Verizon and its Atomic Bomb

January 27, 2010

Marketing wars are fought with lots of words,

but wars are won when you combine your words with a visual.


have seen several epic marketing wars: The Cola War of Coke vs. Pepsi, The Beer
War of Budweiser vs. Miller, The Mouthwash War of Listerine vs. Scope and The
Battery War of Duracell vs. Energizer. But they all fail in comparison to the
money and firepower currently being expended in the Cellphone War between
AT&T and arch-rival Verizon Wireless.

year AT&T and Verizon Wireless spent a combined $4 billion in advertising
to blast consumers with 615,000 television commercials. Yet, despite the
incredible sums spent and the enormous volume flooding the airways, most
consumers are still confused.

all that money, the only thing that really stuck in the mind was that AT&T
had the iPhone and Verizon did not. And this was accomplished not with AT&T’s
advertising but with Apple’s brilliant PR launch of the iPhone. And to make
matters worse, many iPhone users have been vocally complaining about AT&T’s
poor service.

U.S. wireless market is estimated at $150 billion dollars and is predicted to
grow much higher as more consumers ditch landlines and sign up for more
expensive cellphone data plans. So despite the lack of success with the carriers’
advertising messages in getting into the minds of consumers, we are likely to
see even more money spent this year by both AT&T and Verizon.

recent campaigns have done nothing but contribute to a scorched-earth policy
that does little to enhance either brand. When you fight a war with lots of
words and lots of noise, you tend to make little progress.

are locked in a heated battle for domination. Currently, Verizon is No.1 with
89 million customers compared with 81 million for AT&T as of June 2009.
Verizon also leads in revenue with $58.6 billion vs. $49.3 billion for AT&T
in 2008, the most recent complete year figures.

may be slightly ahead but it needs the ultimate weapon. The ultimate weapon is
a verbal message combined with a visual. Wars are won when you can combine your
words with a simple visual. It is this combination that gets into the mind and
cuts through the clutter.

strategy has mostly been about riding the luck of having an exclusive on the
hot new phone on the market. Verizon has tried to fight back by promoting one
phone after another, all positioned as “iPhone killers.” Unfortunately, none have
done much killing.


Verizon did have an interesting tagline at the bottom of its ads: “Switch to
America’s Largest and Most Reliable 3G Network.” Powerful, but I doubt many
people noticed it or thought much about it. Why? Because these were just tiny words on a page. Words alone are not enough. Verizon needed a visual to focus
the entire campaign on.

is why Verizon created an atomic bomb and the ultimate weapon when it combined those
words with a visual. A bomb that woke up consumers and actually made them
listen to and remember some of that $4 billion in advertising.

Verizon map2_edited-1

visual was the map. The red Verizon map vs. the blue AT&T map that showed
just how much larger Verizon’s coverage really was. The verbal was "America's Largest and Most Reliable 3G Network with 5x more 3G

know the campaign was effective because AT&T took Verizon to federal court
over the ads. AT&T claimed the ads were misleading because the 3G coverage
map used in the Verizon ads inaccurately gives the impression that there are
vast areas of the country where AT&T customers can’t get any cellphone

federal judge did agree that some viewers might get that wrong impression and
that the ads were “sneaky” on Verizon’s part. But the judge in the end ruled that
the ads were not strictly speaking “misleading” and therefore not illegal.

losing the battle in court, AT&T moved the battle back to the airwaves. In
November, AT&T enlisted actor Luke Wilson to personify AT&T and defend itself
against the map.


                The Luke Wilson ads have been running non-stop. Without a powerful idea AT&T has had to
overspend the competition with its messages in an attempt to once again confuse
consumers. If you can’t beat them, drown them out with noise.

makes Verizon’s verbal and visual leadership combination so impactful is that
it reinforces what consumers commonly believe about each brand. Verizon has the
better network and is more reliable. Verizon backs this up with massive spending
on its network infrastructure. The spending gets lots of PR, and not all
totally positive since the spending has cut into earnings.

on the other hand, is perceived to be a network overloaded with iPhone hogs, which
has generated numerous complains of unreliability. AT&T with a name that
reeks of old technology AT&T is in a bind. Is it too late to go back to

its map Verizon has clearly won this battle, but the war is far from over.
Neither brand is close to claiming “mission accomplished.” But my money is on
Verizon. If they can keep hammering the idea of leadership and reliability with
strong visuals the war will soon be over and I can go back to watching
television without all the Cellphone War commercials interrupting.