In Sprint's New Hispanic Marketing Drive, CEO Is the Star

Marcelo Claure Touts 'Value' In Ad During Latin Grammys

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Since taking the helm as CEO of Sprint, Marcelo Claure has shaken up the company's marketing operation. Now, he's starring in its ads.

On Thursday evening, the executive will appear in a Spanish-language commercial premiering during the Latin Grammys on Univision. The spot kicks off an ambitious Hispanic marketing push from Sprint, which is struggling to refashion its brand and retain subscribers in an increasingly competitive wireless industry.

In its latest ad, Mr. Claure, a native Bolivian, speaks directly into the camera, highlighting the value of Sprint's new price offering. That offering has been the company's focus since it scrapped the 'Framily' plan and campaign in September. Inspire, the carrier's Hispanic agency, created the spot. It will run on other Spanish-language channels following its Univision premiere.

It's not the first time Sprint has deployed the tactic. In 2008, Dan Hesse, Mr. Claure's predecessor, introduced himself to consumers in a series of black-and-white TV ads. Sprint has moved to increase the profile of its new CMO, following the marketing success of his outspoken peer at T-Mobile, John Legere.

For the marketing to Latinos, that public profile will focus on Mr. Claure's bi-cultural identity and immigrant story. "We thought it was very important to get his story out there," said Kymber Umaña, Sprint's Hispanic marketing manager.

Ms. Umaña stressed that Mr. Claure's background will resonate with Latino consumers, a fast-growing demographic. "They will be able to look at the commercial and say, 'Oh, that feels and sounds like me,'" she said.

Mr. Claure's net worth is estimated to be just shy of $1 billion. He founded Brightstar, a handset vendor in 1997, shortly after emigrating to Miami. He sold most of the company to Softbank, Sprint's majority owner, in 2013. He joined Sprint's board shortly thereafter and was then hand-picked as its CEO in August.

The Sprint spot starts with a mock news reel announcing the new CEO, ranging from a newscaster saying he's the first Latino to head a telecommunications company to an interview with his proud dad, who says Marcelo was always one to be looking ahead. (Not coincidentally, most of the Latinos pictured are hearing or reading the supposed news on their smartphones.)

Speaking entirely in his native Spanish, Mr. Claure opens with, "Hola, soy Marcelo Claure." He goes on to say "Communication is easy, but cellular companies make everything complicated. We're changing that."

A chatty Mr. Claure explains: "I have a family like most and we're connected all the time. While I'm on the internet buying things on my cell phone, the kids are on it watching videos and my wife is Skyping with her amigas." He closes with a hard sell: "For just $100 a month, your family can share 20 gigabytes of data. This is the best family plan in the industry!"

Mr. Claure's televised debut comes during a massive makeover at Sprint. Last week, as Ad Age first reported, an internal memo from Mr. Claure announced CMO Jeff Hallock was leaving the company. The departure of two other top executives -- Bill White, senior-VP of communications; and Matt Carter, president of enterprise solutions -- was also announced. Additionally, Mr. Claure laid out the creation of a new sales division for Hispanic and multicultural business.

Douglas Michelman, the communications chief for Visa, is replacing Mr. White. Sprint is searching for a head of its Hispanic business unit.

Sprint currently has between 5 and 5.5 million Hispanic postpaid subscribers, Ms. Umaña said. (The carrier reported 55 million wireless connections in its most recent quarter.) Many rely exclusively on handheld devices -- in July, the CDC estimated that 53% of Hispanic households do not have landlines -- leaving them more receptive to offers on data usage, she added.

Ms. Umaña said the campaign will involve social and digital elements, in addition to TV, but the carrier is still setting its campaign strategy. In addition to its executive shifts, Sprint continues its review for a lead creative agency, a search it began in August.

In 2013, Sprint ranked as the eighteenth largest Hispanic marketer, spending $68.6 million in measured media, around 5% of its overall ad budget, according to the Ad Age DataCenter.

AT&T, the nation's second-largest Hispanic advertiser, spent $124.7 million; it recently tailored its millennial marketing in a bid to lure Latinos. Market-leader Verizon spent $71.3 million in 2013. T-Mobile, the fourth-placed carrier nipping at Sprint's heels, signed a content deal with Univision in May.