Sprint Nextel Corporation
Sprint Nextel CorporationDIME ZONE CAMPAIGN
MONDAY NIGHTS FREE AND CLEAR CAMPAIGN
NEXTEL. DONE. CAMPAIGN
SPRINT PCS CAMPAIGN
2001 Edmund Halley Dr.
Reston, Virginia 20191
Telephone: (703) 433-4000
Web site: www.sprint.com
NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1998 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, the Sprint Corporation merged with Nextel to become Sprint Nextel. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
It was in 1995 that Sprint Corporation launched its national "Sprint Sense," an advertising and marketing campaign to sell long-distance phone service. The idea behind "Sprint Sense" was simplicity for the customer: give consumers one flat long-distance rate to anyplace they called during evenings and weekends. This flat rate—one dime for one minute—became known as "Sprint Sense," an umbrella term for the company's flat-rate long-distance calling product and used the tag line "It All Makes Sense." According to Sprint, the flat rate revolutionized long-distance calling with an easy-to-understand pricing system that people loved. The 1995 "Sprint Sense" campaign, handled by J. Walter Thompson of San Francisco, introduced Candice Bergen as Sprint's spokesperson. The following year, in 1996, the "Dime Lady" campaign featured Bergen assuring consumers that it was indeed "one minute, one dime, no kidding."
Selling long-distance phone service to the public with flat-rate pricing paid off for Sprint. A customer satisfaction survey released by J. D. Power & Associates in August 1996 showed Sprint to be number one in customer satisfaction, with AT&T second and MCI third. In 1995, the first year of the survey, Sprint had been number one with high-volume users, but it trailed AT&T with the 80 percent who spent less than $50 a month on calls. In the second year of the poll, however, Sprint beat AT&T, its main competitor, and MCI in all categories.
"Sprint Sense" introduced a new campaign in 1997, the "Dime Zone," which premiered on May 5. This campaign promoted the dime zone as the time people called long distance the most—nights and weekends—and featured three new commercials. The first two spots advertised Sprint's dime-a-minute rate for long-distance calling, and the third added another product, Sprint's $10-a-month pager. The campaign, which showed people finding a dime and then being whisked away to a place where everything went their way, did not, however, prove to be popular with consumers in USA Today's 1997 Ad Track survey. Only 9 percent of those polled liked the "Dime Zone" ads "a lot," while 23 percent disliked them. Nonetheless, the same poll showed that people remembered the ads even though they may not have liked them. Those polled in 1997 tended to favor ads that "were laden with reality and light on fancy," wrote Dottie Enrico in USA Today. "The most effective campaign was a social commentary starring golf phenomenon Tiger Woods for Nike."
"Dime Zone" was created as an answer to competitors who were offering their own flat-rate long-distance calling systems. "The competition realized Sprint had struck an emotional chord with consumers," said the creators at J. Walter Thompson, "and followed suit with their own flat-rate product." According to Sprint, this left them to defend the "position of the dime," which resulted in the "Dime Zone" campaign.
In 1984 United Telecommunications (United Telecom), which later became Sprint, announced that it would build the first nationwide fiber-optic long-distance system. Transmitting messages via light pulses, fiber-optic networks were more durable and could carry greater amounts of information than conventional cables. They were used especially for delicate and intricate systems like computers and the Internet. At the same time, AT&T had billions of dollars invested in copper wire, putting the company that would become Sprint on the cutting edge of telecommunications technology. In a 1995 Forbes article by Subrata N. Chakravarty, Sprint chief executive William Esrey was quoted as saying, "We were starting with a clean piece of paper, and we could build a nationwide network that would give superior quality to the product we were selling." According to Chakravarty, however, it was a big risk for a small rural telephone company to invest in new technology. For this reason United Telecom teamed up with GTE-Sprint to build its fiber-optic network, and in 1990 United Telecom purchased Sprint from GTE and took its name. Since then, Sprint has continued to build its long-distance calling business while taking the lead in telecommunications technology.
In January 1997, four months before "Dime Zone," Sprint began a campaign advertising its Internet service, Sprint Passport. Then in May the company introduced the "Dime Zone" campaign, featuring Sprint's long-distance "dime sense" flat calling rate as well as its $10 flat-fee offer for a numeric pager, a product that displayed only the number of the person who called. "Within the consumer services group that Sprint offers is long-distance calling, paging, and Sprint's Internet service Passport," said Daniel Gallagher, senior partner and associate planning director at J. Walter Thompson. "We're trying to establish that Sprint is more than just a long-distance company."
By 1998 Sprint's local calling business, still its main enterprise, had 7.5 million customers in 19 states, and it had 10 percent of the yearly $85 billion U.S. long-distance calling market. According to Fortune magazine, in the third quarter of 1997 Sprint's calling volume climbed 14 percent, and profits increased 8.1 percent, outdistancing both AT&T and MCI.
The "Sprint Sense" strategy, which included the "Dime Zone" campaign, targeted an audience of well-educated, high-income adults between the ages of 18 and 49. "The flat rate appeals to a higher spender," said Gallagher, "and we don't target people who are much over 50." According to Gallagher, people over the age of 50 tended to buy long-distance service from AT&T, a company they had been with for a long time. For these consumers, Gallagher said, switching companies was too much trouble, and people would stay where they were comfortable.
Younger consumers, however, were more apt to shop around and to look for what made sense to them, which was why Sprint appealed to this particular audience with its flat-rate marketing. According to J. Walter Thompson, the targeted consumers "know the dime rate is good [but] they have not switched because they are uncertain about the peak/off-peak pricing. They need to be reassured that the dime rate is available when they call the most."
In the rural Midwestern and Plains states telephone service by the Bell Telephone Company proved expensive and was often slow to arrive. Many independent companies sprang up to provide local service, and these states came to have the highest percentage of non-Bell telephone companies in the United States. What eventually came to be Sprint was started in 1899 by Cleyson L. Brown as the Brown Telephone Company, a small local business in Abilene, Kansas. In 1900 Brown Telephone connected its first long-distance circuit. In 1903, in order to provide long-distance service to Kansas City, 14 independent phone companies in the state joined with Brown to form the Union Telephone and Telegraph Company, and in 1911 Brown merged his company with three others. The merged companies, which took the name United Telephone Company, became the second largest telephone company in Kansas. By 1976 United Telephone had become United Telecommunications, a system that served more than 3.5 million local telephone customers coast to coast, and in 1990 it became Sprint.
