Why are mobile commercials missing the point?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| October 22, 2011

Do you watch TV? I’m not talking about a lot of TV, but just enough to catch a few commercials here and there. (Unless you just record everything and fast forward through those pesky annoyances.) If you do watch just enough TV to catch a few commercials here and there, then you may have seen a commercial or two for one of the wireless carriers here in the States. Whether it’s one of the major carriers or a regional one, the commercials from each one of the networks are pretty unique. Unique, in that most of them are completely insane.

We are a couple of games into the World Series; the NHL’s season has just started; the NFL is trying to show why it needed to come back; and college football teams are rallying their school pride. But, along with all of that there’s plenty of advertisement going around. The national carriers are a big component to our sports systems, with AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint taking the lion’s share of the marketing muscle. There are a few T-Mobile commercials thrown in there, but obviously the other three major sponsors are going to get the full attention.

So while I’m watching these commercials, I’ve noticed something: Verizon and AT&T want to show off their money in marketing, while T-Mobile and Sprint want to actually tell you about cool things they offer. Now, Verizon and AT&T are trying to tell you about cool things, too, sure, but they’re going about it in a very, very different way. What’s different? Well, like many commercials out there, they like to hide the product in a show of ridiculous actors, or pointless dialogue. Or both.

Let’s start with T-Mobile. The Magenta carrier hasn’t been free and clear of these charges the whole time. No, I’m sure many of you out there remember those commercials with the T-Mobile girl standing next to someone, usually representing AT&T, and talking about network coverage and/or speeds. These aren’t as flashy or “commercialized” as some of the newer pieces from the other larger carriers, but they’re still bad. Recently though I’ve seen T-Mobile commercials that just feature the T-Mobile girl talking about T-Mobile, their plans, and then the end of the commercial shows off a pair of devices. Straight to the point, talking about T-Mobile’s strengths in plan pricing and offering, and then bam, here’s the phone you’ll want. It doesn’t get much better than that.

And then there’s Sprint. I can still remember the Dan Hesse commercials, where he’s just walking along in black-and-white talking about what the other carriers are doing wrong, but what Sprint is doing right. Unlimited data? Yeah, the Now Network has that. Oh, you want unlimited everything. Got you covered. And while the stylized display has changed from the CEO-to-subscriber to some phones launching through the air, the point is still there: Sprint offers you phones that give you unlimited data (and everything else), and we don’t throttle your speeds after a certain amount of data has been consumed. Like T-Mobile, the ad is straight to the point, and you understand where Sprint is coming from.

AT&T. These commercials are unique in that they seem to offer up more of a personal connection to the actors than the carrier, the features, or the device. Obviously they need to talk about a feature, or a service or device, but all of that is buried. Buried deep in some cases, because the actors are annoying and actually ruin the commercial. There’s one commercial that’s supposed to be talking about unlimited calling to any US cell phone after you add unlimited text messaging. Okay, great. But, I stop caring about the feature because I’m forced to listen to this lady demoralize her husband (even offering up another man she should have married), because she believes the feature costs too much money. That’s a legitimate fear, sure – if you weren’t having the conversation in your personal greenhouse. Seriously? You’re worried about money while you water your flowers not in an outside garden, or a small window-based flower pot. No, you’re in a greenhouse! Maybe if you hadn’t bought a greenhouse, you could afford a slight bump in your wireless service bill.

And finally, Verizon. While I think the DROID commercials should have a special place in this article, due to the fact that I haven’t seen a single one that actually showcases the phone or its features, but instead has robots fighting ninja or people turning into robots, I’ll skip them for an iPad 2 commercial. Now, there are other devices that have commercials touting that particular device’s portability, showing people on beaches reading, or on a train playing games. Okay, that’s fine. If these things weren’t meant to be used like that, that would defeat the whole purpose. But this iPad 2 commercial takes the cake, not because you get to use it at remote camp sites, at a beach, or anywhere else there’s a Verizon signal, but because it shows the person buying it going out of her way to ignore folks to use it. Oh, you can use Twitter! Just ignore the friend you were apparently having a conversation with to do it. Family camping trip? Bust out that iPad, take a quick photo, and go about your iPad-business while you ignore the festivities.

Our mobile commercials are insane. In truth, if it weren’t for the Internet and the fantastic folks out there who talk about these phones, tablets, or other mobile devices, I don’t think I could ever talk myself into buying something these wireless carriers are trying to sell. Here’s a trick: show me what you’re trying to sell. Tell me why it’s great. Show off the phone! I want the phone, or the plan, so why aren’t you going out of your way to show off that stuff?