Manitoba Telecom Services Inc.’s mascot, Morty the Bison, has been so popular on the prairies that the provincial telco is using it to exploit secondary sales opportunities and branch out into other products. While other telcos are content to sell voice, data and wireless services to their customers, MTS is extending its brand through sales of trinkets and such. For several years now, the public face of MTS has been Morty. He appears in the telco’s advertising and has become something of a star in Manitoba. T-shirts featuring the Red River ruminant have become the rage, leading the telco to market other souvenirs. "We have little stuffed animals. We’ve done things like cell phone covers as well that were bison," Carolin Taubensee, advertising and marketing services manager at MTS, tells Network Letter. "One of our more recent ones are little stress balls, but they’re stress bison. It’s one of those little foamy things that you can just squeeze. It seems appropriate for a business." MTS is the only one of Canada’s major telcos that has taken branding to this level. Items like golf club covers, coffee mugs and stuffed bison are on sale at MTS stores, alongside cell phones and Internet discs. Taubensee compares the company’s efforts with the work of non-telecom firms. "The popularity of it gets equated with other icons similar to Tony the Tiger and the Jolly Green Giant, in terms of, on our scale, on a provincial level," she remarks. When MTS launched Morty the Bison in ad campaigns back in 1999, telecom advertising was very staid. Focus groups were immediately drawn to the humour in the ads and liked the personification of the provincial symbol into a pitchman. "At the time, most of the telcos were showing people on phones and that sort of thing," Taubensee recalls. "So really extending into this zone was very different, which is kind of hard to believe today because it seems like everybody uses animals now." The Morty campaign was initially used only in ads for LD telephony. But it was so well received that MTS extended the bison image to calling features, high-speed Internet and wireless. The demand for non-telecom products followed soon after. Morty is not only popular with subscribers. Two years ago, the MTS campaign won a silver medal at the Canadian Advertising Success Story Awards (NL, Dec. 5/01). Earlier, Morty was the star of his own web film You’ll Scream Too (NL, Nov. 19/01). The provincial ILEC is also using its web site to promote more mainstream movies. People who visit the site are able to download trailers for Hollywood movies like Bruce Almighty, The Matrix Reloaded and Down With Love. Merging the public appetite for entertainment and broadband is a natural, Taubensee says. "Again, it’s high-speed Internet," she notes. "In terms of the experience you get using high-speed products for things like downloading movies and all the different applications that are kind of enhanced with having the extra speed is ultimately what we’re trying to promote and demonstrate to people on how it’s better with high-speed products." The telco has agreements with most of the major studios permitting use of their trailers and changes the roster of films being previewed on a regular basis. And despite The Buggles’ 1979 claim that Video Killed the Radio Star, Morty has lately adopted an aural fixation. MTS is promoting online radio. Visitors to its web site can use their broadband connections to tune into radio stations courtesy of such companies as Radio-Locator, Live365.com and RadioTower.com.