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Lo-res_1172783356-SAlthough 5G wireless technology is not yet widely available, it is coming, and the wireless carriers are getting ready. Much of that preparation is technical, but at the same time, they are reconsidering how to market their services to get customers excited about—and perhaps willing to pay more for—the latest advances as they arrive.

Rather than highlight the high-tech capabilities of 5G though, the big competitors in this market, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, are moving toward more affect-laden marketing. That is, to emphasize how the faster wireless speeds and power actually benefit consumers, they highlight the outcomes of using such advanced technologies.

Verizon’s Super Bowl ad featured first responders who protected or saved the lives of several NFL players. The heartwarming stories implied that without strong wireless capabilities, the players would not have been able to call for help, and the first responders would not have been able to reach them promptly to provide aid.

Sprint’s approach is to identify itself as the source of the exciting technology and services “of the future,” rather than trying to sell people on a service packages that offer a certain number of texts or calls. In this sense, it reflects a wider industry trend, such that the wireless firms are attempting to be more than just carriers and position themselves as tech companies more broadly.

T-Mobile wants that reputation too, and it has long referred to itself as the “Un-carrier” in an attempt to distinguish itself from its rivals. With an irreverent style and attitude, the company explicitly targets its competitors in press releases and public relations events. For example, it promises never to “pull a Verizon,” which it defines as “pretending” to care about first responders but limiting their access, or “pull an AT&T,” such that it would falsely imply it is offering 5G before the technology is truly ready.

This latter allegation refers to AT&T’s recent addition of a “5Ge” marker to screens, which it uses to signal that it is evolving (hence, the lowercase e) toward 5G technology. In a lawsuit, Sprint alleges that this anticipatory marker actually is misleading, causing consumers to believe they have 5G service before it is even possible for them to do so. But AT&T is determined to show users that it is leading the way to the exciting new service options.

Overall though, explaining an advanced technology to consumers can be a challenge. For the carriers, or service providers, or tech companies, regardless of how they define themselves, the goal is finding a way to make a technical, complex offering appear emotionally appealing and exciting.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do the marketing strategies of the four main wireless carriers differ? Which one appears most effective, in your opinion?
  2. Is affect-based advertising sufficient to market 5G offerings, or will these companies need to provide fact-based advertising appeals too?


Source: Alexandra Bruell, “Wireless Carriers Revamp Ad Strategies for 5G,” The Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2019