Sprint Stole Verizon’s Spokesperson. So What?

Sprint Marketing

You almost have to give someone at Sprint a standing ovation for their recent advertising campaign featuring your Verizon’s “Can you hear me now” guy, Paul Marcarelli.

It’s the advertising equivalent of a judo hip toss.

Verizon is the big bully with more than 2X Sprint’s subscriber base. A lot of money was spent to make Marcarelli the face of the company (as well as the butt of their jokes). Now underdog Sprint is using Verizon’s own “brand equity” against itself.

One of the cleverest advertising coups in recent memory.

I’m convinced these campaigns won’t save Sprint’s sinking ship. I’m also convinced YOU can profit by studying what’s happening here.

Here’s What Sprint Did Right

The commercials are attention-grabbing. The first time you see THE Verizon guy playing for the other team, it’s nearly impossible to ignore.

  • Your brain has to try make sense of it
  • There’s controversy: what made Marcarelli go Benedict Arnold and switch to Sprint? (Turns out, it’s not call quality)
  • It’s funny in an “Oh no he didn’t” kind of way

It’s critical to hold your audience’s attention long enough to tell them what they need to know. That’s what gives you the opportunity to generate interest and desire.

There’s no rational reason for it, but “celebrities” almost always bring a level of trust to the products/services/brands they’re attached to. Over time, spokespeople can become (niche) celebrities and garner familiarity, likeability and trust.

At Halloween, Flo from Progressive is more popular than Dracula.

The ads are also focused on a value proposition: 50% cost savings. That seems to be the only thing Sprint has to offer…

Why It Won’t Make a Difference

— Sprint provides inferior service.  They’re even admitting that fact in these commercials.

Even if this advertising campaign effort brings in a lot of new subscribers (Q4 projections indicate otherwise), the business loses big time when people cancel their service due to poor quality service. This is a long-time problem Sprint hasn’t fixed.

— No one wants the 50% Off plan. Sprint’s CEO has stated the company will probably stop promoting this low-priced plan in the near future. Potential subscribers are looking for features they can’t get at that price.

The profit margins on this plan are so thin that they virtually guarantee a continuation of low-quality service in the future.

Quick Takeaways That Will Make a Difference for YOU

1) Provide great service. Or team up with/outsource to someone who can deliver great service where you’re weak.

2) Find out what your target market wants and offer it to them — in a way that highlights the benefits valuable to THEM.

3) Set your prices at a level that empowers you to a) offer great service and b) invest back into your business. You can discount yourself right out of business!

You don’t have to have a million dollar marketing budget to put those ideas into practice!


I Don’t Know How This is Legal

Do you mind if I rant for a minute?  I promise to make a point eventually.


Take a look at this full page ad from the October 2015 issue of Architectural Digest:

Natural American Spirit organic marketing

What do you notice?

1) Natural/Organic. The market for organic products is getting bigger and bigger. Now you even can buy 100% natural lung poison.

2) The feel of the ad itself. The visual elements have a light feeling. The fresh baby tobacco plant (which look strikingly similar to a sprig of mint), the rustic table the cigarettes are sitting on, the color palette and smooth sans serif typeface all gently whisper “clean,” “pure” and “natural.” Maybe even “wholesome.”

3) “Additive-free.”  At first glance, you may think it says “Addictive-free.” That’s exactly how the first few people I showed this page to read that “headline.” Misleading, right?

4) Disclaimers that essentially destroy the story the rest of the ad is telling. “Additive-free” organic tobacco does NOT make a safer cigarettes.

5) Oh, and a strong front-end offer. A pack for $2 is a steal these days!

It’s crazy how much creative energy spent is spent fabricating a disingenuous marketing statement. If only these admakers were using their powers for good!

(Note: In August, the FDA began pursuing regulatory action against 3 cigarette manufacturers, including the one that makes Natural American Spirit brand, for these marketing tactics.)

Fighting the Tide

You’ve seen those “Real Cost” TV commercials, right?

Recent statistics show that ad campaigns like “The Real Cost” and “the Truth,” as well as other factors have decreased smoking to an all time low in the U.S. That’s the positive power of marketing at work.

(Interestingly, sales of Natural American Spirits have increased 86% since 2009, even as the tobacco industry is shrinking. The power of marketing at work.)

What you may not have seen are the warnings on cigarette boxes in Thailand. They’re a lot stronger than Surgeon General’s warnings. The images show the long-term effects of smoking RIGHT ON THE PACKAGING. You have to see it to believe it. Warning: these pictures are very unsettling, so much so that I’m not going to put them here. If you’d like to see some examples, click here or just Google “Thai cigarette warnings.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Scary stuff. But they’re are honest and realistic. What’s really scary is that something like 40% of the men in Thailand still smoke.

