Verizon and AT&T: Dumb And Dumber

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Someone recently tweeted that he was sick and tired of the Verizon Map commercials (for the record, that someone was @matt_vance). A number of people joined and agreed.

It’s not just that the commercial is annoying — from a business perspective, it’s just plain dumb.

Here’s why: It focuses on the wrong decision criteria.

For sure, coverage area is important to cell phone users. But how many cell phone users use their phone in 99.9% (or whatever Verizon claims in its ads) of the locations within the lower 48 states? If you do, you’re probably alone.

What matters to any one customer (or prospect) is whether or not Verizon has good coverage where s/he is and plans to be.

I’m a Verizon customer, and have been for a number of years now. For the entire time that I’ve been a customer, I haven’t been able to get any cell phone reception at my house — I live in a dead zone (15 miles out of Boston, you’d think I was in the middle of nowhere).

I was at a Verizon store with my daughters recently, as one of them was upgrading her phone. As we waited for service, I noticed on the wall that Verizon sells — for about $200 or so — something they call an Extender, which would probably be perfect for someone like me who lives in a dead zone.

If my daughters hadn’t been there with me, I probably would have gotten into one of my typical “philosophical discussions” with the sales rep (the girls get really embarrassed when Dad argues about stupid things with salespeople).

This “discussion” would have gone like this: If you guys have such great coverage — as you boast in your annoying “there’s a map for that” commercials — then why in the world should I spend $200 for some device to improve the reception?

This annoying little matter aside, the reality is that having complete national coverage is meaningless to any one customer. What matters — that is, what drives the decision of carriers — is something else.  Or more specifically, other things. Not only coverage area where the customer is and will be, but things like device choice (don’t try to tell me iPhone users are ecstatic that AT&T is their providers) and service reputation.

Because it doesn’t focus on the real decision criteria (possibly because it can’t), Verizon’s ad is just plain dumb.

But not to be out done — or should I say out-dumbed — what does AT&T do?

Responds with an even dumber ad featuring Luke Wilson.

What makes AT&T’s ad even dumber?

First of all, Luke Wilson. What’s the matter? Was there no one else on the C-list of celebrities willing to do an AT&T commercial? How sad to see AT&T go from the iconic James Earl Jones to the moronic Luke Wilson.

The second thing that makes the AT&T response dumb is that… well, they responded. By responding to Verizon’s dumb ad, AT&T validated Verizon’s focus on nationwide coverage as a decision criteria.

Verizon and AT&T: Dumb and dumber.

In fairness, though, I think it’s the firms’ respective ad agencies who are to blame here. And you wonder I’m critical of ad agencies?

There are lessons that marketers in a range of industries should learn from Dumb and Dumber. You should be able to figure them out for yourself.

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