How ubiquitous are those AT&T commercials with the inquisitive guy talking earnestly with the cute, lippy children? So ubiquitous that the guy — a comedian, actor and writer named Beck Bennett — sometimes finds himself, despite his best intentions, watching himself on television.
"They catch me by surprise," Bennett said of the spots. "I'll be at a bar with friends on a Friday or Saturday, and they come on.
"It's pretty surreal," he added.
In nearly two dozen commercials so far, Bennett plays a deadpan interlocutor who takes children seriously, drawing them out in wry exchanges that are partly scripted and mostly improvised — or, as Bennett describes it, "like The Colbert Report meets Kids Say the Darnedest Things."
In one spot, which has run in a near-endless loop on television lately, a little girl says she'll use the money she saves to buy a "changer machine" to turn her brother into a puppy.
"Couldn't you just buy an actual puppy?" Bennett asks.
"Yeah, but if my brother's a puppy," she says, "I could bring him to show-and-tell and say, 'Hey everybody, here's my puppy-brother.' "
"Well," Bennett declares, "when you say it like that, it makes perfect sense."
With that kind of delivery, Bennett, 28, has been widely credited with keeping viewers engaged (along with the charming children) despite the thousands of times the spots appear each day on broadcast and cable television. The commercials began running in November as part of an AT&T campaign created by the BBDO Atlanta division of BBDO North America that carries the theme "It's not complicated."
"Verizon, in its ads, was making a superiority claim, saying, 'We're bigger,' " said Gary M. Stibel, chief executive at the New England Consulting Group in Norwalk, Conn. "AT&T puts on an adult with a bunch of kids who say, 'Faster is better than slower' and 'Bigger is better than smaller.' The take-away is 'AT&T is better.' "
David Christopher, chief marketing officer at the AT&T Mobility division of AT&T, praised Bennett's role in making the AT&T campaign "wildly successful, more so than we could've imagined," as demonstrated by measurements like views on YouTube — one of the most popular had 1.18 million views as of Wednesday evening — and positive comments in social media.
"His tone is deferential and his comedic timing is awesome; the whole construct works," Christopher said. "It's the perfect mix of hard-hitting, competitive messages with cute and compelling content."
Bennett's effectiveness may stem from the time he has spent honing his skills in playing a character who interviews children, as shown on a Web series, Fresh Perspectives, that he created in 2011. A year later, he auditioned for, and landed, an online campaign for AT&T, "Brackets by 6-year-olds," in which he asked children to select teams that could win the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The response to that campaign led to the creation of the "It's not complicated" commercials and Bennett's signing of a long-term contract.
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"We thought, 'We should use this guy for something bigger,' " said David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO North America in New York.
"The beauty is" that Bennett gives the impression "he really thinks the children have the answers he's seeking," he added, "like a journalist interviewing knowledgeable subjects."