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Ballsy Branding

Posted on March 22, 2016, at 3:00 p.m.
by Eliza Sheffield.

Most would agree there used to be a clear frontrunner among cell phone carriers. But recently, it seems like the gap between Verizon and all the rest is starting to close.

In the last few years, underdogs like T-Mobile have given Verizon a run for its money, quite literally. Because cell carrier customers mainly come from poaching competitors,
T-Mobile’s 19.4 percent revenue increase threatens the success of the three other major carriers – Sprint, AT&T and Verizon.

This zero-sum competition opens the door for some scathing aggressive marketing, and the latest brand battle development has been no exception.

In December 2015, Verizon released a commercial with colored balls rolling down a track and pooling at the end to demonstrate its dominance in the areas of data, calls, speed and reliability, a few of the elements that set a network apart as the “best.”

Sprint returned with an imitation ad that bragged on its faster download speeds and reiterated its half-off offer for users who switch networks, while AT&T coasted along quietly with its regularly scheduled programming.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile swung back with a spray of ammunition ads, hitting the mark with a memorable Super Bowl slam, where Miss Universe mis-announcer Steve Harvey called Verizon out on its deceptive use of year-old data.

Even though it was a compelling commercial series, you can count on consumers to be critical about cell phone commercials, said Josh Malchuk, graphic designer and T-Mobile user.

“I think people know to take commercials like that with a grain of salt because businesses are always going to be skewing data in their favor,” Malchuk said. “What they’re representing may be true, but they’re going to represent it in a way that makes them look good.”

T-Mobile is known for its bold and targeted maneuvers, like the time the company offered Sprint users $200 to switch carriers.

According to GeekWire staff reporter Taylor Soper, the ongoing competition ultimately benefits consumers and won’t be ending anytime soon.

“It keeps prices reasonable and forces companies to innovate — just look at what T-Mobile did with no contracts, JUMP, cancellation fees, etc.,“ Soper said. “The other three competitors basically copied T-Mobile after seeing how successful they were.”

Making sense of T-Mobile’s underdog success starts with a closer look at one of the loudest voices in the network yelling match: T-Mobile CEO John Legere.

Legere, with his magenta sneakers (and equally colorful responses to company criticism), exudes an eclectic boldness that echoes throughout the brand.

As the organization’s shockingly confident mouthpiece, he has transformed the CEO role from behind closed doors to center stage and set an example for alternative corporate leadership.

“We set out to change this industry, we’re well on our way and we won’t stop,” Legere remarked about the steep earnings in 2015.

Legere’s personal brand is just as eclectic and edgy as his CEO persona. He even has a 10-inch tall doll of himself with its own popular Twitter account.

In a branding decision that reflects the CEO’s confidence, T-Mobile positions itself as the “Uncarrier.” In reality, the name amounts to a package with offers such as rollover minutes and other discounts, but the we’re-different-and-relatable angle has gained T-Mobile a slew of new converts.

Despite its hot-pink success, Soper doesn’t see T-Mobile passing Verizon anytime soon in terms of overall subscribers.

“The company is much further along than it was before Legere took over,” Soper said. “T-Mobile has a nice underdog brand right now, while Verizon seems like the veteran. I don’t see that changing for the long run, given where each company stands now.”

As a designer, Malchuk vouched for the attractive brightness of T-Mobile’s campaigns. Although he is the only one of his friends on the network right now, he thinks that could change soon.

“They say in a lot of their commercials that they’ve doubled their LTE, and I rarely don’t have a signal anymore, so I kind of believe that,” Malchuk said.

Mysteriously, the Verizon/T-Mobile interview call with Malchuk dropped inexplicably in the middle of our conversation, so for now, the definitive “best” network remains unclear.

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