Sprint's main competition, according to Gallagher, was AT&T. "All the apples tend to fall off the tree into one of our baskets. We don't share too many baskets with MCI." Marketing analysts, however, usually discussed the so-called big three telecommunications companies—AT&T, Sprint, and MCI—together when talking about market shares for long-distance calling. By 1996, one year after introducing "Sprint Sense," the market share for long-distance calling was growing faster for Sprint than for the competition. According to Business Week, Sprint's net income in 1996 rose 29 percent to $317 million, while profits grew 12 percent to $3.5 billion. The magazine further said: "Long-distance calling volume rose a stellar 19% over the year-ago period, compared with 15% for MCI and a dismal 5% for AT&T…. Sprint was the only one of the Big Three whose calling volumes grew more in the second quarter than in the first."
In 1997 WorldCom acquired MCI. But an even more important development occurred the year before with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Under the new law Baby Bell companies would be able to offer long-distance services in their regions, making it likely that both AT&T and WorldCom/MCI would lose more of their declining long-distance market. "Sprint may be in a better position than AT&T and MCI," wrote Peter Elstrom in Business Week. "The Bells are focusing on residential customers who account for only a third of Sprint's business. And Sprint has cut deals with Nynex, Bell Atlantic, SBC Communications, and Pacific Bell—which are loath to give business to giant AT&T—to carry their long-distance calls."
In 1998 Sprint remained number three in the long-distance business, with about 10 percent of the market, behind AT&T, with 52.6 percent, and WorldCom/MCI, with 18 percent. According to a 1998 Forbes article, however, Sprint continued to grow faster than both of these competitors.
A 1997 Fortune article by Henry Goldblatt characterized Sprint's marketing as the best in the business. "Its innovations, like flat-rate pricing plans, are aped by everyone else," wrote Goldblatt. "Sprint just has a way of getting its name out there." According to Sprint, it recognized long ago that customers wanted easy-to-understand long-distance rates, which was what led to the "Sprint Sense" strategy in 1995.
In late 1996 Sprint faced new challenges. In September AT&T introduced a flat rate of 15 cents that was available seven days a week and 24 hours a day. The company's spokesperson was television star Paul Reiser from the 1990s hit Mad About You. AT&T eventually withdrew the offer in its advertising campaigns, but Sprint felt that the ads had created doubts in the minds of customers about its own peak/off-peak pricing for evenings and weekends. Sprint believed that, even though its competitor's pricing was more expensive, people perceived it as being simpler. The "Dime Zone" campaign was created to defend Sprint's flat calling rates on evenings and weekends and to assure customers that there was nothing complicated about it.
The creators at J. Walter Thompson felt that they needed to find a new way to make "Sprint Sense" relevant to people's lives. "We had been doing dime sense for a while," said Gallagher, "and wanted to find another way to make the dime relevant." The real genesis of the campaign, according to Gallagher, was learning the time of day most people made long-distance calls. After studying the consumer base, it became clear that 70 percent of Sprint's customers called long-distance in the evenings after work and during weekends. "That statistic inspired the team," said Gallagher. They came up with the concept that "dime time" was one's own time. "We tried to link up dime time with leisure time and being in the dime zone," said Gallagher. "If you went with Sprint's 10 cents a minute, things would just go your way. At work time things don't always go your way, but during dime time things go right."
The "Dime Zone" campaign included three 30-second spots and two 30-second direct-response ads for national cable television. In the first ad a man finds a dime in his car. "I'm heading home from work, and suddenly I'm in the dime zone," he proclaims. When he arrives home, everything is perfect: dogs stop barking, and blowing leaves miss his yard. Lying on a diving board at a swimming pool, he reiterates the Sprint dime-a-minute rate: "Best of all, my calls are just 10 cents a minute." Just then Candice Bergen appears with a cordless phone. "You'll probably need one of these," she says.
The second spot was similar to the first, with a woman finding the magic dime and heading into the dime zone, where everything miraculously goes her way. "Best of all," she says while talking on her deck, over-looking a beach, "my calls are just 10 cents a minute all weekend long." In the third commercial a man finds a dime and is transported to a lovely mountain stream where he can fly-fish. Bergen appears out of nowhere and hands the man a Sprint pager. "So now when I'm out, I'm always in touch," the man exclaims. A raccoon hands him his bill. "Unlimited paging for just $10 a month," he says, "a rate that's as easy to understand as my long distance."
The emphasis was on placing the "Dime Zone" ads in prime-time slots and on highly rated programs. They premiered on the Today show and ran on such programs as Melrose Place, 48 Hours, and Chicago Hope. They also appeared on ESPN SportsCenter and on the final episode of Married with Children. Sprint's strategy was to reach as many viewers as possible in order to produce high sales and call volume.
The creators linked the "Dime Zone" campaign with other promotional efforts. On April 3, 1,000 gold-plated dimes, minted by the U.S. Treasury, were circulated throughout the United States. In the "Amazing Sprint Sense Dime Find" the 24-karat dimes were placed in locations where consumers made phone calls, and those lucky enough to find the dimes won money. One of the dimes was worth $25,000 and a year's worth of long-distance calling. "It was all part of the strategy of the dime zone," said Gallagher. "Find the dime, and you'll enter the dime zone, where good things happen." Viewers of the direct-response ads who called in to switch their long-distance service to Sprint received 100 free minutes of calling. Sprint spent $20 million for the entire campaign, including the promotional efforts.
In the period May through August 1977, following the introduction of the "Dime Zone" campaign, calls placed through Sprint increased 34 percent over calls placed during the first four months of the year, exceeding the company's forecast by 17 percent. In comparison, calls increased 67 percent over the same period in 1996. According to a study by the international research firm Millward-Brown, brand recognition for Sprint was equal to AT&T's at the end of the campaign and was clearly higher than MCI's. In the months following the campaign, Sprint's churn figures—the number of customers it lost—was better than AT&T's and the industry in general. According to an analysis by NPD Study, a company that researches new products, in the last quarter of 1996 and the first quarter of 1997 Sprint's churn decreased 10 percent, while AT&T's increased 16 percent and the overall industry's increased 13 percent. In the first half of 1996 AT&T's churn was 117 percent, MCI's was 79 percent, and Sprint's was a low 27 percent.
The advertising industry recognized J. Walter Thompson twice for its Sprint campaigns. The agency won silver Effie Awards for effectiveness in 1996 and 1997 for the "Sprint Sense" and "Dime Lady" campaigns, respectively. The agency submitted "Dime Zone" for the 1998 Effie.
Chakravarty, Subrata N. "Nimble Upstart." Forbes, May 8, 1995, pp. 96-99.
Elstrom, Peter. "Did You Say Sprint Was No. 1?" Business Week, September 2, 1996, pp. 72-73.
Enrico, Dottie. "Consumers Bought into Real-World Ads in '97." USA Today, December 29, 1997.
