AT&T Sends Strong Signal in New Ads

AT&T is hoping to its associate its network with a new moniker, "strongest 4G LTE signal," and it's enlisting the help of four of basketball's greatest to make the new tagline stick.

The carrier is running a series of commercials around March Madness with retired basketball all-stars Shaquille O'Neal, Julius Erving, Clyde Drexler and Christian Laettner centered on its claim to have the strongest 4G LTE signal.

So what makes an LTE signal the strongest, you ask? AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) CMO David Christopher tells CNet it's related to reliability and means its customers won't experience service interruptions like video buffering or songs skipping.

Check out the new commercials, which AT&T plans to run during March Madness this month.

Read more about carriers' LTE marketing strategies on the dedicated 4G LTE content channel here on Light Reading.

How the wireless operators market their networks matter as reputations tend to stick, whether they are true universally or not. For example, people tend to associate Verizon Wireless with the most reliable network -- something it charges a premium for, AT&T with the fastest speeds and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) with unlimited data pricing, because that's how they've always positioned themselves. T-Mobile US Inc. is, of course, shaking up all of these monikers with its new messaging as the "uncarrier." It has encroached on AT&T's speed claims, while AT&T has laid claim to being the most reliable in the past year. (See Sprint & T-Mobile CEOs Tweet-Battle Over Super Bowl Ads, Verizon Still Best Network, RootMetrics Finds and AT&T Claims Most Reliable 4G LTE Network.)

It doesn't matter so much that "strongest data signal" is a somewhat ambiguous idea and that AT&T won't share where it gets the data to back up the claim. It just matters because it's a metric that resonates with consumers. Four basketball legends and smartly delivered inside jokes will help too, I'm sure.

I imagine we'll see more marketing shake-ups going forward. For one thing, new reports continuously come out that give the wireless operators new bragging rights. T-Mobile, for example, has passed Verizon and AT&T for fastest networks in certain areas in several studies, while RootMetrics says that Sprint has passed T-Mobile in best overall network performance -- a bragging right you can bet Sprint is promoting. (See OpenSignal: T-Mobile's LTE Is Fastest and Sprint Versus T-Mobile: Which Metrics Matter?)

We'll also see new messaging because, with the exception of AT&T's Christopher, the other wireless operators all have new faces in the CMO slot. T-Mobile just recently appointed Andrew Sherrard as CMO. Sprint replaced CMO Bill Malloy with Jeff Hallock in February of last year, but Hallock is set to leave the company soon with no replacement named as of now. And, Nancy Clark replaced Ken Dixon as Verizon CMO last fall. (See More Executive Shake-Ups at Sprint .)

Both Verizon CFO Fran Shammo and AT&T CFO John Stephens made comments at the Deutsche Bank conference last week that the price wars in the US have started to cool down, but -- with new faces and new metrics to discuss (and T-Mobile's next uncarrier event this week) -- it's clear the marketing wars won't slow down anytime soon. (See AT&T, Verizon CFOs Predict Title II Litigation.)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

pcharles09 3/24/2015 | 12:52:30 AM
Re: AT&T spots @SReedy,

I choose the latter :)
Phil_Britt 3/23/2015 | 11:15:36 AM
Re: AT&T spots SReedy and Milan.

About the only thing you can belive about telecom commercials is that any elements of truth are unintended. Personal experience or the experience of friends, family and business associates provide more validity than any commercial. We've been relatively happy with AT&T, but we're in Chicago area. At Disneyland, we found Verizon was far better. Republic Wireless, which offers a lower cost, is OK here, but, based on network map, should be excellent in Florida. It all depends on what you need and when you need it.
sarahthomas1011 3/17/2015 | 1:30:02 PM
Re: AT&T spots There's a new slogan for them: "AT&T: The Most BS in the US" (base stations? bull sh*t? you decide!)
milan03 3/17/2015 | 1:18:59 PM
Re: AT&T spots They've spent Billions on Iusacell + AWS-3 and potentially DirecTV, which is probably why they've decided not to complete Project VIP investment that called for 40,000 small cell by the end of 2015.

So they needed another advertising slogan, and they needed it fast, and when your network performance start slipping you can't really claim the fastest, largest, most reliable anymore, so they went for the BS.
sarahthomas1011 3/17/2015 | 12:15:33 PM
Re: AT&T spots All good points, but I guess I'm just used to all commercials being built on hot air so it doesn't offend me as much.

It is interesting, however, that AT&T is doing this right after it's series of commercials designed to educate its customers on how it's improving the network with things like small cells. I guess they decided consumers want to go back to being lied to instead.

milan03 3/16/2015 | 6:59:13 PM
Re: AT&T spots None of that is in their actual ad, plus educated consumers, not to mention engineers, are fully aware that Strongest LTE transmission doesn't equate to more reliable, less buffering, etc LTE user experience. It's not helping AT&T's network congestion one bit.

According to David Christopher AT&T is banking on the way U.S. consumers have been conditioned since the days of old analog OTA broadcast, except that's not how LTE works. He's basically selling hot air, which shows how much they don't care:

AT&T's campaign ties back to its strength, and ties into the same idea as a stronger television or radio signal, he said. It's intuitive to folks and they get it, he said.

From a consumer perspective, literally everything about that whole campaign is suspect.
sarahthomas1011 3/16/2015 | 6:30:34 PM
Re: AT&T spots That is definitely a fair call out, but I don't see this as any worse than all the 4G hooplah that dominated marketing campaigns of last year. It is suspect that AT&T won't cite it's source for the "strongest signal" claim, if there even is one, but Christopher's explanation of most reliable, least buffering, stalling, etc. seems to make it a legitimate (if verified) metric. That said, at least Verizon and T-Mobile's claims for speed and reliability have at least one NAMED independent source to back them up...
milan03 3/16/2015 | 6:23:49 PM
Re: AT&T spots It's a disrespect towards an educated consumer. "Strongest LTE Signal" claim doesn't actually carry any tangible, measurable benefits to the end user. The whole campaign is banking on hope that the consumer will "intuitvely assume" that Strongest LTE Signal means better, faster experience, without AT&T guaranteeing any of those benefits in it's ads.

They even go as far to completely remove the word "user" from their ads, which they replaced with "signal" so you get something like: "We've engineered our network to provide the optimal signal experience". http://i.imgur.com/4UNF3KC.png

At least that strong LTE signal is getting an optimal experience :D
sarahthomas1011 3/16/2015 | 11:52:13 AM
AT&T spots What do you all think of AT&T's new ads? I like them and the addition of the new "data strong" metric. It refocuses the conversation a bit even if it's hard to quantify. Plus, I was just happy I understood the basketball banter after watching bball and a documentary on Laettner all weekend!
sarahthomas1011 3/16/2015 | 11:50:26 AM
the war is back on The price wars may have slowed, but they definitely haven't stopped. Sprint said last week that it would reimburse any fees at all associated with customers who leave another operator to come to its network: http://newsroom.sprint.com/news-releases/sprint-will-reimburse-all-your-costs-to-switch-join-sprints-56-million-customers-today.htm, and T-Mobile today extended its Data Stash program to prepaid users: http://newsroom.t-mobile.com/issues-insights-blog/prepaid-data-stash.htm -- this was one of new CMO Andrew Sherrard's first salvos at the carrier, and there's clearly more to come when it holds its Uncarrier event on Wednesday. Definitely keeps things interesting!
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