T-Mobile’s Brilliant Plan to Win Over the Internet

Brian Fung
National Journal

You can’t fault T-Mobile for being bold. In the past six months, the nation’s third-largest wireless company has renounced data caps, put the brakes on phone subsidies, and started a war with AT&T. At a major trade show in January, T-Mobile’s new CEO, John Legere, called AT&T’s network “crap” -- prompting the incumbent to respond with a full-page ad in newspapers pointing out T-Mobile’s own network flaws.

(T-Mobile via TmoNews)

Somebody pass the popcorn, because the war has escalated once again. T-Mobile this week returned fire in a snarky retort, one that tried to goad the nation’s No. 2 carrier into admitting it feels threatened by T-Mobile. “If AT&T thought our network wasn’t great, why did they try to buy it?” the T-Mobile campaign read. The line is a nod to 2011, when AT&T famously failed to convince regulators to let it buy up the smaller, struggling company. When the deal fell through, T-Mobile was still paid a hefty sum for its trouble. But its problems persisted: T-Mobile continued to shed customers at alarmingrates last year.

Legere was brought on last September to turn T-Mobile around, and his combative style now seems to be filtering down to the company’s marketing shop. The latest ad campaign doesn’t just play into consumers’ love for a scrappy underdog; T-Mobile’s shots at AT&T are self-referential, sarcastic, and biting. The ads are practically tailor-made for the Internet, a constantly self-referential, sarcastic, and biting place.

Sure enough, the graphics have taken off online. It’s currently the fifth-most-popular item on Reddit’s technology page, which has more than 2.6 million readers. It’s beginning to make the rounds on the Web’s most-trafficked tech blogs. And all of this is taking place even before the ads have been officially released by the company.

T-Mobile has a lot of work ahead. Its customer base is less than one-third the size of AT&T’s. But it’s also clear the company’s marketing team can mix it up with the best of them. If nothing else, maybe that’ll make AT&T sweat a bit.