Alltel’s kung fu

20 Jun

[By Todd] Have you noticed how selling cell phone service has degenerated into an endless stream of "we don’t suck as much as the other company?" Ad after ad focuses on the quality of their network, since no doubt customer research says people hate having their calls drop.

Unfortunately vows of quality are meaningless, since rarely do you control the network selection of the person you call. A dropped call is a dropped call, regardless whose fault it is. And if you use Alltel, with fewer than a million customers, it’s a virtual certainty that the party on the other has a different carrier.

AlltelAll of which makes the current Alltel commercial so great. The company has focused on an insight where it really can make a difference. The program is called MyCircle and lets customers create their own circle of friends, then have unlimited calls to all of them.

It taps into one of the critical insights of today’s consumer control, that we build our own universe. We create our buddy lists. We issue invitations to join our MySpace page. We have blog rolls of our friends.

The ads from Campbell-Ewald are a stroke of genius. By using doubles of the other companies’ icons, they seize the equity that Verizon, Sprint, Cingular and T-Mobile have spent millions creating. I may have never heard of Alltel, but seeing all those icons together on screen is certain to stop me long enough to watch.

The writing is very crisp. As the farm-boy Alltel guy explains how the program lets the customer decide who they want in their circle the Verizon network guy responds "That’s really not what we do." Damn! How’s that for a slap at the big guys.

To further sink MyCircle into the psyche of today’s youth Alltel has teamed with Atom Films for the "Are You Circle Worthy?‘ video contest. Sure, it’s a cheap play on the Sponge Worthy line from Seinfeld. But it plays in nicely. Contestants submit videos, up to 60 seconds long, shot on their cell phones.

No doubt the lawyers at the other cell phone companies are gnashing their teeth over the marketing. And in the long run I don’t know that it will drive enough new customers to Alltel to make a huge difference. But it certainly gives existing customers a reason to stay.

And any time a cell phone company is willing to change its behavior to accommodate customers, rather than expecting it to work the other way, well that’s a good thing.