5G-inclusive price plans, high data speeds, low latency, and overall service reliability provide a foundation for the marketing campaigns of most US wireless service providers. It is pretty dry stuff. But some service providers have been adding quirky humor to the mix, making for memorable marketing campaigns that set their brands apart in the public eye.
One of the zaniest campaigns yet revolved around a one-day offer. On 1 July 2021, Mint Mobile, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that operates on the T-Mobile US network, announced “the Bobby Bonilla deal of wireless.” Bonilla is a retired professional baseball player whose former employer, the New York Mets, agreed to pay him $1.19 million every 1 July from 2011 to 2035 in deferred compensation when they released him after the 1999 season.
The Mets believed their investments with infamous Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff would deliver profits to more than cover Bonilla’s payoff over the years. The Mets were mistaken: Madoff went to prison, but Bonilla still gets his money every 1 July.
Bonilla wireless package struck out
In honor of Bonilla’s infamous annual payday, Mint got him to appear in a series of humorous advertisements promoting its historic offer for new customers signing up for service on 1 July. Those who signed up for the Bonilla deal could pay a whopping $2,500 upfront for 25 years of Mint Mobile service on a monthly plan providing unlimited talk and text plus 4 GB of 4G LTE and 5G data (regular price, $15 per month). Actor Ryan Reynolds, a Mint co-owner, tweeted that Mint sold 124 subscriptions under the Bonilla deal, which he noted made “zero financial sense” for Mint to offer.
The campaign was created by ad agency Maximum Effort, owned by Reynolds, who is featured in many of Mint’s other marketing efforts. The MVNO’s other recent brand-building exercises include texting and emailing existing customers a phone number they could call to hear Reynolds recite a story about a wayward Gingerbread Man, pitched as something children could listen to while their harried moms relaxed on Mother’s Day in May. Mint also temporarily reopened its online Mint Underground Store in June, featuring a three-day sale of inexpensive beach gear and clothing, all designed to get the Mint logo out and about.
Un-carrier offers spirited 5G swag
T-Mobile US, the self-described Un-carrier, has also used unique marketing ploys to position its brand as an edgy alternative to stodgy old-school competitors. In June 2021, to tout its expanding 5G coverage, T-Mobile unveiled Ultra Capacity 5Gin and a non-alcoholic Extended Range 5Ginger Beer, available in limited quantities. in October 2020, the company released a Betty Crocker cake mix for Supercharged 5G Un-carrier Layer Cake. The mix promoted the operator’s “layer cake” of different spectrum bands, which T-Mobile describes as key to its expansive 5G capabilities.
Pre-Covid, T-Mobile also partnered with Taco Bell on T-MoBell pop-up stores in three cities back on July 23, 2019. The stores were open for three days, providing free food, an exclusive, limited edition T-MoBell Freeze drink and co-branded merchandise. Though there wasn’t a prominent 5G hook to this promotion, it nonetheless highlighted the Un-carrier’s focus on experiential marketing events.
Such efforts reflect the fact that the telco industry is loosening up, at least at the edges. It is tough to imagine that traditional US telcos such as AT&T and Verizon would allow themselves to step outside the lines with unexpectedly madcap marketing efforts. However, upstart telecom brands will continue capitalizing on unique and memorable marketing campaigns.