Sprint Ad Campaign Leaves Nextel's Name in the Dust

Sprint's new ads will ignore Nextel, whose network problems hurt the firm.
Sprint's new ads will ignore Nextel, whose network problems hurt the firm. (By J.b. Reed -- Bloomberg News)
By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sprint is wiping Nextel from its slogan.

After their merger, Sprint Nextel embarked on what analysts said was a disastrous marketing campaign. And problems with Nextel's network prompted an exodus of customers.

So now, the Reston company is hoping to reinvent its image around a new tagline -- "Sprint ahead" -- that ignores Nextel. It will also eliminate the Nextel name from the sponsorship of the main NASCAR racing series, one of Nextel's most successful branding campaigns before the merger. Starting next year, the Nextel Cup will be the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

New television commercials, online ads, billboards and movie theater ads will roll out Sunday at a critical time for the company. In addition to trying to improve the reputation of its network, Sprint is attempting to stave off competition from AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which have benefited from Sprint's steady loss of customers.

"This is the most important initiative the company's undertaken since the merger" in 2005, said Michael Nelson, an analyst with the Stanford Group, a New York investment firm. "This is going to be a defining moment in whether they can turn around their business."

It's particularly important for Sprint to resonate with younger customers, especially considering the highly anticipated launch of Apple's iPhone two days before Sprint's campaign begins, Nelson said. "The timing is certainly not coincidental," he said of Sprint's campaign. "Sprint could really be left out in the cold."

Wall Street has sharply criticized Sprint's lack of distinctive marketing since the merger. The companies, which use different technologies, had strong identities on their own before their union, but analysts say customers got confused by the combined company's brand.

While Cingular/AT&T Wireless pushed its "raising the bar" campaign after its 2004 merger and Verizon Wireless's advertising stressed its reputation for good service, Sprint Nextel settled on "Sprint, together with Nextel."

The new campaign, developed by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners of San Francisco, will focus on Sprint's data network. The ads drop Sprint's yellow color and feature neon-hued streaks of light, touting the "magic screen you carry in your pocket."

"The wireless industry focuses on the shortcomings in our category -- dropped calls, bad rate plans and poor coverage," said Michelle Emerson, vice president of brand marketing and integration for Sprint. "We're trying to leave that behind and start a new conversation about Sprint."

Sprint declined to disclose how much it is spending on its campaign, but officials said it would roughly match its spending on its post-merger advertising campaign.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company