Goldblatt, Henry. "Why Sprint's on the Block." Fortune, February 2, 1998, pp. 106-7.
Kupfer, Andrew. "The Telecom Wars: For Long-Distance Companies, Going Local Is a Grind." Fortune, March 3, 1997, pp. 136, 138, 141-42.
"The Quiet Comer." Forbes, February 23, 1998, pp. 76-77.
#x00A0; Anita Coryell
NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1998 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, the Sprint Corporation merged with Nextel to become Sprint Nextel. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
Sprint Corporation's "Monday Nights Free and Clear" campaign publicized free long-distance calling services that the telecommunications company offered during the last four months of 1997. Each month customers could make up to 500 minutes of telephone calls on Monday evenings at no charge. The two-part campaign began with a phase tied to the company's sponsorship of the National Football League (NFL); these commercials featured professional football players. The second phase featured a commercial called "Speak Freely on Monday Nights" in which people misunderstood Sprint's invitation to "speak freely" and ruined relationships with friends and families by voicing opinions they would not normally have shared. For example, in one segment a man said to a friend wearing a toupee, "Bob, you're not fooling anyone. It doesn't even look like hair." The two-part campaign was intended to persuade consumers to try Sprint's long-distance service and to publicize the company's flat rate of 10 cents a minute in the evenings and on weekends. Sprint's straightforward calling plan had helped increase the company's sales at a time when its primary competitors were alienating some consumers by airing ads that were perceived to be attacks on other telecommunications companies. Most advertisements for telecommunications services were not very popular with the public, but surveys showed that consumers liked the "Monday Nights Free and Clear" campaign more than Sprint's previous commercials.
Sprint Corporation began as the Brown Telephone Company, founded in Abilene, Kansas, in 1899. By 1976 it had become the United Telephone system and served more than 3.5 million local telephone lines nationwide. In 1986 the company began offering long distance services under the Sprint brand name. By 1997 the organization was known as Sprint Corporation, a global communications company that carried the world's largest volume of Internet traffic. It provided long-distance and local telephone services, telecommunications equipment, security and alarm systems, and telephone directories. Together with Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom, Sprint offered a service called Global One for multinational corporations and travelers. Sprint Personal Communication Services (PCS) was a joint venture with Comcast Corporation, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), and Cox Communications, Inc.—all cable television companies—to provide personal communications services across the United States. Sprint had an average of $14 billion in annual revenues and served more than 16 million businesses and residential customers. In 1997 Sprint was the highest rated telecommunications company in customer satisfaction surveys by J. D. Power and Associates and by the Yankee Group.
In 1988 Sprint had been the first company to provide a nationwide, digital, fiber-optic telephone network. Previously calls had been carried over copper wires or via microwave radio and satellite transmissions that used analog signals, and callers had frequently heard background noise and distortions in the sound. One of Sprint's early commercials showed a straight pin falling in slow motion and landing with an audible sound, demonstrating that the company's state-of-the-art technology provided calls with such clarity that customers could hear a pin drop over the telephone. The company's customer service number, 1-800-PIN-DROP, reminded consumers of that well-known campaign, and the falling pin was featured at the end of all Sprint commercials.
Sprint's next major campaign featured the actress Candice Bergen, who became known as the "Dime Lady" after she starred in commercials that promoted the company's dime-a-minute calling plan. Early in 1997 Bergen made cameo appearances in other campaigns publicizing Sprint's dime-a-minute plan. "The Power of a Dime" campaign followed a dime as it was passed from one person to another and magically improved their lives. In one spot a man found the dime on a subway platform. The train arrived on time, he found that someone had saved a seat for him, and, when he snapped his fingers, the train became an express that stopped at the best destination for him. When he arrived home, Candice Bergen was there to hand him a phone bill that was easy to understand because of Sprint's simple calling plan. The tag line was "Sprint. It All Makes Sense." A subsequent campaign with similar scenarios and the same tag line referred to the "Dime Zone," the evening hours when Sprint's dime-a-minute rate went into effect. In April 1997 the company also ran a promotional contest in which gold-plated dimes were placed in circulation nationwide, and consumers who turned them in had a chance to win up to $25,000.
In the autumn of 1997, at the same time that Sprint was offering free calls on Monday evenings, it ran another campaign called "1-800-ONE-DIME" to publicize its flat rates for collect calling services. Surveys had revealed that three out of four consumers had no idea what a collect call would cost since other carriers figured their long-distance charges from complex rate tables and discount systems. By contrast, Sprint's rates were simply 10 cents a minute for night and weekend calls and 25 cents a minute for daytime calls Monday through Friday, plus a low connection fee of $1.59 for state-to-state collect calls.
THE MONDAY NIGHT MADNESS MOBILE
The "Monday Nights Free and Clear" campaign was supported by related promotions during the National Football League season. When the first game aired on Monday Night Football, Sprint introduced two fans, nicknamed "Free" and "Clear," who traveled the country and searched out other football fans in a vehicle called the Monday Night Madness Mobile. The traveling promotion provided a chance for the public to participate in Sprint Most Outlandish Fan contests and Monday Night FREE Frenzy events to sample Sprint products and services and to take home memorabilia. In addition, the Sprint PCS NFL Skills Pavilion was set up in malls before Monday night games. Fans were invited to sample Sprint PCS telephones and to participate in simulated football drills. Proceeds were donated to the charity United Way.
The "Monday Nights Free and Clear" campaign was designed to attract new customers to Sprint's dime-a-minute calling plan. The primary target group was consumers 20 to 45 years old, and the campaign was skewed somewhat toward women, who were more likely than men to make decisions regarding long-distance services. The company had conducted a national survey in which consumers named Monday as their least favorite day of the week because it marked the end of a fun-filled weekend without stress and the beginning of a new work week. When asked what would make them feel better about Mondays, many consumers mentioned free or discounted services.
In addition, surveys showed that many football fans made phone calls during the television show Monday Night Football, which featured highlights of NFL games. Fans would rush to the telephone to gloat or celebrate with friends when the players scored touchdowns, fumbled or intercepted the ball, were injured, or performed so well or so badly that the score became lopsided. Since Sprint was a sponsor of the NFL, its decision to offer free calls on Monday nights meshed perfectly with Monday Night Football and helped generate interest in NFL games. According to Tom Weigman, president of Sprint Consumer Services Group, "First, we always want to provide top-quality products and services while fulfilling our customers' telecommunications needs. Second, with the excitement of Monday Night Football, Sprint wants to make sure Monday nights will never be the same by not only bringing you closer to family and friends, but closer to live NFL action."
