Sprint’s 100 Million Dollar Lesson in Stupidity

May 7th, 2008


Gizmodo is reporting that Sprint is launching a $100 million advertising campaign for the Sprint Instinct, their attempt at an iPhone competitor. Gizmodo has two of the spots, and I suggest you watch them. 

The ads put the Instinct and iPhone side by side for comparison, with overly-loud and abrasive music and narration. It looks like they tried to make them amusing, but they failed rather miserably. 

The first spot, for those of you who have not seen them yet, compares the Instinct’s EVDO networking to the iPhone’s EDGE. Both the iPhone and the Instinct have their browsers open, and they do a speed test of sorts. Obviously, the Instinct loads the page first, and the iPhone takes a while. It gets the point across. 

The second spot uses the same set up, but in this case compares the two phones’ ability to pinpoint your location on a map. The Instinct finds your exact location, while the iPhone can only find where you are within a certain radius. 

While the Instinct certainly has those two advantages, these ads are fundamentally flawed. 

A fundamental tenet of marketing is to show only your own product. The reason is that when you do so, you are giving your competitor free marketing, too, whether it is good or bad, and worse, it can make you seem petty. Marketing must be done in a way that shows the positives of your product, and registers your name in the customer’s mind. Advertising must make viewers forget almost completely about their competitors, and just remember what you are advertising. Splitting a viewer’s mindshare between your product and your competitor’s is never a good idea.

More importantly, if your advertising is particularly clever, you can imply your competitor’s faults without even mentioning them. 

Apple’s iPhone ads are particularly good at this. They do not mention Motorola, Nokia, LG or Sony. They show, however, the iPhone’s differentiating factors: Mobile Safari, iPod, Google Maps, and how easy it is to use. At the end of each ad, the person receives a call. This subtle act reminds the viewer that the iPhone is indeed a phone, and just how different it is from the phone they are using now. They are not giving free advertising to their competitors — they are showing precisely how the iPhone is better, while almost subconsciously pointing out to viewers how much their phones suck. 

Sprint’s Instinct ads, however, violate this rule. They place the Instinct next to the iPhone, which is just more free advertising for Apple. Worse, the iPhone compares favorably to the Instinct. The Instinct’s screen looks squished, small and dim, and its case looks like cheap plastic. 

The Instinct’s browser, too, compares negatively. Its on-screen controls remind viewers of the iPhone’s excellent multi-touch controls. 

The effect is that Sprint’s commercials, while they do show some current advantages, also remind viewers that the iPhone is a far more elegant and usable device. 

And here’s the real kicker: Sprint is spending $100 million on pointing out the Instinct’s faster network and GPS-integration, while the iPhone will have at least 3G, and most likely GPS as well, in a few weeks. 

Sprint is in a terrible financial position, and they are spending $100 million on ineffective advertising that will be irrelevant in a matter of weeks. I don’t know any other way to say this: Sprint is screwed.