AT&T to replace Cingular brand

The Cingular name will start to disappear on Monday, when the AT&T brand will once again describe a mobile offering in the U.S.

AT&T will launch a new advertising campaign to replace the Cingular brand with its own, the company announced Friday. The campaign starts on Monday and will initially feature a transitional graphic that includes elements of both the AT&T and Cingular logos.

The move will have a tangential effect on Apple’s nascent plans to get into the mobile phone business. Earlier this week, in unveiling its new iPhone, Apple announced that Cingular would be the exclusive U.S. carrier for the smartphone. Cingular CEO Stan Sigman appeared onstage with Steve Jobs during the Apple CEO’s Macworld Expo keynote.

As a result of a series of mergers and acquisitions, the AT&T brand on a wireless service was recently killed off, only to now be revived.

AT&T Wireless was once an independent company that had been spun off from AT&T. Cingular Wireless bought the wireless operator and eliminated the AT&T Wireless brand. Then SBC, one of the owners of Cingular, bought AT&T, adopting the AT&T brand for its landline services. More recently, AT&T bought BellSouth, the other owner of Cingular, spurring the switch back to the AT&T brand for the wireless service.

Now that AT&T is the parent company of several telecommunications brands, it is consolidating the branding under the AT&T name as a way of cutting costs. AT&T estimates that 20 percent of the operating expenses it expects to save though the merger with BellSouth will come from consolidating advertising.

Although well-known, the AT&T brand has been tarnished a bit since Cingular’s acquisition of AT&T Wireless. A class action lawsuit claims that Cingular intentionally allowed the AT&T Wireless network to degrade as a way to encourage customers to switch to the Cingular network. Cingular then charged customers early termination fees to cancel their AT&T Wireless accounts, as well as other fees for setting up new contracts with Cingular, the suit alleges.

Throughout this year, the 2,000 Cingular stores and kiosks will get new AT&T signs. The company will use the co-branded graphic until customers become aware that Cingular is now AT&T. AT&T did not say how long that might take.

Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels contributed to this report.

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