Among long-distance telephone carriers in the United States, AT&T Corp. was in first place with 52.6 percent of the U.S. long-distance market in November 1997. MCI Communications Corporation was second with 18 percent, and Sprint was third with 10 percent, according to USA Today. In a time of rapidly expanding Internet services, AT&T had about 60 percent of the business communications market. AT&T estimated that there were 30 million Internet users in 1997, and it expected the number to increase to 13 billion within three years. AT&T spent about $300 million annually to advertise to consumers. Competitive Media Reporting calculated that in 1995 AT&T spent a total of $607 million for advertising, MCI spent $308 million, and Sprint spent $209 million.
For several years AT&T and MCI had been running campaigns that compared their prices and services. MCI had promoted its Friends & Family "calling circle," which provided reduced rates to the telephone numbers that members called most often. AT&T had responded with ads featuring people who said "I hate the circle!" and went on to cite details of AT&T's long-distance plans. MCI ran a campaign in which psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers and fictitious consumers explained why they liked MCI better than AT&T. Although surveys showed that some of the commercials were effective, they were also perceived as mean-spirited mudslinging, and the barrage of information about complex calling plans had confused consumers. When Sprint introduced its "dime-a-minute" Sprint Sense calling plan in 1995, the company experienced record sales as consumers signed up for the simple, flat-rate service from a company that had not become so involved in talking about its competitors. In 1996 AT&T began airing ads that disparaged Sprint's calling plan.
By 1997 AT&T and MCI were airing more polite commercials that appealed to the emotions of consumers instead of focusing on competitors. Beginning in May AT&T spent between $90 million and $100 million on a popular series of advertisements that focused on life in the high-tech 1990s. The "It's All within Your Reach" campaign showed consumers how the company's products and services could improve their lives. One spot featured a mother who put her professional obligations aside for a while so that she could spend time with her daughters at the beach. In another commercial teenagers chatted via their home computers after an evening out together. The advertisements included well-known rock and roll songs and country music, such as Elton John's "Rocket Man" and Patsy Cline's "Walking after Midnight." Critics called the commercials some of the best for AT&T since the company's warm-hearted "Reach Out and Touch Someone" campaign, which had run years before.
THE JETSONS CONNECTION
Sprint's "Monday Nights Free and Clear" campaign helped publicize Sprint stores located within the 6,000 U.S. outlets of RadioShack, a division of Tandy Corporation. Some ads with the theme "Welcome to the 21st Century" featured characters from The Jetsons, an animated science-fiction series. Part of the promotion featured actors in Jetsons costumes making a simulated spaceship landing in front of the Sprint Store at RadioShack in New York City's Times Square amid a cloud of smoke and a blaze of lights.
Throughout 1997 AT&T also ran a campaign in which comedian Paul Reiser explained the company's new one-rate calling plan without attacking its direct competition, Sprint's dime-a-minute plan. Nearly one in five consumers in a USA Today survey said they liked the spots. In addition, AT&T aired a campaign during the spring that used the theme song from the old television series Hawaii Five-0 to promote its Internet services. The ads, which featured smartly dressed business people, drew a connection between the famous ocean surf of Hawaii and the slang term for on-line exploration, "surfing the Net." Fifteen percent of respondents in a USA Today survey said they "liked the ads a lot," but the commercials were popular with 29 percent of respondents 18 to 24 years old.
Sprint hoped to attract consumers to its Sprint Sense calling plan by offering them significant savings on their first few long-distance bills and by pointing out that Sprint Sense offered low prices and a simple rate schedule. New customers were allowed 500 free minutes each month for long-distance calls on Monday evenings for a limited time. Existing customers could also request the free calls. The company had estimated that the average long-distance bill for a household in the United States was about $25 a month. Sprint's offer of 500 free minutes was worth twice that amount, $50 at the Sprint Sense rate of 10 cents a minute. In addition, the campaign promoted the digital, wireless telephone technology available through an affiliated company, Sprint Personal Communications Services (PCS). New subscribers after September 1 received free local calls on Monday evenings until the end of the year, and their rates were as low as 10 cents a minute at other times. "By making local Sprint PCS calls free on Monday nights, we are giving new customers another reason to experience the clarity and benefits of Sprint PCS service," said Chuck Levine, chief marketing officer for Sprint PCS. "Whether people are at home watching the game, at a friend's house, or in their car, they can enjoy clarity virtually as good as their home phone." The spots that promoted Sprint PCS emphasized the word "clear" since clarity of sound was a selling point for digital communications equipment.
The "Monday Nights Free and Clear" campaign was rolled out in two phases. The first, also called "Monday Nights Free and Clear," was developed by Hal Riney & Partners/Heartland in Chicago in conjunction with NFL Films. The three advertisements in this part of the campaign featured professional football players promoting Sprint long-distance services and Sprint PCS wireless communications. In one spot Marcus Allen, a football star with the Kansas City Chiefs team, had not been playing well and had been pulled from the game when his wife called to tell him that his mother-in-law would not be moving in with them after all. Allen smiled broadly, went back into the game, and began making spectacular plays. The second stage of the campaign, "Speak Freely on Monday Nights," was created by the J. Walter Thompson ad agency. It consisted of a single commercial that showed people having telephone conversations in which they said more than they should have because they misunderstood Sprint's invitation to "speak freely." A young man told his mother, "It's not the dress that makes you look big. It's your hips." A girl told a friend, "Sure she thinks you're cute. You're rich." A woman looked at a photograph of a child and commented, "Yeah, I have seen cuter babies." The camera cut to Sprint spokesperson Candice Bergen, who remarked, "When they said speak freely, I don't think that's what they had in mind." Like all Sprint ads, each spot ended with the company's signature image of a pin dropping. The NFL spots aired only on the ABC and ESPN television networks, but the "Speak Freely on Monday Nights" commercial aired during a wide variety of network and cable television programs.
MOTION PICTURE TIE-INS
To publicize its long-distance calling rates, Sprint ran promotions tied to two adventure movies in 1997. In connection with the release of Dante's Peak, starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton as people trying to survive the eruption of a volcano, contests on the radio awarded prepaid telephone cards worth 10 minutes of free calls from Sprint. (Sprint had sold more prepaid phone cards than any other company and had a 30 percent share of the prepaid card market in 1997.) Later in the year a Sprint campaign promised free tickets to the science-fiction comedy Men in Black, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, for consumers who signed up for the Sprint Sense long-distance calling plan.