What Gives?

Everyone knows smoking is bad for their health. And that truth is increasingly “in their face.” So why doesn’t EVERYONE quit?

That’s an important question to ask because these are the forces you have to face as a business owner/service provider trying to persuade people to buy from you.

Normalcy bias – If it hasn’t happened yet, people often don’t believe it will ever happen. “It” can be anything. Our brains are designed that way. It’s good for maintaining our sanity, but it makes changing customer buying behavior more difficult.

If you rely on fear-based marketing or sale messages, you need to be aware of this bias.

Force of habit – Most of the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are habitual. Our buying behavior is very much impacted by force of habit. Convincing people to change their routine, or even getting them to realize they’re not consciously thinking about that routine, is no easy task. Even if it’s bad for them.

You really have 3 choices: attach yourself to your potential customer’s already-established habit, come up with a way to make him turn off autopilot and choose you (a really good front-end offer can be a great way to do that) or approach him where he hasn’t developed a habit.

Social proof and peer approval – People care what other people think about them. How are you using that to your advantage?

Contrary/competitive messaging – You need to say something uniquely valuable, and you need to say if often enough to grab some real estate in your prospect’s mind.

Plain old disbelief – According the Mark Schenk “if you assert something as a fact – even if it is a fact – less than half of the people listening will believe you.” (Mark gives his remedy for that reality in this article.)

What’s the point I’m getting at? It’s this: Marketing can be powerful. Use it responsibly and honestly.

I know, this is all pretty surfacey.

But hey, what did you expect from a rant?


Unexpected Insights for the Christian Entrepreneur Pt.3

(If you didn’t read Part 2 of this series, check it out here)

“Let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions.”1 John 3:18 (NLT)

I think if I had one message to share with the world it would be this: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. This idea applies to every area of life. Let’s focus on how it pertains to business for now.

Businesses don’t exist for their own sakes. Sure, you become entrepreneurs to earn money and to try to live the life you dream of. Hopefully you also hope to make the world a better place and improve the lives of others through your work. But ultimately, your business is not about you.

Walmart founder Sam Walton reminds us that “There is only one boss. The customer.” Without customers, you have a hobby, not a business. So why do so many companies treat their customers and clients like anything less than the very reason they exist?

Why do many entrepreneurs fall in love with their product or service, to the detriment of the people who they are designed to serve? Theodore Levitt gives some terrific illustrations of this point in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review in 1975 called “Marketing Myopia.” Using examples from Hollywood to oil companies to railroads, Levitt shows numerous billion dollar mistakes companies and entire industries have made because of their preoccupation with their products instead of their customers. Many businesses have made themselves obsolete in the process.

(I strongly encourage you to read “Marketing Myopia” and take notes. The historical and practical lessons are profoundly valuable.)

Instead of being enamored with what we offer, we need to make our customers our number one business priority. How do our products serve them? How do they want to be served? How could they benefit them even more according to their expressed desire?

Elsewhere I have called this mentality “lowercase syndrome.”

As a Christian entrepreneur, you put God first, others (aka your customers/clients) second and yourself last. You should esteem others more highly than yourself, offering yourself as a servant, even as Christ humbled Himself to become a servant (Philippians 2:3-7).

Should you try to earn as much money as possible? Absolutely! Do it by offering the most value in the marketplace, becoming the most trusted provider of whatever you sell and making it as easy as possible for your ideal customers to buy from or work with you.

(John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, had 3 rules concerning money. The first rule is to make as much as you can.)

For many of us, business is what the Lord has purposed for our lives. Do you think He designed a plan for you that required you to focus on yourself, your needs, your desires? Of course not. Selfishness is never God’s desire. He wants you to consider the needs of the people around you. Your business might be one of His ways to help you think about yourself even less.

Be a good steward of your opportunities. Be a blessing to each and every one of your customers instead of thinking of them as walking dollar signs.

In the words of advertising legend Leo Burnett, “What helps people, helps business.” I think God is pleased with that.


Unexpected Insights for the Christian Entrepreneur Pt. 2

Read Part 1 of Unexpected Insight for the Christian Entrepreneur.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?

“From this time many… turned back and no longer followed him.” – John 6:60-61,67 (NIV)

Although Jesus’ spoke His words to everyone, they weren’t accepted by everyone. In fact, scripture says that many people deserted Him because of His teaching.

Was this a surprise? Of course not. Verse 64 indicates that Jesus knew some would stumble. So why did He say what He did, knowing that He would alienate a significant portion of His audience?

