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Commercial Leaves Little to the Imagination

Photographed last August in Malibu, the 30-second spot is in black and white and entitled "Couple," and it leaves little to the imagination, to say the least.

As it begins, the ocean roars. A young man's face appears; he has a model's looks and is fashionably unshaven. There is a distinct come- hither glimmer in his eye, as there is in that of the young woman who is shown next, equally good-looking. Like that of her companion, her countenance is smoldering.

The action unfolds in quick, art- houselike cuts where only parts of their scantily clothed - possibly unclothed - bodies are seen. Hands clasp, unclasp. Eyes and mouths open, then close. The wind blows her hair. He kisses her neck, as she appears to lie prone, his upper body apparently atop hers. They seem to switch positions. A kiss, then another. Toes curl, and breathing becomes heavy.

Leave the phone, say the titles that are superimposed for a second or two on the screen, as the couple's intertwined bodies tumble toward the beach and the pounding surf. Avoid the fax, orders another line of text. Ignore work, demands a third.

Are these outtakes from "From Here To Eternity?" No. A hand is elevated, its index finger extended, and at last the advertiser's message is given, in red titles: one.

One. As in take one hour away from work to . . , well, enjoy yourself. And as in OneRedCube, the commercial's sponsor, a so-called unified messaging service that, for a fee, will allow all calls faxes, e-mail messages and other sundry forms of communication sent your way to be directed to one telephone number and one central location, where you can pick them up whenever you want - or not, if you are otherwise engaged.

Suddenly, leaving a message is sexy.

"It is very difficult today to find any communications product that provides any emotional bond to the consumer," said the commercial's writer and director, Peter Arnell, explaining the logic of the campaign, which "is all about relationships, which are the essence of our business."

Mr. Arnell is the chairman and executive creative director of AG Worldwide, part of the Draft Worldwide unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies. Best known for fashion advertising for clients like Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan, and for brand-building for clients like Samsung, Jose Cuervo tequila and Rockport shoes, Mr. Arnell said that the ads are meant to convey to people what it's like "to have your time given back to you." By contrast, he said, most competitors' ads are "just lists of benefits or explanations of pricing structure."

"This will change all that," he said.

Perhaps. At the very least, Mr. Arnell and his client, a division of Red Cube, an Internet communications service provider based in Zurich, hope that the commercials will distinguish OneRedCube from the numerous other unified messaging services now glutting the marketplace, none of which have thus far proved to be particularly successful, according to Amanda McCarthy, a telecommunications analyst at the Massachusetts-based Forrester Research Inc., who calls them "an extremely hard sell."

"People are already managing their messages," said Ms. McCarthy, with answering machines, e-mail, whatever. "That's why these services haven't taken off."

"Besides, the technology isn't that hard, so anyone can do it."

Still, with an "integrated communications portal" that he says can do more than competing systems, including providing cheap domestic and international long-distance calls for subscribers, OneRedCube is betting that it will be seen as being different, said Richard Lin, OneRedCube's executive vice president for American operations. Hence the advertising, which will use the same visuals worldwide. The media budget of about $20 million for the fourth quarter alone, is split roughly equally between Europe and North America, where the service has been around since last summer.

Domestically, the campaign starts this week, beginning with spots on cable channels including CNN, A & E, CNBC, MSNBC (the Discovery Channel turned it down, said Mr. Arnell, presumably because it deemed it too racy for its family viewers). There will also be bus ads, taxi-top ads and kiosks in public places (like Grand Central Terminal and Union Square in San Francisco, beginning early next year). And there is also a print campaign that will start today with ads in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and will continue in periodicals that include Fortune, Business Week, Red Herring, The Industry Standard and Vanity Fair.

Most of the print ads include headlines and text expanding on the concept of using a messaging service as "a better way to manage your time," Mr. Arnell said. They also feature still photographs taken from the commercial, he said, except for the one that makes its debut in The Times today. [Page C11] That ad features the female model, nude in profile, holding a wooden box, or cube. Although the box covers all the right places, Mr. Arnell said, the ad was nevertheless rejected by The Wall Street Journal, where another will be running in its place.

Will the ads make OneRedCube a success? Though it will be an uphill battle, Ms. McCarthy, the analyst, said she believed that the company is on the right track in its attempts to reach "the broader marketplace" by emphasizing that its product actually allows you to disconnect, and not just to connect.

"It's a very sweet campaign," she said. "The time is over for the `geeks rule the world and you have to be connected all the time' approach," she said. "That's all so yesterday."


Bernard Stamler, The New York Times. November 21, 2000

Copyright © 2000 The New York Times, Inc.. All rights reserved.