According to Jerry Gramaglia, vice president of marketing for Sprint's consumer services, the "Monday Nights Free and Clear" campaign boosted sales. The company's call volume during the third quarter rose 34 percent higher than the volume for that quarter in 1996, and Sprint's tracking strategies revealed that many consumers called throughout the remainder of 1997 in response to the advertisements. The "Speak Freely on Monday Nights" campaign was more popular than previous Sprint advertisements, according to a consumer poll by USA Today's Ad Track. The ads were liked by 17 percent of respondents, compared to a survey average of 22 percent, and 17 percent said the campaign was very effective, slightly better than the survey average of 16 percent. The ads were more popular with consumers 18 to 24 years old, with 22 percent saying they "liked the ads a lot." Fifteen percent of respondents said they disliked the campaign. Previous Sprint ads had scored no higher than 10 percent for popularity and 15 percent for effectiveness, and 28 percent of respondents had said they disliked the "Dime Lady" campaign.
But the Sprint campaign was not popular with many consumer awareness groups. The Consumer Federation of America criticized the campaign for misleading consumers because it failed to explain that customers would have to "jump through numerous hoops" to receive the free calls. The public interest group the Center for Science in the Public Interest agreed and gave a "lemon" award to Sprint. A Sprint spokesperson answered that those limitations applied primarily to existing Sprint customers and that the campaign had been intended mainly for people who had not yet signed on with Sprint.
"An Ad Blitz for the 21st Century; Sprint Store at RadioShack Launches Massive Ad Campaign with Over 2.3 Billion TV Impressions." PRNewswire, September 24, 1997.
Cleland, Kim. "Bergen Leaves Spotlight in Sprint's New 'Dime' Ads." Advertising Age, January 13, 1997.
Cleland, Kim. "Sprint Moving Beyond Product Ads." Advertising Age, May 12, 1997.
Enrico, Dottie. "AT&T's 'One-Rate' Ads Ring True with Viewers." USA Today Ad Track, February 10, 1997.
―――――――. "MCI Ads Raise Hackles But Seem to Work." USA Today Ad Track, June 5, 1995.
―――――――. "Sprint Leaps Forward with New Ad Campaign." USA Today, November 10, 1997.
―――――――. "Sprint Sees Success in Dime Campaign." USA Today Ad Track, August 4, 1997.
―――――――. "Viewers Give No Quarter to Sprint's 'Dime Lady.'" USA Today Ad Track, June 17, 1996.
Enrico, Dottie, and Lydia Gibson. "AT&T Makes Connection with Ad Campaign." USA Today Ad Track, May 19, 1997.
"Great Rates: Sprint Offers Free Calls Monday Nights and a New Collect Calling Service." PRNewswire, September 8, 1997.
Jensen, Jeff, and Kim Cleland. "Sprint Nears Connection with NFL." Advertising Age, April 29, 1996.
"Sprint Launches NFL Season Campaign to Boost Monday's 'Likeability' Index." PRNewswire, August 25, 1997.
"Sprint Ranking High on All Fronts, Say Three New Studies." PRNewswire, August 20, 1997.
"Sprint Unveils New Advertising; Campaign Goes Beyond Long Distance." PRNewswire, January 13, 1997.
NOTE: Since this essay was first written, Nextel Communications, Inc. merged with Sprint Corporation to form Sprint Nextel Corporation. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
The telecommunications industry underwent such fierce competition during 2003 that many analysts were comparing its advertising climate to the "cola wars" of the previous decade. The fifth-largest wireless-service provider, Nextel Communications, Inc., held 10.5 percent of the industry's market share and achieved revenues reaching $10 billion. The cumulative advertising budget from the top six providers (with Verizon Communications leading the pack) had reached a whopping $3.5 billion by 2004. To keep pace with one another, corporations catered to specific niches. Verizon tailored advertising around its large coverage footprint, while the Sprint PCS Group touted its wide range of features. Nextel, distinguished by its walkie-talkie feature called Push-to-talk, was used by construction crews, technicians, and government agencies that relied on Push-to-talk's quick capabilities. To continue within this niche, Nextel launched its "Nextel. Done." campaign to position itself as the most efficient work-related provider, one that allowed communication without interference.
With a starting budget of $200 million, the New York branch of ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day orchestrated "Nextel. Done." using television, print, radio, Web and outdoor advertising. In September 2003 bright-yellow outdoor ads with the word "Do" were posted in cities nationwide. Newspaper ads featured copy such as "Stop believing that whoever talks most in the meeting wins." Also, nine television spots humorously showed people using Nextel's Push-to-talk feature to accelerate their jobs and other life events, such as weddings. With the campaign's tagline, "Nextel. Done," TBWA\Chiat\Day hoped to communicate the speed and pragmatism of Nextel's service. The campaign continued into 2004.
By the end of 2004 Nextel had posted more than $13 billion in sales, a 23.5 percent increase over 2003. "Dance Party," the campaign's most acclaimed television spot, earned a Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival and a Silver Award at the D&AD (Design and Art Direction) Awards.
Mullen Advertising, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, provided Nextel's advertising until 2003. The agency's last Nextel campaign, "Coast to Coast Walkie Talkie," exaggerated the mechanics of Nextel's nationwide Push-to-talk technology with television spots showing Nextel repeaters (devices that amplified the range of a radio signal) fastened to the antlers of antelopes and clamped to the legs of pigeons. One spot, "Giant Antenna," suggested that Nextel provided service with the help of a 400,000-foot radio antenna that could transmit coast-to-coast. Mullen also bolstered Nextel's brand in an advertising war with Verizon. Verizon first discredited Nextel's inferior coverage area, which prompted Mullen to release copy such as "We have push-to-talk. They have push-to-wait." The last television spot Mullen created for Nextel was released in June 2003.
A Nextel spokeswoman, Audrey Schaefer, explained to the Boston Globe that Nextel changed ad agencies simply because it had outgrown Mullen. Nextel's revenue rose from $333 million in 1996 to $8.72 billion by 2002. "We're looking to take it to the next level," she said, referring to Nextel awarding TBWA\Chiat\Day the advertising account in 2003.
TBWA\Chiat\Day formulated a campaign that contrasted with the format that both Verizon and Sprint employed: using the same actor as a spokesman in every commercial. As Barbara Lippert wrote for Adweek, "I'm so glad that in this first campaign for Nextel from TBWA\Chiat\Day, the agency avoids all the usual telecom suspects: no obsessive guys in trench coats, no repetitive catchphrases, no B-list celeb endorsers or once-proud A-listers interrupting and/or hang gliding and break dancing." Instead, TBWA\Chiat\Day wanted "Nextel. Done." to continue Nextel's popularity within working environments that relied on quick, effortless communication. A spokesperson for the ad agency told Adweek, "The whole category is about talk, but Nextel is going to be about doing."
