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Sprint Hopes to Create TV Magic -- With a Goth, Heidi and a Hamster

A Quirky 'Framily' Will Pitch the Carrier's Plan In Ongoing Series

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Millions of Americans are eagerly awaiting April 6, the season premiere of "Game of Thrones." Sprint thinks it can tap this same sort of mania in its ads.

On Monday evening, the third-place U.S. wireless carrier will unveil two national TV spots introducing a sprawling ensemble of characters, which Sprint hopes will carry on like a riveting TV episodes.

"It's the golden age of television -- broad stories that are told over time. What you really come to is the characters," said Mark Figliulo, CEO of Figliulo&Partners, which created the new spots. "We're bringing that to advertising."

The new campaign promotes the "Framily Plan," Sprint's offering, introduced in January, to lure in customers with discounts for groups of up to ten phones. The new ads feature the "Frobinsons," a quirky, anti-nuclear, family. Heidi, the 8-year old daughter, speaks only French, with cartoon birds inexplicably circling her head; Grandpa is an African-American former techie for Jimi Hendrix. One reccuring character, a friend of the family's eldest son, is a black-lipped goth called Gor-Don.

A hamster, voiced by the brash comedian Andrew Dice Clay, is the family patriarch.

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Inspiration for the campaign came, in part, from long-running spots in Japan from Softbank, which acquired Sprint in July. That effort featuring the Shiratos, an offbeat, multi-racial family helmed by a canine father.

Sprint expects its cast of characters -- which includes college-aged son Chuck, played by new "Saturday Night Live" cast member Kyle Mooney -- to unfold over the course of a lengthy series, in TV, print and digital. The family will also have a dedicated page on the Sprint website. "It will be a family that will live on for a long time to come," said CMO Jeff Hallock, who began his role in January after the departure of Bill Malloy.

Mr. Hallock said the Frobinson clan may eventually pitch other Sprint promotions, and hinted at the inclusion of additional celebrity cameos in future spots.

Analysts have been predicting that Sprint, along with smaller competitor T-Mobile, will ramp up its ad spending in a bid to yank customers away from larger rivals like AT&T, which introduced its newest campaign last week. In 2012, Sprint's measured media spending fell by $76 million, to $810 million, according to the Ad Age DataCenter.

Monday's launch comes on the heels of news that Sprint is shutting 150 service centers across the US, the product of a streamlining effort announced by Softbank in January. In a statement, Sprint described the cuts as "the result of greater efficiencies that we've achieved through simpler pricing plans and improved customer service."

The new spots are the inaugural solo venture for Mr. Figliulo, who departed as creative head at TBWA to start his own agency.

"They might be surprising at first," Mr. Figliulo admitted about the new ads. "But that's a good thing."

They aren't the first off-kilter ads Sprint has run. Absurdist ads featuring James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell were a consumer favorite last year.

But Monday's spots mark the first time the carrier is aggressively promoting a new ad campaign in conjunction with its release. (The carrier is under pressure from its new parent to trim costs. On March 7, the Wall Street Journal reported that Masayoshi Son, the Softbank CEO, demanded that Sprint fire all its ad agencies; a Sprint spokesman told Ad Age that existing agency contracts are not under threat.)

For the digital and print arms of the campaign, Sprint will continue with agencies DigitasLBi and SMG.

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