Boost Mobile: We Want Consumers to Be Heard

In TV Push, Prepaid Provider Plays Off Real Social Media Gripes

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The voice of Boost Mobile's new campaign could be you. Or your neighbor. Or anyone else who has aired a social-media complaint about mobile phone service.

Boost's new "Be Heard" TV ads are built around real consumers' gripes it culled from Twitter, Facebook and blog postings. The first spot shows a man moving cheerlessly through a rotation of jobs, including taxi driver, delivery man, office worker and janitor. The social-media insight then comes onscreen as a Twitter post: "How many jobs do I need to pay a cellphone bill?!" posted by robdog1111. A voice-over says, "We hear you," and offers Boost's $50 unlimited solution that also "shrinks" customers' on-time payments over time. The ads were created by 180, Los Angeles.

Boost Mobile: Be Heard

"We're not trying to solve everything that every consumer is concerned about in the wireless space; we're really focused on the Boost segment, a segment that often feels dismissed not only in wireless, but also in their everyday lives," said Bob Stohrer, VP-marketing for the Sprint Nextel prepaid group. Boost Mobile is one of Sprint's two main prepaid brands, along with Virgin Mobile. Boost targets voice- and text-messaging-focused consumers, while Virgin is meant for device and data-oriented customers.

Each one of the "Be Heard" TV ads will address a different wireless concern, such as handsets or network coverage, he said. The next spot focuses on the quality of prepaid handsets and was created around the social-media comment "Why can't I get a grown-up phone without signing a contract?"

The campaign also includes print, launching now, and outdoor, which began last month. Digital ads, set to bow mid-May, use comments scoured from around the web inside the online ad units and will change as the social-media conversation around wireless changes.

The new work is an evolution of Boost and 180's 2-year-old "Unwronged" campaign, which drew customer and media attention for its edgy creative, which included images of two pigs dining on ham and a bicycle-riding woman with 3-foot-long armpit hair. The spots asked, "You think that's wrong?" and then went on to point out the "wrongs" of other prepaid service.

"The difference is this campaign gives customers in a voice in an industry where that's not usually the case," said William Gelner, executive creative director of 180. "A lot of wireless advertising says ... life can't get any better. But that's not indicative of the way people really feel."

Boost's paid media spending on the prepaid wireless service rose from $31.3 million in 2008 to $73.4 million in 2009; it spent $68.4 million in 2010, according to Kantar.

Boost's aggressive marketing and advertising push taps into the growing interest and sales of prepaid phone service, especially when compared with contract-based phone sales. A study by the New Millennium Research Council think tank last fall found that one in five contract-based consumers said they were likely to switch to prepaid phones in 2011; another 9% said they would consider switching, but would still be in an early cancellation penalty payment in their current contract. Thirty-nine percent of prepaid customers said they had made the switch in the past two years.

According to IDC, postpaid (contract-based) wireless accounted for 237 million, or 80%, of total subscriptions in 2010. However, prepaid, which accounted for the other 20%, or 58.9 million subscriptions, at the end of 2010, grew by 8.3% over 2009, indicating an appeal to a "growing customer segment."

Boost has seen that growth itself. Sprint Nextel reported 11.3 million prepaid customers at the end of 2010, more than double its 5.3 million customers at the end of 2009, although the Virgin Mobile acquisition, which occurred during that time, was a factor. Contract-based wireless subscribers for Sprint during that same time dropped from 34.6 million at the end of 2009 to 33.2 million a year later. The downside, however, is lower customer spending. According to Sprint Nextel's annual report, at the end of 2010, its average prepaid customer spent $28 per month vs. $55 by the average contract-based user.

Still, prepaid will continue to grow quickly. Adoption is being driven by trends such as more flexible pricing and more adoption by big-box retailers, said New Millennium senior fellow Sam Simon, with the introduction of smartphones also likely to have an impact. "There is increasingly almost no reason to have a contract-based cellphone," he said. "Prepaid as a market, not just in wireless, but in other industries like hotel and rental cars, you're seeing it as a whole new economic model."

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