Sprint To Unveil New Advertising Campaign

A Sprint phone store sign is enveloped by sunlight and shadows in this Feb. 28, 2007 file photo, in Murray, Utah. Sprint Nextel Corp., the nation's third-largest wireless carrier, said Wednesday, May 2, 2007 it swung to a first-quarter loss as bigger investments in operations wiped out modest gains in sales and it lost high-quality subscribers.
AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, file
Sprint Nextel, which has struggled to attract customers with marketing criticized as confusing and unfocused, will try again when it rolls out new advertising this weekend.

Gone are the gimmicks of the past, such as the face-slapping cowboy, the businessman threatened by vultures or the guy from "Office Space" talking about the company's wireless network warding off meteors.

In its place is network speed as art; performers using streaming lights to build mid-air flowers, rocket ships and pie charts as announcers talk about the instant gratification of mobile technology.

"We wanted to celebrate our magical network speeds," said Michelle Emerson, vice president of brand for Reston, Va.-based Sprint Nextel Corp., which has operational headquarters in Overland Park, Kan. "It's a metaphor for Sprint's advanced technology."

Using the tag line "Sprint Ahead," the eye-catching ads, which will be unveiled in movie theaters Friday and begin airing on television Sunday, are another attempt by the company to highlight its fast wireless download speeds to separate itself from key competitors Verizon Wireless and AT&T, which have focused their marketing on network reliability or specific devices, such as AT&T's iPhone.

"This talks about how customers can get what they want right now," said Emerson, whose company developed the campaign with the help of San Francisco-based Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. "We believe it will really break through the clutter."

The company has previously pushed the speed message, which some analysts said was wasted on customers who were more interested in whether the phones would drop calls or had the features they wanted.

"If your most compelling feature is measured in bits per second, it's not very compelling," said David Chamberlain, wireless analyst for In-Stat, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research group. "I think if you're looking at the consumer market, speed doesn't have much to offer. I've done surveys, and 60 percent of the population say they just want a phone."

But Emerson said the initial ads will get consumers to see speed as important, and subsequent ads will show how Sprint Nextel's network and devices can make that speed work for them in terms of music and movie downloads and instantaneous Internet browsing.

"From that aspect, it will give people the idea this is how Sprint will impact my life, and that's what was missing before," said Roger Entner, senior vice president of the communications sector of New York-based firm IAG Research, who has seen the new ads. "It's more tangible than the abstract of 'It's more powerful,' and making it more tangible to the potential customer makes a big difference."

In addition to the TV spots, the company also plans a range of billboards in 26 cities and print advertising, which will appear throughout July and beyond.

The new campaign comes at a critical time for the company.

Last month, it reported gaining just 600,000 new subscribers in the first quarter, compared with 1.2 million and 1.7 million, respectively, for AT&T and Verizon.

It also said it had lost 220,000 high-quality customers who pay their bills at the end of the month and typically spend more, the third straight quarter of postpaid losses.

Much of the problems have been technological and operational gaffes as Sprint Nextel has tried to integrate the Nextel network as well as a number of affiliates.