Because the truth is the truth, no matter who rejects it. The truth will appeal to some and offend others. But the essential message itself must never be changed or watered down to make it more palatable to a wider “market.”

What in the world does this have to do with your business? More than you may think. Take a look at this Charles Atlas advertisements from the 1930s:


Can you think of anyone who might find this (or the many other similar ads he ran) offensive? Did the potential backlash stop him from running them (and making a huge impact on the culture of the day)? Clearly not.

Atlas wasn’t worried about the people who might not like what he had to say. He wasn’t trying to convince them of anything. But the men who could relate to these messages were more than happy to send him money.

This is what Charles Atlas stood for, and he became an icon taking that stand in his unique, in-your-face manner.

So, what’s at the heart of your business, product or service? What do you stand for? Boldly take your stand right there, even though some people won’t like it.

(Example: In the copywriting arena, there’s always the long copy vs. short copy debate, or direct marketing vs. Madison Avenue-style general advertising. It’s simple enough to pick a side, and when you do, you instantly inherit opposition.)

There are 3 kinds of people you’ll encounter: 1) people who want what you offer, and with whom you can have a mutually profitable relationship, 2) those who never intend to buy from you and 3) people who don’t know you. If you want your business to become everything it’s capable of becoming, you need to tell your story, stand up for your position and be yourself. You and your message will resonate strongly with the people in group #1.

Who cares about group #2? Does it matter if they hate your ads or are offended by your stance on issues?

Individuals in the 3rd group will self-select their way into one of the first 2 groups as they get to know you.

Here’s the thing: if you dilute your message to appeal to everyone, it’s more difficult to tell the difference between people who are really with you and the ones that are “tire kickers.”

“Hard sayings” have a way of pre-qualifying your crowd.

In His 3 year earthly ministry, Jesus never backed away from the speaking the truth, even when it was harsh. As a result, He made more enemies than true followers. But in the subsequent months and years, those faithful few turned the world upside down for Him.

So here’s the point (which I’ve probably taken too long to get to): you can water down your message or choose not to take a bold stance on issues that are important to you and you’ll have access to a bigger crowd. But that crowd will be full of lukewarm listeners.

On the other hand, you can tell your story full-strength and create fired-up disciples and evangelists along with some folks who really dislike you and your cause. But there will be no lukewarmness.

Which way will you choose?

Tags: “christian entrepreneur”  business  marketing  advertising  messaging  bible


What Marketing is All About

“You’ve gotta come and see this!” my wife exclaimed as she ran into my office (which is any room with no kids in it at the time) last night.

What is it?” I was curious what had made her so excited in the middle of the night.

Just watch,” she said, unpausing the DVR. She played the commercial for the 2014 Honda Odyssey.

Normally she doesn’t get excited about commercials, but this one had her head spinning. “Honey, I need that van!” kept rolling off her lips for the rest of the night.

Honda is really onto something here.

What Makes This a Great Commercial?

There’s nothing particularly brilliant about the special effects. It’s not thigh-slappingly funny. But it got the only thing that truly matters right.

It showcases the built-in vacuum.

The commercial is brilliant because it highlights a brilliant move Honda made when they designed this car.

honda-odyssey-2014-built-in-vacuumimage via theshoppingmama.com

Maybe they hired a mind reader, or maybe they just asked van drivers what they wanted in a new van. However they came up with the idea, they’re now offering something that moms and dads (the ideal customers for vehicles like this) have been wishing they’d had for years.

That’s what marketing is all about folks. Finding out what people want and helping them get their hands on it.

Honda’s the first car manufacturer to offer this innovation (if I can call it that), but they won’t be alone for long. Their unique selling proposition won’t be unique for long.

What do they need to do to keep the advantage?

P.S. Are you having trouble crafting your own rock-solid USP? You should consider this.


Worst of Signs, Pt. 2

Here are a couple more instances of crummy signs in my south Chicago neighborhood.

Teeth Sign Chicago

This is a billboard for a dental practice just off the highway. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems terribly offensive, or at least insensitive. But it’s been in the same spot for several months, so maybe it’s working better than I think. Of course, since the sign isn’t keyed to produce trackable leads (in direct response fashion), it’s hard to know for sure, even for Dr. Atcha.

Pops Sign Lansing

If I have to point out what stinks about it, you need some help, too.

If I ever sign up for Pinterest, I’ll be sure to have a board dedicated to the good and bad advertisements I see around Chicago. There are plenty of both.

Did you see It Was the Best of Signs, It Was the Worst of Signs Pt. 1?


It Was the Best of Signs, It Was the Worst of Signs

dad highest rank

This billboard by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse and the Ad Council is one of the best advertisements I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t qualify as direct response or direct marketing, but it is promotional.

