Why are there so many ball commercials?

It started with this Verizon commercial.

Then T-mobile jumped in.

And so did Sprint.

I’m curious why T-mobile and Sprint thought THIS was the commercial that was going to take down their brand unless they responded. Did they think it was destructively creative or effective? Was there a mass exodus of customers?

Having worked for a bit in the marketing space I doubt this decision was based in data. It would have required a quite effective large company. The analysts would have had to see a drop in customer renewal or spike in abandonment, identified the fact that the discontinuity started when the Verizon ball commercial first aired, and passed this information along to the marketing team, which actually decided to do something with the data. Even so the marketing team would have had to work with creative and would have had to decide to produce essentially the same commercial as Verizon. More likely the marketing team itself or an executive somewhere near the top of the company saw the commercial, thought the claims didn’t tell the whole story or became especially concerned about the commercial, and ordered some sort of counter-advertising.

I’m also curious about the strategy. It’s hard to believe T-mobile and Sprint were actually trying to “set the record straight” by mimicking the ball commercials. David Ogilvy, in Ogilvy on Advertising, mentioned in the early 1980s that research already showed an advertisement mentioning both the company’s name and the name of a competitor was ineffective because as time passed customers forgot which company the advertisement promoted. I’ve always assumed this is why commercials so often say, “Tide removes stains better than the next leading brand,” rather than mentioning the name of that other brand. Of course, some commercials do mention competitors by name, which makes me curious about the state of research over the 30 years since Ogilvy’s book first made its appearance.

At any rate, a more probable model in this instance is that T-mobile and Sprint were intentionally mudding the waters by using similar graphics and iconography specifically to confuse the matter. Customers no longer associated a commercial with colored balls rolling down a chute with Verizon’s superiority, but with a confusing mess of claims and counterclaims by all three national providers. The best action for customers becomes staying the course–customers might not migrate from Verizon to, say, T-mobile, but at least they wouldn’t migrate in the opposite direction either.

One possible flaw in the strategy is that by the time T-mobile and Sprint produced and aired the commercials the damage was already done. It allowed Verizon to pivot its creative leaving the impression that T-mobile and Sprint were talking to air.

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