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The Other Verizon vs. AT&T War

As bad as it sounds, who didn’t get excited seeing a schoolyard fight break out during recess? The rush of the crowd, the disruption from the norm, and the stories that would be shared long after the dust had settled. This is how I feel about the upcoming bout between AT&T and Verizon over the iPhone. Of course, this won’t be the first time the telecom titans have had a pissing contest to mark their territory.

In October 2009, Verizon launched its infamous “Maps” campaign, taking aim at AT&T’s lack of 3G coverage. This message especially hit home with iPhone users in major metropolitan areas, who notoriously experienced bad reception. Even worse, the campaign bent the truth by fostering the idea that AT&T’s coverage was worse than it actually was. Though the maps only reflect 3G coverage, not 2G, not everyone caught this note during the course of the 30 second commercials, or in the extra fine print.

Of course, AT&T didn’t take this fight lying down. After losing a court battle against Verizon, the company decided to take the high road. The high society snobbish road of being “dismissive, but friendly.”  Research showed this attitude was the best way to reach their middle American target who felt slighted by the “truth” presented in Verizon’s commercials. They chose Luke Wilson, an actor they felt would resonate with this audience, to deliver this message. Within a five week period they prepared a multimedia assault that treated Verizon’s campaign as nothing more than a trifle, then changed the conversation to discuss things that AT&T actually does well, such as speed and being able to use data and voice at the same time.

By April of 2010, not only had AT&T managed to reclaim their market share, but actually grow it. Verizon stopped their “Maps” campaign, and AT&T, coming out of the frey the victor, stopped their campaign as well. Looking back at their last major battle, I have to wonder how this will affect their upcoming match.

Has Verizon learned any new tactics to use against their competitor? The first ad from Verizon shows the company thanking customers for being patient, touting a message of appreciation and service. Though this isn't a direct shot at their competitor, AT&T isn't known for having the best customer service. Is this how they will play the game?

After scoring big with middle America, will AT&T have the same luck with a metropolitan audience that complained the most about their lack of coverage? The company has yet to reveal an inkling of any battle plans  besides a lower priced iPhone 3GS, and a bunch of fees for any of their customers who think about jumping ship.

Though it would be unfair to crown anyone the winner before the match has even begun, I will predict that the upcoming iPhone War will be a victory for marketers, serving as a great case study to learn from for years to come.

Written by Ken Hammond on January 26, 2011

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Written by
Ken Hammond