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Dueling ads: iPhone vs. Verizon

Dueling ads: iPhone vs. Verizon 31005
The other night two commercials ran in successive commercial pods and their juxtaposition caught my attention.  The first was a spot for the new iPhone 4 which includes a new video calling feature; the second was a spot from Verizon for their new campaign, Rule the Air.

Both ads were really compelling, each in its own way – together they provide a couple of instructive insights about what makes a great TV ad.

The core of each ad was essentially a product demonstration.  In Apple’s case, the ad showed various situations in which FaceTime, the video calling feature, added a special dimension to the call.  It started with the more expected scenarios -- the newborn connected to the traveling dad and the graduate connected to the doting grandparents.

Then the spot moved into richer territory as it showed an expectant mother sharing a sonogram with her husband who supposedly is thousands of miles away serving in the military – and ends with a couple using sign-language to express their affection for each other.  By using scenarios which could not replicated by audio phone calls alone, Apple clearly demonstrated how great the new phone is.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCzzh-nexpg[/youtube]

The Verizon ad also gave a product demonstration, albeit in a very different way.  As various people texted, emailed, and used apps on their phones, cell towers emerged out of their surroundings.  The glass windows of a high-rise building suddenly transformed into large signal transmitting panels; a parking meter magically grew into a cell tower.  The voiceover explained, “Signal – airborne, beautiful, and strong.  There to ensure the most powerful transmitter is you.”

The spot’s visually-arresting approach was fantastical, but nonetheless it provided a simple product demonstration. The transformations demonstrated how great Verizon is – people were using the carrier’s strong signal everywhere.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqNYaXaVwAM[/youtube]

Beyond product demonstrations, the ads also stood out because each focused on the strength of what it was selling. Although there is much to promote about the new iPhone -- high-resolution display, the GSM standard, improved multi-tasking capability, HD video recording, a 5-megapixel camera, etc. – the ad was solely about FaceTime.  They didn’t muck up the spot with a list of new features or additional copy points – the entire :60 spot focused on the product’s greatest strength.

Verizon’s ad was singularly-focused as well.  It promoted the brand’s primary competitive advantage -- the strength of Verizon’s signal.  Importantly, they didn’t try to copy Apple’s approach by showing cool apps or pulling on heart-strings with memorable scenarios.  This shows incredible restraint on Verizon’s part.  They’ve isolated a different territory to own and they remain focused on it.

Despite being so different, both spots serve as great examples of advertising.  But there is one element which made the iPhone ad stronger to me – emotion.

The spot stirred something inside of me.  I think it was the combination of the classic Louis Armstrong “When You’re Smiling” song and the expressions on the users’ faces which really got to me.  I literally felt how good using FaceTime would make me feel and that emotional resonance made me desire an iPhone even though I really don’t want one (I love the keyboard on my Blackberry too much!)

Unfortunately the Verizon spot was void of any emotion.  It was a purely rational appeal – a strong one, but a rational one nonetheless.  The irony is, though, that people do feel a lot of emotion when it comes to Verizon.

Anyone who’s dealt with AT&T’s spotty coverage understands the feeling of extreme frustration felt when calls are dropped or can’t be placed in the first place – and conversely the joy and peace that come from a signal which just works.

I wish the spot would have captured those emotions – or maybe it could have introduced some passion with the line “the most powerful transmitter is you” and the new tag, Rule the Air.  I wish I, a long-time Verizon customer, would have felt like doing a fist-pump at the end of the commercial.

But it fell short in stirring the emotions -- and emotions matter (even to iPhone rejectors like me.)  Kudos to both companies for creating some great ads, but I hope Verizon will work on creating a more emotional bond.  We know you can hear me now – the question is can you feel me too?!


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