Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.
T-Mobile’s girl-next-door spokeswoman Carly Foulkes has traded her super-sweet personality and pink dresses for super-sassy black leather and some serious brooding. And she’s got a motorcycle.
It’s all part of T-Mobile’s new “Alter Ego” campaign to redefine itself as a cutting-edge carrier (i.e., a leather-clad Foulkes) with a speedy wireless network (i.e., a blurry-fast motorcycle). In a column posted at Wired.com, Alexandra Chang explains that “T-Mobile has been touting its 4G speeds, and challenging leading networks for years. . . . The latest campaign just shows this off with much more flashy and literally fast imagery.”
In terms of marketing strategy, T-Mobile has traded sweet-and-friendly for edgy-and-fast. It’s not that sweet-and-friendly was a total bust — it brought two years of stellar brand awareness growth, due in large part to Foulkes’ likeability. Sadly, enviable awareness ratings haven’t translated into greater sales for T-Mobile, so it was time for a new approach.
The question is if edgy-and-fast is the key decision factor customers consult when selecting mobile companies. Is the edgy-and-fast message what customers need to hear to motivate a switch from T-Mobile’s competitors? Did T-Mobile discover that customers would choose them if only it were a bit more mysterious, a bit more spunky? If so, the new campaign will likely be a success.
But analysts aren’t convinced that T-Mobile did its homework. The concern is that this nifty campaign is full of creativity but lacking substance to sway customers because it’s based on the assumption that customers value “fast” above all else. The message may be creative, entertaining, and memorable, but if it doesn’t feature the factors most important in making a purchase decision, customers won’t budge.
Interestingly enough, I see this same disconnect at play when Christians offer the Gospel to a world in need. We have made assumptions about what the target — those who do not know Jesus — values. Then we’ve built entire conversational constructs to answer the questions we assume they are asking.
This shift in T-Mobile communications provides an object lesson for believers. When we seek to communicate Gospel truths, we need to answer the questions actually being asked. Too often we memorize the answers we think people in general want to hear — and then we insist upon sharing them.
If we don’t discover the key factors and sticking points that keep a person in particular from embracing the Gospel message, we risk a message that is clever but impotent. The Gospel is too beautifully weighty to do it such an injustice. With prayer for God’s help and inquisitiveness toward those who don’t know the Gospel, we ought to be able to communicate “the mystery of Christ,” making “it clear, which is how [we] ought to speak” (Col. 4:3–4, ESV).