Two months after ZTE agreed to plead guilty and pay nearly $900 million for violating U.S. sanctions, the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer has hired Energy BBDO as its creative agency in the U.S., according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The shop won the business after a competitive review, which was led by SRI, Ad Age learned. Representatives from Energy BBDO and SRI declined to comment.
ZTE, the fourth-largest mobile device supplier in the U.S., declined to comment on the new relationship with Energy BBDO or its U.S. marketing push, but a representative said via email that the company has "some great work and activities coming down the line."
In March, ZTE paid about $900 million to settle allegations that the company violated American laws by illegally shipping U.S. technology to Iran over a six-year period. According to CNBC, ZTE evaded U.S. embargoes and knowingly shipped about $32 million worth of U.S. goods to Iran. At the time, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the hefty fine is "putting the world on notice" that "improper trade games are over with."
With that behind it, ZTE, which spent about $5.1 million on measured media in 2016 in America, seems to have amped up its push in the U.S. Earlier this month, the company introduced its new Blade X Max smartphone on Cricket Wireless, and at the end of April, ZTE rolled out its 6-inch screen smartphone, the MAX XL, for $129 in the U.S.
During the 2017 World Mobile Congress in February, ZTE unveiled the world's first 5G phone, the Gigabit. Other Chinese telecoms companies, like Huawei and Lenovo, also unveiled new devices at the show. Chinese smartphone makers have been making a bigger splash in the market -- a few weeks ago, NBA superstar Stephen Curry appeared in ads for China's Vivo smartphone brand.
ZTE worked with The Baiocco and Maldari Connection last year on a campaign in the U.S. around the introduction of its Axon 7 Smartphone.