Sprint Customer Listening Tour Goes Sour, Company Has To Pull Ad Calling T-Mobile A 'Ghetto'

from the bungled-PR dept

Poor Sprint. Ever since T-Mobile became the darling of the wireless industry simply for treating consumers well (ingenious!), Sprint hasn’t quite known what to do with itself. After T-Mobile leap-frogged Sprint to become the nation’s third-largest carrier last year, Sprint has been trying desperately to convince customers that hey, it’s really cool too. But Sprint has found it hard to shake the image that it’s little more than a decidedly unhip copycat with a less competent network. A lot of Sprint’s PR struggles have been thanks to the fact that it hasn’t been easy keeping up with T-Mobile’s foul-mouthed, hipster-esque CEO, John Legere.

Sprint’s latest effort was to involve a series of ads featuring Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure sitting down with hundreds of “normal folk” in 10 different cities to, apparently, make fun of T-Mobile. Unfortunately the company’s very first ad in the series has ruffled more than a few feathers for being little more than thirty seconds of people laughing at the idea of T-Mobile as a “ghetto”:

So yes, the idea of an ad in which a group of mostly white people sit around laughing at the idea of ghettos just isn’t something most PR departments would sign off on. Sprint unsurprisingly had to pretty quickly pull the ad, and Claure headed to Twitter to insist that the company was just trying to have a conversation with regular folk:

And Sprint’s adventures in bad PR could have ended there, were it not for a follow up exchange between one annoyed customer and Claure, in which the CEO lectured a Latino man on just how he should behave while being offended:

Right, except that as a CEO you made $21.8 million in fiscal year 2014, making your life experiences notably…different. You’re also supposed to be conducting a customer listening tour, remember? So even if your intentions were good and you don’t agree with your customers being offended, you were supposed to be listening to them. Not giving them a lecture on how or when they’re allowed to be offended. All in all it’s another example of how, even with funding from Japan’s SoftBank propping up its sagging reputation, Sprint just can’t seem to get out of its own way and find a path to consumers’ hearts.

Maybe next time just try lower prices and a better network?

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Companies: sprint, t-mobile

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Comments on “Sprint Customer Listening Tour Goes Sour, Company Has To Pull Ad Calling T-Mobile A 'Ghetto'”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

The corporate idea of "listening"

This isn’t about Sprint in particular, but is a mainstay fixture of tons of companies. They have no idea what “listening” means.

From that ad, it’s clear they think “listening” means “holding a focus group”. Which is wrong on many levels, but especially so when that focus group is clearly going to be fed a very nice meal afterwards (based on the place settings).

Whatever (profile) says:

For what it’s worth, they didn’t say that T-Mobile was “a ghetto” rather than T-mobile was “ghetto”. The difference is significant.

Basically, it’s to suggest it’s cheap, jury rigged, or for the lower classes. It’s like a rusty car with brand new twanky deuces on it. It’s ghetto.

The funny part is that in that sense, it’s even more insulting. Just calling it a slide area wouldn’t be as bad.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Confused as to the point.

Is calling T-Mobile ghetto or suggesting that someone thinks of T-Mobile as ghetto supposed to suggest that Sprint as a phone service has more prestige?

Unless someone directly asks, people don’t know what my telecom service is (my phone was purchased from the manufacturer, not from a telecom service provider). Since I can generally get a signal when I want one, why would I care what people associate with the service provider?

Trying to sell Sprint as a more socially upscale service seems to suggest that they don’t have anything better to offer (e.g. faster data, wider coverage, fewer outages, better customer service, cheaper rates…)

If all they can offer is you will be less embarrassed by your telecom service provider, then they must not have any more substantial way to differentiate their service from their competitors.

Rfk says:

Yes. Sprint sucks....but

Are we really going to hold Sprint responsible for what is said by a third party in a crappy attempt to connect and be responsive? Isn’t that one, I r even two, of our major points? Dbag CxO said something mildly offensive, if playing a race card is only something an aggravated consumer is allowed to do. Bs? Yup. Bad idea? Uh huh. Something we should start a bed of coals for and prepare the spit? Not yet. We need a little internal consistency here. As poorly conceived as the attempt was, we need to give them credit for it.

DB (profile) says:

Watch the video carefully.

The first scene is an establishing shot. It’s a camera angle that might conceivably been used for a focus group. The camera angle is slightly high, with a wide depth of field. It captures most of the people at the table, but certainly not all of them. You don’t notice it, but it’s very steady.

Combined with the captioning, you now believe that it’s a hidden camera at a focus group. Your stop thinking about the situation.

The next camera shot is a smooth cut while the woman is still speaking. If asked later, you probably remember it as the same shot. But this camera is centered on the “moderator” and “panel woman”, with a shallow depth of field. The camera is subtly moving slightly, but never quickly or losing center. This is a video trick to keep your attention.

This was absolutely a staged scene, created by professionals. They thought carefully about the “feel” of the result when they selected the cameras, lenses and mounts. The second camera was carefully aimed, it was locked to a shallow depth of field — something you wouldn’t do in a unscripted situation. And the focus was locked on just the woman talking.

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