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).

1 Comment

  1. Interesting take springboarding off of the T Mobile ad.
    I would agree in the premise that Christians try to have “canned” answers. Look, we can have simple answers that hit all the major topics or pressure points and appropriately communicate our position and therefore the love of Christ simply and effectively.
    Hogwash. Of course we can have some basic answers, and of course we should be prepared with answers. But in the end people are all different and everybody (meaning each Christian out there) will be different and everybody (meaning the people they encounter) will be different and require a different answer. So while there are broad strokes that can be painted, God is in the details and he will use each person in the way that he has made them to speak to the people he puts in their path to hear what he knows will be actually heard.
    The flip side of the analogy though, is that the T Mobile girl can be an accurate representation of Christians too. One can be the charming and sweet girl next door and also the tough and slick motorcycle riding hottie too. There is no reason why they cannot coexist in the same person. So the prepared canned answers for what we expect can be conglomerated in the same person as the listening and attentive Christian who hears and loves on the person they are showing Christ to. It’s all about balance in the end.

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