More than that, it’s emotionally powerful. For proud dads like myself, for those who are saddened by the lack of father figures in our nation, and particularly for military families, these 7 words speak volumes.

It’s among the best of signs because it’s targeted, which makes it laser-guided towards specific emotional responses. The imagery aims right at the heart.

Does your advertising evoke the right emotions in your target audience?


I mentioned this sign in an interview I did last year as being one of the dumbest signs I’d ever seen. I went back to take a picture of it in the window of a shop in south suburban Chicago.

The handwriting is nice, but that’s about as far as the positives go. And if I’m not mistaken, that shop is no longer open.

This is among the worst of signs because it is wrongly focused. Businesses cannot walk up to would-be customers and say “Hey, give me some of your money.” Businesses only stay in business because they provide value to their customers.

The business exists for the customer, not the other way around.

The sign doesn’t offer any reason whatsoever for the reader to support the business. I could understand a sign that says “Support American Businesses.” That’s asking the customer to do something that is in the best interest of the economy of his country. That means it’s good for him in the long-term.

This particular sign comes much closer to panhandling than marketing. It’s just asking for support without promising anything unique or valuable in return. What reason does anyone have to support them?

Are you giving your audience reasons why they should do business with you in your advertising? Are you telling them what’s in it for them? If not, you’re completely missing the point.


When Is Being Clever Inappropriate in Advertising?

Is it wrong to try to be clever in your marketing?

Most direct marketing experts and teachers will tell you that attempts at humor or cleverness are a bad idea. Most of them have experienced reality firsthand: people work hard to earn their money. Deciding where they’re going to spend or invest it is something they probably take seriously, not playfully.

On the other hand, most multimillion dollar image ad agencies can’t resist conjuring up the slickest ideas possible. Some of them will quote statistics “proving” how effective those 7- and 8-figure campaigns have been. Maybe they’re right, in some cases.

While I can’t state categorically that cleverness will ruin your the effectiveness of your marketing message, know for sure that you’re taking a pretty big risk.


A few days ago I saw a TV commercial advertising what seems to be a major event at Denny’s: Baconalia.

Being the dreadful nerd that I am, I realized that this was a attempted play on the word bacchanalia. Knowing the kind of person who reads this blog, there’s a good chance you noticed it, too. Wikipedia defines bacchanalia as “wild and mystic festivals of the Greco-Roman god Bacchus (or Dionysus), the wine god. The term has since come to describe any form of drunken revelry.” Just replace the wine with bacon and you have a good time waiting for you at Denny’s.

Here’s the problem: How obvious that play on words? What percentage of Denny’s average customers get it?

You know what probably happened. Some bookworm adwriter (who never had the responsibility to actually sell something with his ads) saw a chance to flex his creative muscles and he couldn’t help himself.

Granted, this advertisement may not hurt sales, but does the name Baconalia capture the attention and crystallize the desire for salty pigmeat in the minds of the people who see the commercial? More likely, it causes a moment of confusion. And as I say so frequently, confused people don’t buy.

Maybe I’m more upset about this than I should be. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive. But it seems like this happens way too frequently. Marketers and entrepreneurs think puns fill cash registers. They put too much emphasis on being clever.

Like Barefeet Shoes. Does that even make sense as the name of a shoe store?

Kill The Cleverness

Bill Bernbach, widely regarded as one of the 20th centuries most influential advertisers, said this: “Our job is to sell our clients’ merchandise … not ourselves. Our job is to kill the cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product. Our job is to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck out the weeds that are smothering the product message.

Another of the greats, David Ogilvy said that “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.

This is where so many marketers get it wrong. The advertisement isn’t about the marketer — he shouldn’t be trying to win awards or show off his brilliance. The ad isn’t about the company selling the product, or even about the product itself. In the final analysis, the ad must be about the buyer and how his life will be changed for the better by purchasing the item advertised.

Marketing should be a spotlight in a darkened theater; content to be unseen, focused solely on creating the proper perspective for the product, enabling an audience to see the benefits available to them.

The copy you write should be transparent, invisible. If a potential client reads your copy and says, “Man, that was a great advertisement!” you’ve failed. You succeed when he asks urgently, “Where can I buy this product?

The Most Important Exception

Cleverness is a great characteristic for a copywriter or marketer to have. Coming up with unique ideas and new ways to communicate them is essential. But that quick wit must be subjected to self-control and humility. All of those clever ideas have to take a back seat to selling power.

In your ads, you may need to be clever. But your cleverness must be invisible. Kinda like Seal Team 6, doing its job without being seen and disappearing into the night.

