Sprint's 'Now Network' Campaign Ramps Up Web Presence

Will Take Over Yahoo, AOL Home Pages in Anticipation of Palm Pre Smartphone Launch

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Greasing the wheels for the widely anticipated launch of its Palm Pre smartphone, Sprint is adding new executions to its broad-based "Now Network" ad effort -- enough that it's billing the pumped-up push as its most comprehensive web campaign ever.

Sprint: This is Now
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Work in the new campaign includes a series of interactive online ads customized to the sites' specific audiences.

The ramp-up begins today with home-page takeovers on Yahoo. Takeover ads will also appear on AOL, ESPN.com, WSJ.com, People.com, CNET and YouTube in the weeks ahead.

The effort is an extension of the recently launched "What's Happening Now" campaign running on TV and other media that positions the No. 3 carrier's 3G network, which it branded the "Now Network," as capable of handling high volumes of traffic while enabling all the twittering, searching and messaging by its users.

The latest execution is an effort by the carrier, which is under pressure to hold on to its customers, to raise the credibility of its network before the expected launch of the Palm Pre handset next month. Sprint wants the world to know that it has a solid infrastructure, because even the most killer 3G smartphone won't have much genius if the network it runs on sputters and falters.

Customized web ads
Work in the new campaign includes a series of interactive online ads customized to the sites' specific audiences. For instance, Sprint's ad on the Pandora music site spews out data such as the number of people listening to country music; on financial sites, an ad unit displays a meter that measures Wall Street's mood -- bearish or bullish -- at a given moment. Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, is behind the push.

In the web ads, Sprint will also recruit people to upload videos on YouTube to create a "human clock" in which users denote the time of day by displaying it with their fingers. The company will piece the clock together throughout the day as it sorts through the video submissions.

Sprint's advertising manager, Candace Wolken, who oversaw the company's latest digital efforts, said the carrier chose to take its message further online because it fits the ad theme. "The online medium allows you to do real-time things and lends itself to the immediacy of the things that are happening right now," Ms. Wolken said. "It demonstrates what the Now Network is enabling and the relevance it has to people's lives."

Solid returns
Sprint has seen solid returns from its first online iteration of the "Happening Now" push. Between April 6 and April 28, the company said the Now Network online messaging has delivered almost 340 million impressions, adding that brand exposure time was about 45 seconds per impression, close to double the wireless benchmark of about 25 seconds per impression for a rich-media ad.

Some say Sprint is on the right track to execute these quirky campaigns. "They have to do something beyond what they've been doing," said Karl Barnhart, partner at CoreBrand. "They're becoming less and less relevant -- they need to shake things up. It makes sense to go after them there in meaningful, innovative ways."

Last quarter, Sprint shed 1.3 million subscribers to rivals like AT&T and Verizon, which continue to expand their user base.

Meanwhile, expectations are high for the Palm Pre handset launch. The phone has been pegged as a critically important to the health of Sprint, the only carrier without a flagship 3G touch-screen smartphone. The Pre has been touted as a serious challenger to the Apple iPhone, which has been a powerful bait driving new users to its exclusive carrier, AT&T.

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