Print Ads Used in Phenemy Positioning War

It started at the Consumer Electronics Show at the beginning of 2013, then moved to a full page ad in major nationphone legsal papers, only to be countered in the same papers soon thereafter.  What is it?  The newest phone ad wars between AT&T and T-Mobile! Newspapers love ad wars almost as much as oil companies like price wars, and divorce lawyers like contentious divorces.  But, besides bringing in unexpected ad revenue, there are lessons to be learned from these phenemy (phone enemy) ad campaigns and not all of them are positive. Companies have two basic ways to get their side of the story out -- PR and advertising.  Effective PRcan get company spokespeople on pundit talk shows and inches in commentary sections of newspapers. If done really well, it can get the company quoted in an actual news article. But there are never any guarantees with PR.  On the other, Advertising does guarantee placements. It’s why during strikes, elections, employee recognition periods, and even phone wars, you’ll see a proliferation of print ads, because nothing tells a story better or quicker than a full-page ad in print. Unfortunately, it’s not clear the recent AT&T and T-mobile ad wars were effective. Here’s why.
  • The campaign was limited to national publications.
  • It was based on a conference speech that was also limited to industry insiders.
  • The company with the leadership position gave free press to the competitor.
Here’s what happened. The new CEO of T-mobile made a snide remark about AT&T. Few might have heard the comment or given it credence since AT&T has the leadership position. But, instead of letting the comment slide, AT&T came out fighting with limited national ads. Most people never saw the ads, but others started talking about it as it hit the trades. In essence, AT&T gave a broader voice to the initial T-mobile argument. The AT&T ads could have worked if they had been more widespread, but the creative also gave unnecessary ink to T-mobile. The AT&T ads claimed T-mobile had two times the dropped calls, two times the failed calls, and 50% slower download speeds. This drew added attention to the ongoing complaint about AT&Ts own dropped calls rather than playing to its strengths. As noted in the now classic marketing text “Positioning The Battle for Your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout, “At almost every step of the way, the leading brand has the advantage.”  By responding to the T-mobile posturing, AT&T gave up some of that advantage and opened minds to the possibility that T-mobile may be right. Or, as T-mobile’s CMO Mike Sievert said to Advertising Age, “AT&T doth protest too much.” broken legCheck out the AT&T and T-mobile ads and judge for yourself.  Then, take a step back and think how the full page ad space could have been used more effectively, because a full page is a terrible thing to waste. The Walk-Away:  Advertising should never be done defensively or off your main message because instead of giving a campaign legs, it creates confusion.  It's more like trying to run on a broken leg. All you get is more injured.
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