Iconic Ads: AT&T – Reach Out and Touch Someone

Emotions were used by AT&T to communicate long-distance telephony through the famous line – Reach Out and Touch Someone

In the face of mounting concerns about AT&T’s (Bell Systems then) impending monopoly, N.W. Ayer, one of America’s oldest advertising companies, required a creative way to assist AT&T to soften its image.

And establish the corporation as a necessary part of everyday life in the United States.

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian educator, philosopher, and media theory expert, is credited with coining the phrase, ostensibly to capitalize on people’s need to interact with one another. (He also coined phrases like “the medium is the message” and “global village.”)

The goal of the 1979 campaign, according to its creators, was to convey the idea that long-distance calling is a “simple, non-traumatic experience.”

How did it manage to do so? “Selling emotion” is how.

So, how did this small success story get started? It turns out that the campaign’s central “reach out and touch someone” phrase dates back to at least 1971, but it wasn’t until the ads we all know began airing around 1979 that it became the star of the show.

The creative team was led by Richard Keith.

“Take, for example, AT&T’s long-distance ad campaign, ‘Reach out and touch someone.’ The line had previously been used in a print campaign when it was created by N.W. Ayer in the mid-1970s, Keith recalled.

The sentence, along with four additional choices, was set to music. “Reach out and touch someone” was not a favourite of the client, he explained. “Keep in contact, America,” they desired.

Despite AT&T’s preference for the USA-centric campaign, Keith urged the company to allow him to test the phrase alongside the favourite one more. He stated that ‘reach out and touch someone’ was preferred 2 to 1.

And, as they say, the rest is history. He remarked, ‘My major contribution was not thinking about it, but simply fighting for something at the proper time.’

Stanley Lomas produced the famous films. David Lucas, a well-known composer, composed the music.

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