How AT&T Screwed up and Left an Opening for Verizon

I have little sympathy for AT&T's attempt to stop Verizon, in court, from running its "There's a Map For That" TV ads. Verizon got out front, out thought, out marketed, and outmaneuvered AT&T -- who was asleep at the wheel.

I've formed a theory lately that all successful advertising depends on the ignorance of the consumer. That is, if you look at TV ads today, you'll find that the vendor tries to manipulate the buyer into interest in the product by leaving out critical information, using half truths, or presenting the information in favorable ways that appear to be complete -- but don't tell the whole story.

• Actors posing as physicians give sage advice that a product will cure your ills. If a physician says it, it must be true, right?

• New car ads proclaim: "$99 down or $99 a month!" It's up to the customer to realize that "or" does not equal "and" and that $99 down means an $850/month payment and that a $99/month payment means either $15,000 down or a hidden $15,000 balloon payment.

• Ads that advertise a "Low fat" product lead you to believe you won't get fat eating it, but omit that the product is loaded with sugar to make it taste better.

I could go on.

In the case of the Verizon TV ads, Verizon is exploiting the fact that AT&T's wireless customers are, in general, fairly ignorant of technical specifics. The 3G term has been around so long, it's easy to lose sight of what legacy systems are still operating and which are not. For example, AT&T operates a 2.5G/Edge network that fills in much of that white space on the map that AT&T is so distressed about.

No matter.

Verizon has been shrewd. They've looked at geographical coverage for 3G and realized they have an advantage there. They've cashed in on their brand -- better coverage in more places. Most of all, they got out front on the 3G geographical coverage issue and cleverly ignored the percentage of the population covered.

So far, the judge in Atlanta presiding over AT&T's lawsuit has not seen fit to issue an injunction against Verizon's ads. Good for him.

I have little sympathy for AT&T here -- whose first reaction was to try to use the courts to cover up the difference in geographical 3G coverage vs. Verizon. A smarter approach would have been to spend advertising dollars informing its customers about the benefits of its network compared to Verizon's. An ignorant customer is never a good thing. Instead AT&T seems to have squandered all its ad money advertising cool looking phones.

To its credit, AT&T has quickly rolled out a new TV ad that finally does point out their advantages. What took so long?


That's just what AT&T should have been doing over the past year. That way, when Verizon perceived an opening, they wouldn't have been able exploit the ignorance of potential wireless customers. Basically, that's what got AT&T so angry: ignorance that led to misunderstanding.

In my opinion, AT&T fell victim to traditional advertising practices, failed to solidify its brand, failed to inform current and potential customers about its own network advantages and failed to educate everyone. If they had, then the new Verizon ads would have been met with amusement, a feeling that Verizon was throwing a Hail Mary pass.

AT&T was asleep at the wheel.