Once registered, you can:

  • - Read additional free articles each month
  • - Comment on articles and featured creative work
  • - Get our curated newsletters delivered to your inbox

By registering you agree to our privacy policy, terms & conditions and to receive occasional emails from Ad Age. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Are you a print subscriber? Activate your account.

How Virgin Mobile Goes Up Against the Goliaths of Phone Service

Three Questions With Telecom Marketer and Ad Age CMO Strategy Summit Speaker Ron Faris

By Published on .

Ron Faris is up against some of the country's biggest ad spenders. While AT&T and Verizon are the No. 2 and No. 4 U.S. ad spenders, his brand, Virgin Mobile, doesn't even make the top 100. So how does the little guy go up against the Goliaths of phone service, especially when its product looks a lot different? For Mr. Faris, it's all about a laser focus on his youthful target and using social-media tools to persuade consumers that prepaid, pay-as-you-go phone plans make more financial sense.

Ron Faris
Ron Faris
Ad Age : Telecom is one of the biggest categories by ad spending. How does a relatively small marketer like Virgin Mobile compete with AT&T and Verizon's mammoth budgets?

Ron Faris: The running joke is that we typically spend in one year what AT&T spends on "American Idol." The good news is that our target demographic -- whom we like to call 18- to 28-year-old hyperconnected youth -- spread their attention across a myriad of media outlets, not solely on pricey prime-time TV. When young people research the brands they want to associate with, they do nothing short of background checks. And that cycle of investigation happens socially. If a brand wants to break through with a segment, that brand needs to publish as often as an almost-annoying-but-super-cool friend on Facebook.

Ad Age : Virgin Mobile sells prepaid phone plans, which some associate with unsavory characters like criminals or drug dealers. How has Virgin worked to overcome the category's baggage?

Mr. Faris: It's true that prepaid, historically, has gotten a bad rap. But the recession of 2009 changed everything. Bling was out. Thrifty was in. Fashionistas became frugalistas. These days, 60% of our customers come from the post-paid world, from people looking for better value without compromise. Virgin Mobile these days is the enlightened choice for youth. If you don't use a lot of minutes -- chances are if you're under 30, you don't -- then why pay for them? It's no different than the college grad who cuts the cord with their cable service in favor of Hulu.

Ad Age : You've talked a lot about branded content. When does branded content not make sense for a marketer?

Mr. Faris: I'm a big believer that every brand marketer has the capacity to publish branded content. The trick is to create or curate in a manner that 's authentic to the brand's voice. A brand with no content is a brand with nothing to say. And a brand with nothing to say socially -- or, worse, a brand that only posts offers -- is like a creepy user on Facebook with no profile pic.

For information on Ad Age 's CMO Strategy Summit, click here.

Most Popular
In this article: