is linked to bell, and bell is linked to bell labs the mother of innovation giving birth to : the transistor, UNIX, C, SNOBOL and I’m sure you could easily add many more.

    I have learned alot about branding in my 6 years at Global Crossing, the branding consultants hired lead our senior leadership team to keep the brand and change it’s image from gold to black, from a fancy font to a simple contemporary font.

    Why? Cause the press awareness of Global Crossing is high and the change in image leveraged a priceless effort into a company that sets goals and delivers.

    So, an att move to re-brand cingular to att Wireless is priceless.

  8. Steve Carlson

    If the end goal is a “unified” brand (wireless, TV, broadband, whatever), wouldn’t the name “Cingular” (“singular”) be the perfect name to describe such a goal?

    Whereas AT&T’s name means, uh, “telephone”.

    I like the name Cingular better – it’s young, modern, and just irreverent enough to spell its name with a C. I can’t believe they’d ditch it.

  9. The importance of company names is totally over-stated. There are too many variables that comprise a brand. Clearly its strategy is to consolidate to a single name (pun intended) so keeping both doesn’t make sense. The Cingular name is probably “better” at this point so that’s what I’d go with.

  10. Jesse Kopelman

    If you want the four play, you need a single brand. If the parent company is going to be called AT&T, then that’s the brand. That said, I think AT&T as a brand is not what it was and renaming the whole company Cingular is not a bad idea. Keeping Cingular alive a Boost-style MVNO is not bad idea either.

    I remember back in 2003 or so when the AT&T Wireless brand was really taking a beating and I was working for the company, I used to mention to the marketing people that we should change the name to Wireless. That way we wouldn’t have to do our own advertising. People would see a commercial or hear good things about X Wireless but they might forget exactly what the X was if it was some weird word like Cingular or Verizon and then they would see a big sign that Wireless and come into our store.

  11. I miss the name, SBC.

    I think Cingular definitely sounds more modern that AT&T.

    I just hope that they become more innovative and have better service. I don’t want them to think they can have crappy service just because they own everything! =)

    Also, there is a long way to go with cell phones. They still do not sound as clear as land lines. I have both, though.

  12. Shoulda merged the brands. The old ATT logo with the Cingular arms and an orange color or the ATT logo as the head for the Cingular guy. Then you would really know its not your father’s ATT.

  13. It’s probably all branding/marketing calculus based on where they see the most growth — probably young people who don’t have bad memories of AT&T, but have a vague notion of them being “some big phone company or whatever”.

  14. Diego

    Consider the breakdown:
    American… Given the current political climate is patriotism hip?
    Telephone… What about Internet, video, etc.?
    &… While cute, ampersands are superfluous.
    Telegraph… Hello?

    But most importantly, which logo do you want to see branded on your devices?

    Are they going to bring back the “You’re not dealing with AT&T” commercials, too? Time to bury the brand, it’s had its day.

  15. Just to add fuel to the fire: AT&T Wireless was widely considered the worst carrier nation-wide, to such an extent that just before AT&T (non-wireless) disappeared, they sued the Wireless spin-off for sullying their brand. I’m pretty sure the case was sidelined in the acquisition madness, but I don’t doubt that many disgruntled consumers will shy away from anything labeled AT&T Wireless for a while longer.

  16. Think of where IBM was 10 years ago. They are hip/relevant again… I think AT&T capable of being repositioned, albeit at a pretty high pricetag.

  17. My guess is that Karl Barnhart, managing director, CoreBrand, was the guy who came up with the Cingular name. Therefore, his opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Does anyone really believe the Cingular brand is hip? Their customer service issues were just as bad as those of AT&T. And at any rate AT&T is seeking enterprise business, not young hipsters who take less lucrative pre-paid contracts.

    Mike D, however, makes a good point. AT&T could be an enterprise brand, and Cingular the hipster brand – to the extent that there can be such a thing within AT&T.

  18. AT&T didn’t have exactly a stellar rep for service or competitive pricing in Texas either when it comes to wireless or network quality. Cingular is/was great, at least around Dallas. Cingular is a cool brand … much more like Apple. AT&T … well that just seems like another remnant up there with MCI and the other large telcos or yore that are great for the enterprise but fail miserably when it comes to my $50 a month DSL phone line.

    Granted, that’s probably just my perception based on history. I’d say their customer service and offerings have actually gotten better post merger. Definitely not crazy about the AT&T logo update as it looks very 1999 or like the CEOs high school kid with a Mac reworked it.

    In the end though, I bet they pull it off quite well even with arguable blase logo design, loss of “Cingular” and all.

  19. Jacob Varghese

    I think the entire company should be rebranded as Cingular.

    “AT&T” sounds so dated.

    “Cingular” has a good customer service record and has a very modern reputation.

    Cingular Home
    Cingular Internet
    Cingular Wireless

  20. Tim Meyer

    Turn Cingular into an MVNO, it is easily repositioned towards the youth segment. There are many handsets that would fit into this scenario such as the Nokia N Series, SE Walkman and Cybershot that the new ATT may not want to carry. This is also how Boost operates.

  21. They’ll also lose their current NASCAR sponsership on car #31 if they change. When Nextel, now Sprint, took over as the title sponser of NASCAR, one clause stipulated that there would be no cars sponsered by rival telecom companies.

    The existing Alltel and Cingular sponserships were grandfathered in … they could stay. If Cingular changes to AT&T wireless, they lose the grandfather clause.

  22. I think they will be proven wrong on this decision. It would make more sense to keep the cingular brand and probably have a few more too. They should just be selling to different market segments. If there is overlap in the customers, switch them around.

  23. brian

    I wouldn’t mind them choosing the AT&T (or at&t) name over Cingular if I didn’t hate the new at&t brand execution so much. Every time I see it on a truck or an ad it makes me wonder why they chose that direction and when they are going to realize their mistake. Such potential, wasted.

  24. Christopher Wallace

    The whole point of the “new AT&T” moniker is that it ISN’T your father’s telecom. If $2 billion is what it takes to place their new logo in front of 55 million people several times per day, then it can only strengthen the AT&T brand as a whole and increase the likelihood that these former Cingular customers will purchase other services (i.e. broadband, television, etc.) from AT&T. God bless ‘im, Ed Whitacre is no dummy.

  25. Agreed. At least in metro Seattle, AT&T Wireless has always been viewed as the worst of the carriers. Not just from a signal perspective but customer service as well. I can’t judge them because I’ve never used them, but that’s the feeling I always got from passing conversations about cell phone service over the last several years.

    I’m not sure why they wouldn’t just keep both brands alive and use one in a completely different way than the other. The Cingular brand, for instance, could be marketed with more much risk given that if things ended up going badly, they could fold it. There’s nothing wrong with one company branding two services differently in my opinion. It’s brand diversification. Customers many times don’t even make the connection that they are dealing with the same company.

  26. I don’t like blue. When I think of AT&T, I think of a huge corporation. Corporations do not get much love.
    I hated AT&T’s customer service. So I have a personal hatred towards the brand name. :)