AT&T updates its brand...again

AT&T, still struggling to convey the merger of itself with Cingular, is taking another crack at its brand identity. But it is dangerously staying on the fence about who it is as a company.

Adam Richardson
Adam Richardson is the director of product strategy at frog design, where he guides strategy engagements for frog's international roster of clients, envisioning and creating new products, consumer electronics, and digital experiences. Adam combines a background in industrial design, interaction design, and sociology, and spends most of his time on convergent designs that combine hardware, software, service, brand, and retail. He writes and speaks extensively on design, business, culture, and technology, and runs his own Richardsona blog.
Adam Richardson
2 min read

AT&T is still struggling to convey the fact that it is a seamless blend of two companies--the "old" AT&T with Cingular. Cingular was a brand sensation, having been created out of whole cloth and gaining massive market and mindshare in a very short amount of time. I remember the first time I saw an ad for it, in a subway station in San Francisco, and was struck by how fresh it was, from the name to the color to the lively logo. At the time I knew nothing of its provenance (a merger of SBC and BellSouth), and the impression it left was clean and hip.

AT&T's logo had been updated shortly before this latest merger, an uninspired update of Saul Bass' classic ("Hey, it's 3D!"). According to BusinessWeek, in trying to combine the two identities AT&T is struggling to find the right balance of its old self with young upstart Cingular:

"The new proposition sees the company heading back to basics in an attempt to convey the seamless blend of both merged companies. And, in a move that suggests executives may regret having been so quick to ditch all things Brand Cingular (its quirky but memorable "Jack" logo, often shown bouncing around the screen in ads, was officially retired in May) the wireless company's characteristic effervescent orange will now get more prominent play throughout AT&T's wireless operations."

The warm orange color is the only carryover from Cingular days, and really it doesn't work harmoniously with the cool hues of blue and white in the AT&T logo. The combination feels forced.

Living on a fence like this is dangerous territory for a brand. AT&T is going to have to pick sides, and do it soon. Its relative weakness in the brand balance with Apple shows that it is not dealing from a position of strength, and its lack of clarity on who it is as a company is a part of that.

These days companies must have clear personalities to connect with customers who are more relationship-driven in the way they relate to products and brands that ignite their passions. No one particularly wants a relationship with someone who has a split personality--it's too unpredictable and trust can't develop. AT&T is hurting what trust it had to begin with by staying on the fence.