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MCI Welcomes 17 Million to 'The Neighborhood'

MCI will send direct mail to 17 million households next month touting The Neighborhood, a new residential phone service initially available to 50 million households in 32 states and nationwide by early 2003.

Part of an integrated marketing campaign handled by Deutsch Inc., New York, the mail effort will support television, print, radio and online banner advertising. The budget was not disclosed.

“We need to make the world understand what it is that we do and then what you get,” said Bobbi Casey Howell, director of customer and data strategy at Deutsch.

The mailers will tout The Neighborhood Complete package, which offers unlimited local and long-distance service for $49.99 or $59.99, depending on the state, as well as a $32.99 Neighborhood Choice option, which does not include unlimited calls.

The monthlong effort targets current customers of MCI, prospects in the house files and customers of its airline partners and Blockbuster, another MCI partner. Recipients are asked to call a toll-free number or visit www.theneighborhood.com to register for the service.

Online, MCI will use banners and rich media eyeblaster ads on sites like Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, about.com and a range of Web properties in the AOL Time Warner portfolio. Clicking on the banners takes visitors to The Neighborhood's site.

Outbound e-mail, however, is not in the media mix.

“E-mail, at this point, is mostly being used as a viral marketing component,” said Fred Rubin, executive vice president of directDeutsch and iDeutsch, Deutsch's direct arms. “We've looked at some of the purchase list opportunities, but, basically, we're starting at mass and then using e-mail actually on the site as a referral tool.”

Television commercials broke last week on cable channels, accompanied by a media roadblock on the morning shows on NBC, ABC and CBS. The 60-second, 30-second and 15-second spots focus on the value of talk, not the cost of calling.

Creative for the spots reflects a raw element. Black-and-white film is used to capture close-ups of people conveying sentiments like “I love you” or “I'd like to order a small pizza, please.” A voiceover says, “All words are created equal. The power to use them is our right as humans.”

“Television has got to make it clear about who we are,” Casey Howell said. “That's what the television is doing right now, and it's still a call to action on general television — go to the Web site or call the 800 number.”

Print creative included a two-page ad in USA Today headlined, “Does 'I love you' mean more during peak hours?” Copy on the other page introduces the new MCI brand.

Ads also will run in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including People, Time, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly.

Casey Howell expects the marketing to communicate The Neighborhood's simplicity. Plans offered by other phone companies like AT&T Corp., for instance, include flat local and long-distance rates but charge heavily for regional calls. Often it is cheaper to call one end of the country than the neighboring county, she said.

“It's just the way the phone companies set up their pricing,” Casey Howell said. “It doesn't even make sense [for consumers].”

So confident is Arlington, VA-based MCI of The Neighborhood's market reception that it is not bundling any incentive for consumers to sign up.

“We consider the product, at this point, a greatly priced product,” Casey Howell said. “The product itself is the offer.”

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