AT&T Overhauls Image -- Is it Afraid of the Big Bad Verizon iPhone?

AT&T, everybody's favorite whipping boy, is attempting to overhaul its image as a "lifestyle company" and apply -- gasp! -- a positive attitude in its advertising.

This sea change in its approach to branding, entitled "Rethink Possible," comes after an obnoxious and drawn-out war with Verizon over network issues -- a battle AT&T ultimately lost) and is perfectly timed with rumors that Verizon will get an iPhone later this year.

A run-through of AT&T's latest television spot reveals a company with cutesy pep in its step. Instead of blasting its competitors or even mentioning the strength of its EDGE (not 3G) signal, AT&T wants to focus on company innovation. Esther Lee, senior vice president for brand marketing and advertising for AT&T, told

The New York Times that the spirit of "Rethink Possible" is "so much in keeping with what an innovative company like AT&T embodies." David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer for ad agency BBDO North America told the Times that "Rethink Possible" moves AT&T "out of the gloom" and props it as a "forward-thinking, optimistic company."

Among the casualties of the shift in focus are the Luke Wilson ads (thank you!), its old logo, and even perhaps mention of AT&T's rollover minutes.

But that's all ad-man talk -- what is AT&T actually doing to evolve its company and products? After all, AT&T claims it spends "an average of $18 billion to $19 billion a year on our network, our technology and our inventions in order to drive the future of how people are going to live on our network." Well, besides pumping $2 billion into its network in preparation for the iPad 3G, I have no idea. And what does "lifestyle company" mean anyway?

"Rethink Possible" sounds to me like a dying-breath attempt at restructuring a company that many deem broken trash. If Verizon and its beefy 3G network get an iPhone, AT&T is in serious trouble. I for one will immediately bail on my AT&T contract, termination fees be damned, and I suspect many others will do the same.

Still, AT&T retains a solid relationship with Apple, seeing as it will provide 3G service for the iPad and give consumers a chance to duck the Wi-Fi iPad's connectivity issues. But once Apple starts bed-hopping between two cellular companies, the future of AT&T as a carrier is up for grabs.

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