Sprint Launches Network-Focused Campaign

'What's Happening Now?' Spots Aim to Differentiate Carrier as Hub of Activity

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Sprint may be a distant third behind AT&T and Verizon, but in a new campaign launched this week, the wireless network seeks to break from the pack by positioning itself as a hive of human interaction.

Sprint Now

The theme of Sprint's new network campaign is an extension of its online widget called 'This Is Now.'

Sprint's latest ads aim to show all the things people can do on its network, replacing the vernacular of coverage and reliability its competitors have seized ("More bars in more places" and "Can you hear me now?"). It is the first carrier to give its network a name, branding it the "Now Network." In contrast, Verizon and AT&T have adopted more-traditional branding approaches. Verizon's network is simply known as "the network," while AT&T goes by "the nation's fastest 3G network."

As carriers seek to push data services amid a commoditized voice business, and mobility moves toward services and applications, Sprint's Now Network push seeks to spur consumers to get connected and plugged into a fast-changing world. A TV spot in the "What's Happening Now?" campaign shows the activity taking place on Sprint's network with a tally of folks using their phones to search for restaurants while in taxis, as well as a video of a talking dog being uploaded to YouTube.

Widget extension
The theme of the network campaign is an extension of Sprint's online widget "This Is Now," said Mike Goff, Sprint VP-national advertising. The widget runs a real-time meter that counts the number of events on the Sprint network, such as number of calls and e-mails sent. The widget also tallies human-interest events, such as the amount of eggs being produced and forest acres being cut down.

"The number of voice calls, the number of texts that are happening, the other fun facts ... are really intended to say, 'All this stuff is going on on Sprint's Now Network,' and to help bring a humanity and an understanding as to 'Here's all the stuff Mr. and Mrs. Consumer are doing ... on this great network,'" Mr. Goff said.

Sprint's branded network received mention in last year's campaign, but the newest iteration is a network-focused campaign that spans TV, out of home, print and online.

Additional value campaign
But Sprint also wants to be seen as a cost-effective alternative to rivals. So in a new, separate campaign launched last week, the network tweaked its value message by using humor. The company said it wanted to hit at the value message harder as consumers look for ways to save in the current climate, and laughs get more attention. One spot in this campaign shows people raking dollar bills from their lawn into a garbage bag and using a leaf blower to drive them away as a voice-over asks, "Why toss out your money? .... Save $360 a year over comparable AT&T and Verizon plans."

The value campaign will run through July 11, and the Now Network campaign will run "as long as we need it to and as long as it performs," Mr. Goff said. Both were done by Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, New York.

Sprint Value

Sprint asks 'Why throw away your money?'

Because of the customer-integration problems caused by its merger with Nextel several years ago, Sprint has struggled to keep its customers from defecting to other carriers. The company has fewer than 20% of the 270 million or so U.S. wireless users on its network, and lost more than 1 million users in the fourth quarter. Sprint has said this year's marketing budget isn't expected to shrink from last year's, though it wouldn't discuss specifics.

Not the end of Hesse ads
Since March 2008 Sprint's ads have featured CEO Dan Hesse, who joined the carrier in late 2007. The stark, black-and-white commercials sought to introduce Mr. Hesse as the company's new leader while positioning him as down to earth, talking up the Sprint network frankly whether from the seat of a diner or while walking through New York's Central Park. The decision to have Mr. Hesse sit out of the current campaign doesn't mean he won't appear in future campaigns, Mr. Goff said. He said ads featuring Mr. Hesse performed better than other ads in the category that run on a weekly basis but declined to disclose the details.

The "What's Happening" TV spots also mark the second national Sprint campaign that references its 4G Wimax network, marking an effort by the company to get a head start on touting its next-generation wireless network. Sprint has chosen the Wimax standard, while AT&T and Verizon are backing the rival Long Term Evolution 4G network.

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