Here’s the short version: don’t sacrifice clear, effective communication in an attempt to be witty. Unless you’re selling tickets to a comedy show.


GoDaddy’s Super Bowl Ads Poured at Least $4 Million Down the Toilet

Advertising during the Super Bowl, GoDaddy “spent at least $660 on each new customer… to get what they hope to add up to $54.30 each by 2015.

In his Copywriter’s Roundtable today, John Forde wrote:

You remember, I’m sure, that I joined the legions that trashed one of the “GoDaddy” Super Bowl ads.

You know the one, where a computer nerd sucks face with supermodel Bar Refaeli to prove something or other. I hated it. And so did a lot of people.

I praised GoDaddy’s other ad, where an international cabal of disenchanted wives and girlfriends chided their men for not acting on the online ideas that might have made them rich.

This, I thought, communicated the promise.

But ultimately, of course, you’ll also remember that the big question about ALL the ads was whether it was “worth it.”

Well, at least with GoDaddy, now we have some data.

As many wrote in to tell me, it turns out that the day after the Super Bowl, GoDaddy’s new customer sign ups went through the roof.

In a single day, they added approximately 10,000 new customers. That certainly sounds like a coup, yes?

But is it time for me to grab the ketchup and my crow-eating utensils? Maybe not yet.

The folks over at Yahoo Finance did some math. Considering typical domain renewals and other factors, the estimated lifetime value per customer works out to about $54.30.

That means those new Monday sign ups are worth about $540,000 over the next couple years. (Again, an estimate, but a fair one.)

Thing is, each 30-second commercial — not counting any production costs or post-commercial mouthwash for Ms. Refaeli — cost them $3.75 million.

So, to get $540,000 in lifetime value out of those first 10,000 customers… they spent $7.5 million.

Looking at it another way, GoDaddy spent has already spent at least $660 on each new customer… to get what they hope to add up to $54.30 each by 2015.

So, asks Yahoo Finance, what if the smooch-heard-round-the-world lingers a bit longer, with the media coverage and all?

Even if the net result is another 50,000 new customers from the two ads, the same lifetime value puts the cost per new customer at $150.

$150 to get $54.30 in return still isn’t a great deal, any way you slice it. For GoDaddy, that would still add up to a $4.7 million loss.

But hey, at least the actor got to make out with what might be considered a super-babe on national TV, right?


I highly recommend that you visit John’s website at http://copywritersroundtable.com.

If you sign up for his brilliant weekly newsletter, Copywriter’s Roundtable, you’ll get $78 worth (retail; the actual value is much much higher) of free gifts.


Pork Chops and Big Promises

Planet Porkchop Sign - Calumet City

There is a restaurant a few blocks from my house in south suburban Chicago (Calumet City, to be precise) that makes a pretty bold statement. Their sign claims that they are THEHome of the Giant Pork Chop.”

Right up front, I’ll admit that I’ve never eaten in this establishment. I’ve never seen their pork chops. But my lack of formal knowledge won’t stop me from making a few observations.

1.) When I read the tagline about the gigantic slabs of pig flesh you can buy at Planet Porkchop, I laughed to myself. How can this little restaurant have bigger chops than anyone else? Have they been around long enough to be the home of anything as readily available as pieces of pork?

The point is this: the marketing/branding statements you make have to be believable. Remember Al Gore’s claim to have invented the internet? Didn’t turn out so well for him.

Even if you’re telling the truth, you may never get the opportunity to prove it .

2.) On the other hand, bold claims are great. If you can make big promises, do it. If there’s something truly special, truly outstanding about you, your product or service, don’t be shy about it.

In fact, make the biggest, boldest claim that you can honestly make.

So many people wonder about how they can differentiate themselves and stand out from their competition. Find something amazing about what who you are (individually or as a business) and what you have to offer, and shout it from the rooftops. Figuratively speaking.

3.) Question: If you drove by this sign, would it move you to stop and eat?

Answer: Maybe.

For some people, this advertisement would never work. Some people don’t eat pork for religious or health reasons.

Other people like pork chops, but they’re not hungry when they drive past. Maybe they’ll consider trying their food another time.

Still others like pork chops, and seeing the piggy sign puts them in the mood to eat.

The lesson, of course, is that advertising and marketing cannot work for every single person. And it will not work every time. To get the most bang for your marketing buck, you have to put the right message in front of the right audience at the right time. Even then, don’t count on getting 100% to buy.

4.) You instantly know exactly what this business is about. They take pride in their pork chops. That’s what they do best. They’re specialists in that area.

Do you know your area of unique expertise? How well are you sharing that message?

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