Hello, Sprint PCS? Is anyone there? Hello?

By Published on .

MARKETER: Sprint PCS
AGENCY: Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco
RATING: Two stars

The things we do for you.

Six years ago, to verify the ad claims of a mattress tele-retailer, we bought a bed over the phone. An expensive and inferior bed, as it turned out. And the delivery men gouged holes in our drywall.

But for you, it was worth it.

Not that we ever get a word of thanks. Do you know how many Wendy's commercials we've watched for you over the past dozen years? Huh? Do you have any idea?!! And Calvin (Ptooey. We spit!) Klein. And Bud Bowls II through VIII? Do you think that was fun? It wasn't.

That's OK. A small sacrifice.

Don't even mention Autobytel.com, the fast, Internet way to be mistreated by sleazy car dealers. So we suffered. For you, it was a pleasure. A living hell, believe you me, but a pleasure.

Sigh.

Still, nothing we've ever done has been as agonizing, as frustrating, as infuriating, as expensive as our visit to PCS Town.

We got the idea from the splendid TV commercials by Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, about "Cellular Town." The advertiser is Sprint PCS, which is comparing its fully digital network to competing wireless providers.

A mysterious stranger walks around a weird, desolate burg where people's conversations are full of static and oddly missing syllables. The guy is equal parts Joe Friday, Rod Serling and the Lone Ranger, dressed in a rumpled black suit and introducing folks to the miracle of Sprint PCS, "So that now they can be heard loud and clear."

Plus, 1,000 free minutes and free long distance!

Intriguing. See, we are former customers of Sprint Spectrum, the company's previous all-digital network, and the single worst-run enterprise we've ever encountered. Bad connections. No connections. Seventeen consecutive months of screwed-up billing. A nightmare.

But these Riney spots were so clever, so funny, so confident in promising a clear wireless signal, we knew you'd want to try the thing. So we did. For your sake.

In the first month, we had 70 dropped calls and our bill was for $241.

We called customer service, where we were on hold for 21 minutes before the call dropped. We tried a few days later. We were on hold for 36 minutes.

Then the call dropped.

Finally, two days later, at 2:30 a.m., we were on hold only 18 minutes before being connected with a Customer Care Advocate, who mumbled that he couldn't help us. We asked for a supervisor. Eleven minutes later, our advocate got back on the line. "It'll be a couple of more minutes," he said.

Twenty-four minutes later, while we were still on hold, the call dropped.

Because we are trained professionals, we were eventually able to cut through the bureaucracy to a beleaguered Executive Customer Care Advocate, who kindly adjusted our billing and exchanged our phone for a different make.

That phone doesn't work very well, either. Which we'd gladly explain to her, if she'd ever return our calls.

The point being, we feel completely suckered by a fine, imaginative, compelling advertising campaign that so far just doesn't happen to be true.

"We're having some capacity issues," a Sprint PCS spokesman explained, and he wasn't lying. The ads, however, are.

Isn't it better to understate the promise than create a gigantic reservoir of consumer ill will? Which we harbor, believe us. But don't worry. Our blood pressure is only 236/150. God willing, we'll be fine.

Copyright October 1999, Crain Communications Inc. ;

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