For about a decade, Paul Marcarelli was the face of Verizon. You probably don't recognize his name, but you'd definitely recognize him in his trademark glasses and grey Verizon shirt, asking "Can you hear me now?"
But over the weekend, Marcarelli—whose Verizon work ended back in 2011—was wearing a different color shirt, and touting a different mobile carrier. During the NBA Finals on June 5, Sprint launched its "Paul Switched" ad and sparked a bit of an ad culture frenzy. It was like Steph Curry suddenly pitching for Nike. Or Justin Long using a Dell.
Sprint knew it would get noticed, and in a fully saturated mobile market like the U.S., where all new customers have to be poached from a competitor, what better way to promote the idea of switching than getting the other guy's best known spokesperson to switch?
Sprint's vice president of communications Dave Tovar says the whole thing came together in just the last two weeks, with the brand's agency Deutsch, in-house marketing team, and PR team all involved. "We reached out to Paul, and talked to him about the progress we've made with our network," says Tovar. "He's obviously been around the industry for a long time, so we asked him to try our service to see what he thought. He was impressed, so we asked how he'd feel about being more than a customer and doing a campaign with us."
Tovar says back when Marcarelli was the Verizon Guy, Verizon was clearly the gold standard in U.S. mobile network, with Sprint lagging behind. But that perception still exists among consumers, despite a recent Nielsen report putting Sprint within 1% of Verizon in more than 106 major metro markets.
"We know we have a perception issue with our network," says Tovar. "But that perception lags the reality of where our network is today. We've made enormous strides over the last 18 months, but not enough people know about it, so we wanted to come up with a bold way to demonstrate that. We certainly hope with the progress we've made with our network, along with a recognizable figure like Paul, that more people will consider Sprint."
And other carriers might want to double check their spokesperson non-compete clauses (or give Drake and Milana Vayntrub a call), because Tovar says there are more new Sprint customer testimonials on the way.
"Stay tuned, you may see other influencers and recognizable people showing up in future Sprint ads, just like this one with Paul," he says.