"Nextel. Done." focused on branding Nextel as a business-to-business service provider that targeted working adults such as construction workers, technicians, and government agencies. Jobholders who valued efficiency and work speed were targeted as well. "Our customers put a premium [on] getting things done," Mark Schweitzer, senior vice president of Nextel, was quoted in Total Telecom. The tagline "Nextel. Done." attempted to capture Nextel's startup, accelerated attitude.
Push-to-talk, a service only offered by Nextel until Verizon released its own version in August 2003, allowed mobile-phone users to contact other Nextel subscribers cheaply and quickly with the push of a button. The service ranged nationwide and worked like a long-ranged walkie-talkie service. Many of the campaign's television spots featured white- or blue-collar workers using their Push-to-talk feature in job interviews and business meetings and accomplishing other tasks with their Nextel phones. "Nextel is positioned as a tool for people who need to get things done instantly," one Nextel executive was quoted as saying in Adweek. Another executive added, "It's not about empowerment, it's about accomplishment." During the campaign's first week, bright yellow posters with "Do" in thick, black copy appeared around New York and other cities.
Nextel was the first major wireless service to provide Push-to-talk, a technology borrowed largely from the walkie-talkie. In addition to making wireless calls that allowed both parties to talk and hear simultaneously (a mode termed "full-duplex calling"), Nextel phones were also capable of Push-to-talk, allowing only one party to talk at once. The feature made calls cheaper and faster to place than traditional full-duplex calling. A Nextel subscriber could simply push a button or buttons that corresponded to another Nextel subscriber's phone number. The subscriber receiving the call would immediately hear a chirp on his or her phone and could then choose to answer, queue, or clear the call alert. If it was answered, the two subscribers alternated between using the microphone with a speak-button. Depending on how callers toggled the button, Nextel's infrastructure knew in which direction the signal should be traveling.
Verizon reigned as America's largest wireless-service provider in 2003. Besides ranking highest in service quality, Verizon also scored higher in customer satisfaction than any of its six closest competitors. To reinforce its positioning Verizon spent $1 billion every three months just to improve its network. In 2003 Verizon was spending $300 to $400 million on its "Can You Hear Me Now?" campaign, which featured actor Paul Marcarelli as the brand's "Testman," who was shown, in more than 100 television spots, testing Verizon coverage across America. Verizon spent an additional $700 to $800 million on direct-mail and in-store promotions, making it the largest advertising spender out of all American brands. Verizon led the industry until February 2004, when Cingular Wireless LLC purchased AT&T Wireless Services for $41 billion.
Before Cingular acquired AT&T, it stood as the second-largest wireless service provider and spent an estimated $500 million on advertising in 2003. The company launched its enigmatic "mLife" campaign, which ran into trouble after consumers confused it with MetLife Insurance. When Cingular later acquired AT&T, Cingular's coverage area enlarged, and the company initiated a campaign called "Raising the Bar," a phrase that referred to the phone's signal-strength meter. Despite the fact that the acquisition gave Cingular more subscribers than any other competitor, the provider only ranked fourth in customer satisfaction, and it received four times as many service complaints as Verizon.
Similar to Verizon with its "Testman," Sprint PCS created more than 100 television spots with its own spokesman, "Sprint guy," who explained various Sprint features and service plans to consumers. In 2003 Sprint spent an estimated $550 million on advertising and posted $1 billion in revenues. In December 2004 Sprint and Nextel announced plans for a $36 billion merger to challenge their two larger rivals. "Even with the combined resources of Sprint and Nextel, we are up against two Goliaths in Cingular and Verizon," Mark Schweitzer, Nextel's senior vice president, told Advertising Age.
In September 2003, during the campaign's first week, bright-yellow posters with the word "Do" began appearing in cities. The posters served as teasers for the upcoming campaign, which would continue across print, radio, television, and the Internet. Four 30-second television spots, all directed by seasoned commercial director Joe Pytka, aired during September. Print and Internet ads and radio spots also began appearing. New television spots were released at the beginning of 2004.
The campaign's most-awarded commercial, "Dance Party," aired in January 2004. The 30-second spot, directed by Jim Jenkins, featured three tie-wearing office workers grooving to hip-hop's Salt-N-Pepa playing on a portable stereo. When their boss walked in to discover all three not working, he snapped, "What's going on? We don't know how many converters we have in stock. We don't know where our trucks are. No one knows where Mackler is." Despite their boss' irritation, the three did not turn off the music or stop dancing until he finished his scolding. Then, with the quick flip of a Nextel phone and keystroke of a laptop, the three answered the boss' questions within three seconds, after which they restarted the music and continued dancing. Deviating from its competitors, Nextel focused on "the concept of 'done' rather than talk," TBWA\Chiat\Day group creative director John Hunt told Campaign.
Continuing within the same vein, another 30-second spot, "Meeting," appeared in September 2003. The commercial began with an elderly boss entering an office and everyone around the table flipping open their Nextel phones. Throughout the short meeting, attendees communicated rapidly with Nextel's Push-to-talk feature. To amplify the spot's absurd humor, it was scripted with tongue-twisting dialogue such as the boss saying, "Pittsburgh? Pursue the potential pitch for property pronto."
One television spot without a work-related storyline, "Wedding," featured a bride and groom rushing through wedding vows using Nextel's Push-to-talk feature. The spot attempted to exemplify humorously the speed of Nextel's service. Another 30-second spot, "Romeo and Juliet," showed teens rushing through a Nextel rendition of the Shakespeare play while their phones flipped open and closed.
Ads appeared in print publications such as USA Today, with copy conveying a similar theme of efficiency. One ad stated, "Stop believing that whoever talks most in the meeting wins." Other ads only featured Nextel's "finish line" symbol, a straight vertical line placed upon a yellow background. The symbol notified Nextel subscribers of a message's end. Other ads, using the same yellow background, featured short copy such as, "Cancel dance class," "Call dog walker," and "Book a flight," to convey Nextel's get-it-done positioning. "Nextel. Done." commercials continued into 2004.
Joe Pytka, who directed the first four television spots of "Nextel. Done," was credited with directing more than 5,000 commercials. His influence encompassed Ray Charles's "Uh-huh" campaign for Diet Pepsi along with the McDonald's campaign "Nothing But Net," which featured basketball greats Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
Nextel's sales increased 23.5 percent (to $13 billion) during a majority of the campaign's lifespan. Some analysts criticized the campaign for not explaining the Push-to-talk service, which most wireless customers did not use. As Adweek's critic Barbara Lippert wrote, "Unless you already know about Nextel's 'Push-to-talk' service … it's hard to figure out what benefit is being sold, since the p-t-t phrase is never mentioned." Other critics accused TBWA\Chiat\Day of dehumanizing face-to-face communication in the campaign's television spots. Nevertheless, the campaign, overall, garnered a fair amount of ad-industry praise. It earned TBWA\Chiat\Day a gold award at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' account planning conference in New Orleans. "Dance Party" was considered one of Adweek magazine's "best spots" during October 2004. "Dance Party" also earned a Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival and a Silver Award at the D&AS Awards, given out by Design & Art Direction, a London-based professional association and charity.
