Friday, September 12, 2014

“Our plans are confusing [and our] marketing was a hamster talking to people. We are having a hard time selling the products.”

The quotation above was made by the new President/CEO of Sprint, Maurcelo Claure.

It might well be the Advertising Quote of the Day.

Put its humor (and its pain) aside for a moment and Claure's plaint is a difficult one to solve.

I never liked the Frobisons but I admired the chances taken by all concerned. They did something different in a category inundated by screaming sales, confusing offers and general ugliness. I respect their agency for presenting and selling something different. I have a modicum of respect for Sprint for trying to stand out while they're being outspent, probably 10-1, by the combined hegemony of AT&T and Verizon.

That said, the Frobisons were just plain weird. They existed to be different. They gave me no reasons I could hear because I was too busy trying to unravel or decipher their weirdness.

I think phones are a place where people don't want weird. They want normal.

There are indications that Sprint will now revert to the sort of advertising that's par for the telco course. Claure said "Whenever you got to make a choice of why you are going to buy a phone, you are going to buy it because of pricing."

I'm about 99.9% sure vehement price advertising won't help Sprint either.

Besides, while I agree with Claure on the reluctance of people to buy from a talking hamster, I don't believe that they buy solely on price.

Apple's dominance of the PC market belies that. They charge more than twice as much as Dell and HP. Federal Express, for decades, was far more costly than the US Postal Service. But to whom would you entrust an important package.

The point for my money is fairly simple.

Sprint's messaging dilemma is a thorny one.

It won't be solved by cute and clever.

It can be solved by smart and consistent.

It can be solved if Sprint creates a better product--if they actually do something better. I think creating a product that works is perhaps even more important than creating distinctive branding.

I'm not sure what creative I would come up with were I asked to pitch the Sprint business (though I'd love the assignment.)

I do know that I'd start here, with something I learned from Robert Townsend's book "Up the Organization."

Townsend, former CEO of Avis, said the following to Bill Bernbach when he was looking for an ad agency. By the way, Avis might have been the Sprint of its day. Their lunch was being eaten by a variety of competitors.

“I have 1/5th the money Hertz has to spend on advertising. How do I get advertising that's 5 times as effective from my agency? Hertz is spending five dollars on advertising for every one dollar that Avis spends. So Avis’s advertising needs to have five times the impact of Hertz’s."

Bernbach responded with this:

"Most clients put their advertising through an approval process that destroys the work and kills the morale of the creatives. If you promise to run whatever we recommend, every creative in my shop will want to work on your account."

Bernbach and Townsend arrived at this.
Sprint and whomever its agency winds up being, needs to do something similar.

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