Mark Wahlberg makes a rare pitch to help AT&T pivot to entertainment

After landing an 8-figure deal, the actor plays the everyman in BBDO New York campaign.

Mark Wahlberg presents a new manifesto on behalf of TV lovers in BBDO New York’s latest spots for AT&T. In a 90-second anthem, he weaves effortlessly past speeding police cars, a stagecoach, a giant robot and an entire football team while explaining the benefits of bundled entertainment.

Two years after its acquisition of DirectTV and ahead of a proposed merger with Time Warner, the telecommunications giant is repositioning itself as an "entertainment" company that can offer customers access to their favorite media in ways that wireless competitors like Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile can’t.  As part of that transformation, AT&T inked a deal with Wahlberg in March—a deal reported to be worth around $10 million—to appear as a pitchman for the brand, a role the actor has taken to only infrequently.

"We like that Mark brings a relatable and no-nonsense approach to the campaign. He doesn’t just speak to consumers but connects with them in a down-to-earth and authentic way," said Valerie Vargas, vice president, advertising at AT&T Entertainment Group. "The message we’re sharing in this campaign is more than a new product or offer.  It’s a pivotal shift in how we approach our business."

It’s an attempt to rebrand not just the company, but the screen itself. As Wahlberg says in the spot, "We want all our things to be television things," from phones and iPads to refrigerators. "As wireless companies duke it out on unlimited data," Vargas said, AT&T is focusing instead on giving customers "the entertainment they want, when and where they want it."

It’s a shift from more transactional spots by BBDO that featured Lily, the perky store manager played by Milana Vayntrub. "The ‘Terms & Conditions’ campaign is replacing the other spots we ran previously," Vargas said. "We don’t plan to have Lily as a spokesperson in this campaign."

Wahlberg isn’t the only big name to make an appearance in the new spots. An exasperated James Marsden shows up as his character from HBO’s "Westworld," the gunslinger Teddy Flood. Tracy Morgan is interrupted on the red carpet, and Rob Corddry drives a golf cart onto the floor of Congress. (When was the last time you saw a TV company tout C-SPAN as an asset?) The "Dramatic Chipmunk" meme even gets a nod, as shorthand for every time-wasting activity on the entirety of the internet.

"We included Westworld partly because HBO is part of the new unlimited plan, and also because seeing James Marsden die for the 7,000th time is funny," said Matt MacDonald, executive creative director at BBDO New York. "Beyond that, we drew from the entire TV landscape, because that's what we believe entertainment your way should be about—getting everything you want. And C-SPAN."

But the concept for the campaign existed even before Wahlberg signed on, Vargas said. That allowed him to add his own input. "We developed the concept of ‘entertainment your way’ and putting everything on the customers’ terms before approaching Mark," she said. "Mark collaborated with us on these ads, along with director Peter Berg, over the course of a few months as we talked through how to best get his message across."

Besides his seminal underwear modeling for Calvin Klein in in his Marky Mark days, Wahlberg appeared in a 2016 ad focusing on his hard knock roots and desire to succeed, for Australian telecom Optus. He has also been in ads for the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit that provides assistance to veterans injured in combat. Over the next few months, Wahlberg will appear in additional AT&T spots that will also feature more celebrity cameos.

The new spots are reminiscent of a 60-second AT&T ad that BBDO New York created in January, the first work for the brand after a massive review last summer that saw the agency successfully defend the creative account from Grey. That spot followed a man across the city who’s engrossed in digital media on his smartphone. It touted the availability of DVR and TV channels across all devices, as well as a motley group of cameos from David Hasselhoff, Big Bird, a flying DeLorean and the bassline from "Seinfeld."

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