In an ad review for Advertising Age's Creativity, Kevin Moehlenkamp, cochief creative officer at McCann-Erickson San Francisco, remarked on the first four television spots. "They're beautifully shot and hard not to watch. Using the phones in ordinary situations like a wedding to get across the idea that 'these little suckers just work and get the job done' is a nice, memorable device." Reviewing the campaign for Adweek, Mae Anderson stated that "Dance Party" was "one of the best positioning/tags that I've seen in a long time. This spot is well directed, cast, written and shot. And it builds off of a positioning that is relevant and different."
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NOTE: Since the time of this campaign's launch, the Sprint Corporation merged with Nextel to become Sprint Nextel. The essay refers to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
During 2002 competition between wireless-telecommunication providers grew so fierce that the top four were spending $1.5 billion on media outlays, a leap above the $435 million spent in 1999. With more subscribers than AT&T Wireless Services, Inc., Cingular Wireless LLC, or the Sprint PCS Group, Cellco Partnership's Verizon Wireless spent more on advertising than any other American brand. Analysts feared that the industry's competitive pricing and excessive advertising would cripple profitability. Hoping to remain the fourth-largest provider, Sprint PCS retrofitted its network with high-speed data capabilities in 2002 and heralded their improved network with a campaign titled "Sprint PCS Campaign."
On June 24, 2002, the San Francisco-based ad agency Publicis & Hal Riney (PHR), a longtime collaborator with Sprint PCS, released the campaign on an estimated $400 million budget across television, radio, print, and in-store promotions. In 1999 PHR had conceived "Sprint Guy," the trench coat-clad actor that became Sprint PCS's widely recognizable spokesperson. "Sprint PCS Campaign" continued with the same handsome, witty character played by actor Brian Baker. Cross-promotion with Hollywood served as a major constituent for the campaign. In the movie Men in Black II, released by Sony Pictures Entertainment in July of 2002, Sprint PCS phones were used by the on-screen heroes. In turn, Sprint PCS's 30-second television spot "MIBII" showed the Sprint Guy clarifying the words "trampoline" and "tangerines" for alien worms that had been featured in the movie.
The campaign helped Sprint PCS remain America's fourth-largest wireless provider throughout 2002. Sales for the Sprint Corporation, of which Sprint PCS made up almost half, increased $563 million between 2001 and 2002. Sprint PCS's high "customer churn rate," the industry term referring to customers frequently changing providers, forced the company to cut back 6 percent of its employees and to require nonrefundable deposits for certain wireless customers. Some of the campaign's television spots earned Gold and Silver ADDYs at the American Advertising Awards. The campaign also earned a Silver award at the Design & Art Direction Awards.
Sprint PCS created the nation's first all-digital, fiberoptic network that was void of analog-only calls. Most wireless providers mixed their digital infrastructure with an antiquated analog infrastructure. The older technology was notorious for quickly draining phone batteries, increasing electromagnetic radiation, lacking call security, and usually emitting high static during phone calls. Since 1999 Sprint Guy had served as Sprint PCS's spokesperson, who explained the network's clarity in typically zany commercials. Publicis & Hal Riney (PHR), the agency that created the character, filmed one spot in which Sprint Guy helped a small town where everybody spoke with garbled analog static. In another commercial Sprint Guy aided a woman who, after rushing through long-distance calls on her expensive calling plan, habitually rushed everything else in life.
"It's always had a certain level of absurdity, so over time you always have to look for fresh ways to attack the same problem," Mike Mazza, creative director at PHR, told Advertising Age's Creativity. "Originally, the campaign had a different type of humor. A lot of it was parody; a lot of it was underplayed, and with the exception of one or two spots, it wasn't all that broad. What we've done over time is broaden out the humor, and the more we've done that, the more people are talking about the spots." In addition to emphasizing Sprint's clarity, Sprint Guy also explained features such as text messaging and voice mail.
In the summer of 2002 Sprint PCS rolled out its PCS Vision network, which was similar to Verizon's updated broadband network. The retrofitted PCS Vision increased Sprint PCS's bandwidth to allow more callers on its network and 10 times the amount of data throughout it. The updates were necessary for phone features like photo messaging, high-graphic games, sending and receiving E-mail, and downloading music. PHR crafted the "Sprint PCS Campaign" to announce the new features, which many executives hoped would bolster Sprint's subscriber base. "It's a precursor to our upcoming launch of our third-generation network," Chip Novick, Sprint PCS's vice president of consumer marketing, explained to Reuters News in regard to the campaign. "It's really helping people to see that wireless is not just about phone calls anymore and the next trend in wireless is wireless for your eyes as well as for your ears."
The "Sprint PCS Campaign" involved television spots that blended absurd situations and the Sprint Guy's deadpan humor to capture the target market, which, depending on sources, ranged from 18 to 24 years old. In a quarterly survey conducted by Intermedia Advertising Group (an advertising-performance-assessment firm) after the campaign, a spot in which Sprint Guy consoled a group of disgruntled mobile-phone users ranked as the wireless-provider commercial that television watchers found most memorable.
During the campaign, research conducted by Sprint PCS's largest affiliate, Alamosa PCS, discovered that the 18- to 24-year-old age range only constituted 6 percent of the overall market share. The largest consumer base had a median range of 44 years old. During the campaign Alamosa PCS expanded its target market to include 25 to 54 year olds by reducing "Spring PCS Campaign" radio spots in the top six youth radio stations and refocusing on talk radio.
Sprint PCS's improved Third Generation (3G) network that rolled out in 2002 allowed subscribers to access wireless broadband Internet service in most areas that had previously only supported wireless phone service. PC wireless-connection cards were released by Sprint PCS to allow customers to use their laptops to surf the Web faster than the 56 KB-per-second speed of a dial-up connection. Subscribers could also connect to the Internet using Sprint PCS phone Web browsers.
