Super Bowl

Verizon Returns to Super Bowl After Long Break, but Which Pitch Will It Bring?

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Credit: Verizon; iStock; Composite by Chen Wu/Ad Age

Verizon is returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011, it confirmed on Friday. But it declined to describe its plans, so the question is which Verizon will show up to play.

In its 2011 appearance, four days before Apple's iPhone hit Verizon stores, the telco's spokesman was the guy who said, "Can you hear me now?"

Fast forward to today, and Verizon's spokesman has switched to Sprint. The company has found a new spokesman, Thomas Middleditch from "Silicon Valley." It's purchased AOL and Yahoo, assembled its own advertising platform and built a sophisticated IoT offering that arms large companies with rich data.

The world's leading telecommunication carriers are now in an arms race to roll out the fifth generation of wireless technology, more commonly known as 5G. And while it's easy to think of smartphones when it comes to the tech, they're actually the least interesting application.

Last month, Verizon rolled out a global ad campaign that left out its recent pitchman, the "Silicon Valley" actor Thomas Middleditch. The spots, more serious in tone than Middleditch's customer-acquisition efforts, were aimed at inspiring investors about what its 5G tech can achieve. In one video, Verizon shows how sensors in asphalt and cameras on street lamps could reduce global pollution. "Who knew asphalt would help save the environment?" a construction worker asks.

Meanwhile, the most frenzied enthusiasm for 5G can typically be found at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which this year opens its doors on Feb. 28, just three weeks after this year's Super Bowl.

Given how much Verizon has changed since the last time it appeared in the Super Bowl, as well as the game's proximity to MWC, it wouldn't be surprising to see Verizon focus on 5G tech.

In late November, the company said it would commercially deploy a 5G network in Sacramento, California. Rivals like AT&T are doing the same elsewhere, so a continued effort to increase awareness may definitely be in play.

Then again, the spot could just feature Middleditch attempting to hit a home run in clumsy fashion during a football game.

The company's other rival and a much more frequent Super Bowl advertiser, T-Mobile, declined to say Friday whether it is returning to the game.

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