Officially, the Frobinsons are on a six-week family — check that — Framily vacation, according to the hamster’s Twitter feed.
Unofficially, they might not have jobs at Sprint Corp. when they get back later this month.
The Frobinsons are the TV characters created last winter by Figliulo&Partners for the Overland Park-based wireless company. In addition to the hamster dad, the Frobinsons include a daughter with animated blue bird companions and a Goth hanger-on named Gor-don.
Early reviews pegged the Frobinsons variously as “frightful” and “weird” and gave the first ads thumbs down as confusing, even if they did draw attention to Sprint. Rival wireless executives, notably T-Mobile US Inc. chief John Legere, poked fun at the concept.
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Now, Sprint is weighing whether to change its advertising agency lineup, according to a report from Advertising Age. It puts the fate of the Frobinsons in jeopardy.
Sprint officials declined to comment on the Advertsing Age report or address the status of Figliulo&Partners, the agency that came on board last November.
Advertising Age said Sprint “issued a request for creative proposals for its account” and focused specifically on the broadcast television work Figliulo handles. It cited unidentified agency executives as its sources.
It’s possible that this is simply Sprint’s new chief executive, Marcelo Claure, evaluating a critical part of the company’s competitive push less than a month into the job.
Sprint easily could stay with Figliulo&Partners after seeing what else is out there. That doesn’t mean the Frobinsons are safe.
Jeff Hallock, Sprint’s chief marketing officer, told Advertising Age in August that the Frobinsons’ future had not been decided even as the company jettisoned its Framily discount plan. He was unavailable Thursday.
They’re named the Frobinsons because the eclectic group’s first job was to sell Sprint’s Framily discount plan. A mashup of the words friends and family, Framily gave customers increasingly large discounts for adding mostly new customers to Sprint’s network.
It didn’t catch on well. Consumers were too confused trying to compare it with the shared data plans offered by AT&T and Verizon. Sprint recently switched to its own version of shared data plans for families.
Claure had announced the switch personally when he made his first local media appearance to do the ALS ice bucket challenge.
In an email, Sprint spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer said the advertising budget has shifted to the new Sprint Family Share Pack offering though Framily plans are still available and existing accounts remain active. She said no Frobinson ads are appearing in national runs, though some “are out there in some locations.”
The Frobinsons appeared in a Framily ad that ran on the DIY Network Aug. 24, according to iSpot.tv, a website that provides real-time advertising data. The ad emphasized Sprint’s unlimited data, voice and texting features and used a fitness theme to tout the Galaxy S5 Sport phone that Sprint has highlighted.
The ad tacked on the Framily plan unlimited deal with a voice-over reference that could change easily.
Chuck Frobinson and Gor-don, his Goth roommate, were in an ad that iSpot.tv said aired as recently as Aug. 25 on NBC Sports. Its focus was on improved call quality from “America’s Newest Network” and made no mention of Framily.
It’s proof that the Frobinsons are bigger that the rejected Framily discount plan and could survive its demise. But only as long as Figliulo survives as well.
“The fate of the Frobinsons depends on if Sprint seeks a new ad agency,” said Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics, which tracks the wireless industry.
Entner said a new agency would scrap its predecessor’s work to create its own. That would be the point of making the change.
Stephanie Atkinson of Compass Intelligence said the characters might be able to survive, but the Frobinson name is too closely tied to Framily plans to keep. She concluded that the fictional family probably is gone already.
“As Marcelo (Claure) came in, the Framily and Frobinsons, that campaign was completely nixed,” Atkinson said.
Calendar note: The Frobinsons were sent on that six-week road trip two days before Sprint publicly said Aug. 6 that Claure would become its new CEO. Claure quickly told the press that he already had been involved in Sprint’s strategic planning as a member of its board of directors.
None of this drama has shown up on the Twitter feed of the Frobinson Dad, portrayed by a hamster and voiced by actor Andrew Dice Clay. According to him, the Frobinsons, sans Grandpa, were at the Four Corners Monument in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona on Wednesday.
They were heading next to a UFO Watchtower near Hooper, Colo., according to an itinerary map posted on Roadtrippers.com, which is working with Sprint on what ClickZ called a digital content initiative. Tiemeyer confirmed that the digital promotion continues to run.
Kansas City, and a scheduled visit to the American Jazz Museum, is only a few stops away. It would be a good chance for the Frobinsons to stop by and plead their case with Sprint’s new CEO.