Opinion: Beale on ... Wanadoo

There you are, breaking new ground, ploughing a furrow, fighting the protected monoliths (BT), establishing yourself as the country's biggest ISP with an impressive 2.6 million punters popping through your portal and then the bloody French tell you to change your name. Whether you Wanadoo it or not. It's a bit of a bugger, really, because Freeserve was doing so nicely. Neat positioning, some lovely, fresh advertising and the sort of sensibly frugal moniker guaranteed to appeal to the cheap-skate Brits.

Of course, they threw a party. Martin Freeman turned up, leaving any remaining vestiges of cool with the name-checker on the door. There was Nick Moran, some ex-EastEnder, some current EastEnder. Someone from Casualty.

Apparently, the Kings Cross Scala rocked.

And then came the advertising. Now I've always had a soft spot for Freeserve's advertising. Right from the early days of the nudy campers. It's always managed to be cheeky, quirky and yet rather comfortingly prim. And it stood out from its internet brethren back in the glory days when half the start-up costs would go on ads about sand or skateboarders. And the other half on big offices and fast cars. Leaving 50 quid in the cookie jar for the business plan.

Right from the off Freeserve has been a solid business, a beacon brand in a sea of uncalled-for services, blinding graphics and dead-end links.

Then it got bought by France Telecom and, quite sensibly, is being renamed to match its sister continental brand. The trick is to keep all that's best about the Freeserve heritage while getting us all excited about the super new add-ons that come with the new name.

Oh, it's early days but, since the new M&C Saatchi advertising will be key to driving home the new name and getting us all panting to find out more, so far they've got off to a slow start. In the run-up to the rebrand there's been some nice TV, press and poster work showing strung-out hippies getting their hair cut, shaving, smartening up, in readiness for the new dawn. They've done a fine job of continuing the Freeserve ad style while signalling change ahead.

The problem is with the new ads, the stuff designed to introduce the Wanadoo name. For starters it's just so different from the Freeserve work that the link has been severed far too sharply.

Perhaps this wouldn't matter so much if the new Wanadoo TV ads were so brilliantly conceived and executed that they stood alone, sufficiently compelling that any echo of the old Freeserve was unnecessary. But they're not.

They are a series of vignettes: some small everyday scenes, some a little kinky or disturbing, but somehow they all manage to seem wearily familiar.

Made-up website addresses flash up to illustrate each point. So when a boy's attempts to snog his girlfriend are thwarted by the appearance of her cat mid-pucker, we're directed to www.easytaxidermy.com. Or when some hapless bloke with the worst case of hair topiary ever seen in an ad finally plucks up the courage to present the woman he fancies with an uncomfortably phallic cactus, we are referred to www.conqueringshyness.com: echoes of the old Yellow Pages ads and not so good.

The ad feels listless, tired and dated. And, worse, it fails to say anything practical or sensible about Wanadoo and its wide range of services. Which is a shame. Ofcom has just warned BT that it will have to reduce the amount it charges internet companies for access to its local telephony exchanges. That's likely to open up the broadband market to greater competition, which is not necessarily good news for Wanadoo either. The new ads have a big job to do, which so far it seems they cannodoo.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Try www.bribingthejudges.co.uk.

File under ... M for mustadoo better.

What would the chairman's wife say? "ISP? Isn't that what Marjorie

suffers from?"

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