T-Mobile’s latest marketing stunt – genius or just plain childish?

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Yesterday, T-Mobile announced that it would launching another marketing campaign against AT&T from today. Major newspapers would see print advertisements from Magenta commenting on how “nice” its competitor is. Along with it, came a “fake” press release with made up comments from AT&T’s chief and comments from Legere.

“Call it an awakening,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, “but I felt it was time to really stir things up and put the customer first for a change.  And by “customer” I’m referring to our former customers who switch to T-Mobile, because our current customers don’t really qualify.”  De la Vega said that the new T-Mobile switching offer was custom designed to entice its millions of contract customers to go ahead and give T-Mobile a try. “If for any reason you don’t love T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, which is now faster than ours[i], we’ll actually pay you up to $450 to come back to AT&T, I kid you not.”

Legere then goes on to compare AT&T to Darth Vader, mentioning the scene in Return of the Jedi when he takes off his mask and you see that he’s human after-all, even if he is a little on the less-attractive side.

As you no doubt gathered, this entire marketing campaign is centered around the idea that AT&T will give T-Mobile customers up to $450 to switch over to “Big Blue”. Magenta has been putting its own spin on it since CES, stating that it just offers a very easy way for AT&T customers to leave, try out T-Mobile, and then take up their old carrier’s offer and switch back again, if they’re not happy.

Now, I was perfectly okay with the comments and jokes made during the announcement. Legere has a point. It’s a risk-free way of trying out another carrier (specifically T-Mobile). I don’t even mind that’s it’s been turned in to a marketing opportunity. But I’m not entirely convinced it’s the best move ever made by Tmo’s executives. It just seems that step too far. And – honestly – it’s not even the advertisement. It’s the fake press release that kind of pushed me over the edge.

Don’t get me wrong. I love T-Mobile’s Uncarrier spirit. A change to the way carriers do business in the States was long overdue. I even enjoy the fact that Legere doesn’t act all corporate, using business jargon no one understands, and doesn’t even censor his own language during press announcements. It’s cool. I like that. But I’m not sure Tmo’s done enough yet to warrant its most recent move. It’s almost an un-earned right to be cocky.

I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks so either. Among a few blog posts on the matter, Peter Cohen of iMore (a big fan of T-Mobile) states his belief that there needs to be more action on the coverage side before Tmo can go around with a childish swagger like it rules the school playground. Chris Welch of The Verge states that it “reads like something straight out of The Onion“. In fact, it caused something of a squabble between Nilay Patel (one of The Verge’s chiefs) and John Legere. Dan Seifert was “unfollowed” by Legere after his comments on Twitter. Pretty sure Legere’s not a huge The Verge fan, and that’s okay. I can see where he’s coming from, even if he could have handled it in a more CEO-like way.

But then who are we kidding. The fact that he does things in an Un-CEO fashion is part of what makes him so appealing to the outside world. When’s the last time any carrier CEO was even remotely close to being covered in the press as many times as Legere is?

There were more instances of backlash after this fake press release, but you get the picture.

And here’s the genius part. It got noticed. Does it matter how it’s done? It’s getting a reaction, and in advertisement and marketing, that’s the only thing that really matters. All press is good press, as they say. The more people jump on the back of it, and comment on it, the more ground it makes and the more people hear about it. Ever wondered why some TV ads are so intensely irritating? It’s because they’re the ones you’re going to remember. And in almost every occasion, it’s almost always deliberately irritating. But I’m not sure I get that impression this time around.

T-Mobile has been a little too cocky, perhaps too playful. The press release pictures AT&T as Darth Vader, and pictures one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. Except it feels a lot more like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. At least it does to me.

What do you guys think? Is the fake press release and marketing campaign just a bit of fun? Or is it a step too far for a company we all know has a some way to go before being seen as a real threat to the big two?


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