The pitchman in Verizon’s long-running “Can you hear me now?” campaign is now working for Sprint.
He’s Paul Marcarelli, and the ads tout how he’s now a Sprint customer with a new tag line: “Can you hear that?”
Verizon rolled out its “Can you hear me now?” ads in 2002 with Marcarelli showing up in all sorts of situations, flip phone to his ear and Verizon Wireless logo on his jacket to pose that key question and its somewhat forgotten follow-up, “Good,” presumably because the other party could hear him.
Verizon vice president Jeffrey Nelson said the largest wireless carrier had little to say about the pitchman’s new advertising gig other than “Paul’s a great guy.”
Nelson also tried to turn the ad against Sprint by saying, “He was our pitchman in 2002. Sprint’s network is catching up to where we were in 2002, so it makes sense that they’d use the same pitchman.”
Sprint spokesman Dave Tovar said Nelson’s remark itself was dated. Sprint’s network provides strong competition to the biggest networks at Verizon and AT&T, Tovar said.
“We gave him a Sprint phone and told him to check out our network and experience it for himself,” Tovar said of Marcarelli, adding that the actor was still using Verizon.
In the ads, Sprint combines the switched-from-Verizon coup with a promotion that its network is essentially as reliable as the largest and also touts its continuing 50 percent savings compared to rivals’ rate plans.
“It’s 2016, and every network is great. In fact, Sprint’s reliability is now within 1 percent of Verizon,” said a print version of the Verizon-pitchman-turned-Sprint-customer ad notes. Sprint bases that claim on its reading of mobile performance tests that the Nielsen Co. does.
Tovar said Sprint was looking for a pitchman who would be memorable and credible in the wireless marketplace when the company approached Marcarelli and found that he was available. Tovar said Verizon last used Marcarelli in 2011, though Verizon declined to verify that.
Shoppers will see plenty of Marcarelli in Sprint yellow through a campaign that includes television, print, billboards, radio and social media.
“I was completely shocked,” said Jeff Moore, principal of the wireless industry research firm Wave7 Research and a former Sprint employee. “Because they (Verizon) put so much of their brand equity into this guy and his message, I had assumed he was locked down for life.”
The advertising publication AdWeek called Sprint’s move to use Marcarelli “deliciously nasty” and linked to an Atlantic article that it said showed the actor’s Verizon gig had been “fairly traumatic.”
Moore said Marcarelli’s appearance and other recent ads starring soccer figure David Beckham have pushed Sprint’s national television spending to tops among the four national wireless carriers in the last week. Beckham also is a partner with Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure in a new Major League Soccer franchise in Miami.