Breaking: Verizon gets testy

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Paul Marcarelli is really not so different from every other cell phone user. Pressing a handset to his ear, he asks the person on the other end, "Can you hear me?" waits for a response, walks three feet and asks again. But in one way, Mr. Marcarelli is very different: Verizon Wireless pays him.

In a campaign for Verizon Wireless that breaks on national TV and in print venues this week from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Bozell, New York, Mr. Marcarelli stars as Test Man, a character developed to demonstrate the relentless pursuit of perfection in Verizon's cellular network.

Test Man crosses the desert, wades through bogs, even checks out saunas, always with cell phone in hand, asking the same question: "Can you hear me? Good."

"He's a likable guy," said Rich Levy, group creative director, Bozell, New York. "A bit quirky, a bit obsessive, but just a guy doing his job."

Verizon Wireless spent $348 million on ads from January through September 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. That indicates an annualized rate of $464 million. Spending is expected to increase this year.

Explaining the strategy, Marvin Davis, VP-advertising, Verizon Wireless, said, "Now that more people are familiar with wireless services, there's an understanding that not all services are the same." The campaign introduces the tagline, "We never stop working for you."

Despite its relatively recent birth in April 2000, Verizon leads the competition. According to consultants Yankee Group, Boston, market share data for third quarter 2001 shows 124 million current wireless subscribers. Verizon Wireless is the market leader, with a 24% share; Cingular is second, with 17% and AT&T is third with 16%.

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