Company in Quest for 10-10 Dominance

Diversified broadband communications company Qwest Communications, Denver, has created a humorous direct mail campaign for its dial-around long-distance service that has doubled the company’s response rate and spawned a cadre of fans who appreciate the humorous approach.

Much as its competitors’ television ads have generated buzz through the use of well-known actors and comedians like Dennis Miller, Qwest’s direct mail pieces have some charismatic spokes-beings of their own, including cows, gorillas, bears, clowns and aliens. These creatures, which have appeared in 40 mailings since the campaign began a year and a half ago, have created an activity center at the company’s Web site, where customers can download cartoon screen savers, send e-mail postcards to friends and play games online. The Web address is

The campaign uses greeting-card-sized self-mailers featuring a brightly colored cartoon on the front, with text on the inside comparing the Qwest calling plan, 10-10-432, to those of its rivals, along with additional cartoons. The plans allow consumers to circumvent their traditional long-distance carriers by dialing a “10-10” number.

“That card format with the cartoon is my bread and butter,” said Russell Nordstrom, director of marketing at Qwest’s consumer division. “Whenever we do a drop, we get a ton of calls to our customer service line. People really enjoy the cartoon.”

The ads are created by an outside agency that Nordstrom declined to identify. Although he attributed much of the success of the campaign to the cartoons, he said the company also introduced a flat-rate pricing structure and did some extensive customer modeling at the same time.

“We found a pretty loyal subscriber base and we model people that are similar to them,” he said. “As the program grows, we find more people who are likely to respond to the mail pieces and we mail to them.”

Nordstrom would not reveal how many pieces the company has mailed. He said he has occasionally tested other creative formats, but the cartoon cards have been by far the most consistent winners.

In addition to cow mailers promising to save customers “moo-la,” other cards feature deer holding signs that instruct customers to “save big bucks” and a dancing bear in a tutu. Qwest first decided to use a humorous approach in the direct mail pieces, Nordstrom said, because “the whole dial-around industry was taking itself way too seriously.” In addition, the approach helps convey the idea that Qwest’s plan is simple and straightforward at a time when such plans have been criticized for their use of deceptive marketing.

One recent piece compares Qwest’s plan, which is priced at 7 cents a minute for state-to-state calls between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. weekdays and all day on weekends, with those of MCI’s 10-10-321 plan, AT&T’s One Rate plan and the Sprint Sense AnyTime plan. The mailer also compares international rates for the plans.

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