Does everyone remember Cingular? If you were looking to buy a cell phone in the early aughties, you probably shopped with them. They were one of the first nearly-national cell phone companies. Back then, there were dozens of local providers, but very few that reached across a large area of the country.
There was Cingular and there was AT&T Wireless.
Cingular was the name given in 2000 to a joint venture between two former AT&T companies. SBC Communications was the parent company of Pacific Bell, serving the West Coast. BellSouth served Florida and adjoining states. When they decided to join forces to serve a large number of national customers, it was big news.
Cingular was so named because back then it was important to have a name that was “dot-commable.” Without modern search engines (remember Google was barely 2 years old then) you needed a name that was easy to remember. But, it couldn’t be so common that you couldn’t trademark it. Cingular, a deliberate misspelling of “singular” that also looked a bit like “ring” and “cellular,” was the choice to replace “Pacific Bell Wireless” and “BellSouth Mobility,” neither of which were terribly “dot-commable” names.
Cingular’s big competitors at the time were AirTouch (later Verizon) and AT&T Wireless. Both were excellent companies and I’ll admit I used both of them.
When Cingular launched, it was this huge pastiche of millennium-style marketing. You had the lower-case treatment of “cingular,” the vaguely person-looking logo, and a ton of what passed for CGI back then. You also had vague and confusing image advertising. Folks, it was all there. Take a look at these two prime examples:
The top one is a special favorite of mine because it features Cingular’s take on the Nokia 3300 series, a phone I actually owned. It may have not been the fanciest but it had 7-day battery life and you could literally throw it out of a truck and it would still work. In fact I washed mine, took the covers off to let it dry, and it worked just great.
You can find a ton of other old Cingular commercials here. They are all as Y2K-tastic as you remember.
But all things must end.
The beginning of Cingular’s rise held the roots of its fall. SBC Communications, once a lowly local phone company, continued to rise and dominate not only the 2000s but the 2010s. The company bought AT&T Wireless in 2004, bought BellSouth in 2005, and eventually rebranded itself as AT&T after purchasing some other smaller AT&T assets. By 2007 the Cingular name was all but forgotten, as was SBC. AT&T continued to rise, as we all know buying DIRECTV in 2015 and Time Warner just recently.
But nothing, no matter what they do, will quite match the oddly quirky quality of these long-lost commercials. They come from a moment in time when no one quite knew what to do with a cell phone, why they needed one, or anything about them other than it was cool to call people when you weren’t at home.