With just over 18 million subscribers, Sprint PCS was recognized worldwide as the foremost provider to develop, manage, and implement a nationwide, all-digital wireless network. Sprint PCS appealed to technology enthusiasts looking for mobile phones loaded with extra features. "We are focusing our marketing on innovation to differentiate from the pack," Sprint spokesman Dan Wilinsky stated in a press release. "You can do more things with your Sprint PCS phone than with any other network." The June 2002 campaign aired commercials that featured Sprint PCS phones performing photo messaging and other cutting-edge capabilities. Many of the features were also used by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones's characters in Men in Black II, which featured Sprint PCS phones.
Verizon reigned as America's largest wireless provider in 2002. Besides ranking highest in service quality, Verizon also scored higher in customer satisfaction than any of its six closest competitors. Similar to Sprint PCS, Verizon used C.D.M.A. (Code Division Multiple Access), a technology developed by Qualcomm Incorporated, to increase network bandwidth and subsequently handle more phone traffic in 2002. Verizon network updates rolled out months before Sprint's PCS Vision did, so Verizon preceded Sprint PCS to the market with such services as high-speed wireless Internet. To maintain its lead in service quality, Verizon spent $1 billion every three months just to improve its network. The expensive network meant higher prices for Verizon calling plans, so the provider targeted consumers who would pay for the better service. Verizon also used actor Paul Marcarelli to play Test Man, a nerdy version of the Sprint Guy, in more than 100 television spots. By 2003 Verizon was spending $700 to $800 million on direct-mail and in-store promotions, making it the greatest advertising spender out of all American brands.
In contrast to Verizon's pitch to higher-paying consumers, AT&T, the third-largest wireless-service provider, advertised its lower-cost calling plans with features such as rollover minutes and anytime minutes. In 2002 the corporation launched its enigmatic "mLife" campaign, which ran into early trouble after consumers confused it with MetLife Insurance.
Fifth largest in the nation, Nextel Communications, Inc., was distinguished by its walkie-talkie feature called "push-to-talk," which was widely used by construction crews, technicians, and government agencies. "Push-to-talk" worked nationwide and allowed callers to communicate faster and cheaper than with traditional wireless calls, but it only permitted one caller to talk at a time. To promote the service's efficiency, Nextel spent $200 million on its "Nextel. Done." campaign in 2003.
During the rush in 2002 to bring broadband features to wireless-phone subscribers, Sprint PCS placed a large portion of its operating budget into transforming its Second Generation (2G) network—which supported digital voice calls, text messaging, and voice mail—into a Third Generation (3G) network that boasted photo messaging, music downloads, rapid Web browsing, and color-graphic games. "Our customers tell us they're ready for a wireless device that does more than make a phone call," William T. Esrey, chairman and chief executive officer of Sprint, told the PR Newswire. On June 24, 2004, Sprint PCS released the "Sprint PCS Campaign" across television, radio, print, and in-store promotions to herald its network's upcoming features.
Sprint Guy starred in the television spots just as in previous commercials, but PHR broadened the humor. Past spots had used humor specific to phone technology, such as a town whose speech was troubled with analog static or people confused by roaming fees. The newer "Sprint PCS campaign" usually depicted characters misunderstanding words over the phone, resulting in ridiculous scenarios such as cowboys herding dachshunds and a soap-opera star invading suburban homes.
The campaign also tied in with the summer blockbuster Men in Black II, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Sprint PCS subscribers could enter contests for free tickets, and their phones were capable of downloading images and songs from the movie. In turn, Sprint PCS phones assisted the movie's protagonists, two government agents who monitored aliens living on earth. "The agents use many wireless applications—digital imaging, voice command, wireless Internet access, phone calls and more to accomplish their mission," Novick told the Kansas City Star. "The wireless applications … form a bit of a precursor to how people will be able to do more with the launch of 3G."
THE "CELL PHONE" MISNOMER
As mobile telephones grew popular during the 1990s, it became common to call any such phone a "cell phone." This was a misnomer; the word "cell" actually referred to the cellular band of radio frequencies partitioned by the Federal Communications Commission. About half of the nation's mobile phones resided within this radio band, whereas the other half operated on the personal communication services (PCS) band. The analogy between FM and AM radio waves was commonly used to explain the PCS and cellular relationship. In 2002 Verizon Wireless was the largest provider operating within the cellular band. Sprint was one of the largest operating within the PCS band.
Men in Black II attracted more than $35 million from other brands hoping to tie their product in, including Burger King, Mercedes-Benz, Mountain Dew, RayBan, and Hamilton Watches. The original Men in Black movie grossed more than any other movie in 1997. The saturation of product placement in its sequel, however, drew criticism from movie critics. Novick of Sprint PCS disagreed. "It's a naturally organic integration and not one directed by the company, rather one that fit with the story line and the plot of the movie," he told the Kansas City Star. "The last thing we'd want … is for the interaction to be forced."
PHR also created a spot, "MIBII," in which Sprint Guy clarified the words "trampoline" and "tangerines" for alien worms from the movie. One campaign spot that deviated from the themes of Men in Black II and word confusion was titled "Microwaveable Burrito." It featured a woman standing inside a mini-mart, who said into her Sprint PCS phone, "You're not going to believe what I'm looking at. I can't even tell you." Sprint Guy appeared to explain, "You don't have to tell her, you can show her." Sprint Guy then photo-messaged what the woman found so astonishing: the Las Vegas entertainers Siegfried and Roy microwaving a burrito.
Some analysts criticized the lackluster quality of the campaign's print ads. A critic for Adweek stated, "The idea behind humorous Sprint PCS work—trench-coated spokesman clarifies absurd miscommunications caused by static—may be four years old, but writing keeps jokes fresh. Sprint print [is] surprisingly bland by comparison."
Sprint PCS composed almost 50 percent of its parent company, Sprint Corp., which posted a $563 million sales increase for 2002. Unfortunately, Sprint PCS's high customer churn rate during 2002 forced a 6 percent cutback in workforce and a reduction of early subscriber growth forecasts. For many providers fervent competition became the industry's most destructive force. "The competition is out of control. Irrational competition in the industry will almost preclude anybody from operating profitably," Gary Stibel, founder and principal of the marketing-consulting firm New England Consulting Group, told Advertising Age.
Sprint did maintain its position as the fourth-largest wireless provider, and the campaign continued branding the service in conjunction with voice clarity and a broad set of features. Besides the campaign's bottom-line success, more than one television spot earned a Gold and Silver ADDY at the American Advertising Awards. Jim Hanas of Advertising Age's Creativity wrote, "One of the more unexpected successes of the season has been Publicis & Hal Riney's Sprint PCS campaign … The campaign isn't so well respected domestically, because, frankly, it started out so bad. But it's gotten better as the misunderstandings that Sprint claims to prevent have gotten more absurd." The campaign also earned a Silver Award at the Design & Art Direction Awards, an international competition based in the United Kingdom.
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