The best wireless ads of 2012

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By Phil Goldstein

Samsung Galaxy S III over iPhone 5

It's clear that Samsung Electronics is aiming squarely at the iPhone 5 with this long advertisement (which has been spliced into 30-second clips for TV spots). The ad is a mockumentary of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) fans waiting in line ahead of the iPhone 5 launch. Without ever mentioning Apple or the iPhone by name, the ad consciously tweaks the Apple enthusiasts who regularly wait in line to get their hands on the latest iPhone, as well as the way they marvel at seemingly minor tweaks that Apple makes annually to the iPhone. At the same time, Samsung touts some of the most high-profile features of its flagship Galaxy S III, including the ability to share content by tapping two of the phones together. While the second part of the equation works less effectively and is a bit less subtle than the mockery of Apple-obsessed consumers, the overall effectiveness of the commercial is substantial.  
Aesthetics: A-
Effectiveness: B+
Overall Grade: A-

Sprint against sharing data

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has made no secret of its belief that the shared data plans being offered by Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) are too expensive and complicated for families, but this commercial hits that point home with humor that is right on target. A family, sitting around the table, is being pushed by the father on how to divvy up their data bucket. Each member of the family argues why they should be able to use the most data. The comic frustration in the argument rolls right into Sprint's sales pitch for its unlimited smartphone data plans. The ad works well not only because it hits Verizon and AT&T without ever mentioning them, but also drives home Sprint's key differentiator in a memorable way that can be applied to a practical situation.
Aesthetics: A-
Effectiveness: A
Overall Grade: A

Nokia's Lumia

Like Samsung, Nokia (NYSE:NOK) takes on the iPhone 5 with this ad for its Lumia line, and although it does not have as much standing as Samsung in terms of recent smartphone performance to do so, the ad is nonetheless an effective way to get Nokia's Lumia brand some much-needed attention. The artistic cartoon opens on the robot-like manner with which consumers fork over money for the new iPhone (denoted with a simple "5" on the screen) before one customer gets the idea of adding color--yellow, specifically--to the phone, causing a massive freakout at the ersatz Apple store. That quickly transitions to swing-like music introducing not only a more fun world filled with color but the Lumia 920 and Lumia brand. The ad doesn't do what Nokia really needs--explain why its Lumia phones are different and better than the competition--but it does depart from the traditional ad script with its cartoon format and bold message: Lumia is not boring, Lumia is new, check it out. That may help Nokia, which needs to regain momentum in North America after dropping off in the third quarter. In any event, the ads are likely to be more effective than those for Nokia's Lumia 900 that called all other smartphones "beta test" phones. 
Aesthetics: A
Effectiveness: B+
Overall Grade: A-

T-Mobile towers

After T-Mobile USA decided in July to drop its "America's Largest 4G Network" tagline after using it for the past 18 months, the nation's No. 4 carrier decided to take a different approach and simply emphasize the breadth of its network as measured by its 35,000 towers. This ad uses the still relatively new biker persona of spokeswoman Carly Foulkes to great effect, having her ride and rhyme her way across the country to detail all of the places where T-Mobile's network is up and running. The average consumer doesn't know much about cell towers and how they work, but they want to know that they can have access to network coverage. Currently, T-Mobile offers an HSPA+42 network covering 184 million POPs in 185 markets, and its HSPA+21 network covers around 220 million POPs. Emphasizing network coverage is important for T-Mobile, which has historically lagged the larger carriers in 3G network coverage. This will be particularly important as T-Mobile aligns its spectrum assets as part of its proposed deal to acquire MetroPCS and launch its LTE network next year.   
Aesthetics: A
Effectiveness: B+
Overall Grade: A-

Samuel L. Jackson endorsing Siri

Of all of the recent celebrity endorsers of Apple's Siri--a roster that includes Zooey Deschanel, Martin Scorsese and John Malkovich--it is Samuel L. Jackson who delivers the most memorable endorsement. With his reputation for playing gangsters and hard-edged action heroes, Jackson's persona gets flipped on its head as he uses Apple's digital personal assistant to cook up some risotto for a date night. All of the endorsements for Siri are a little cloying, but Jackson's turn is memorable because it skewers his movie star persona while also demonstrating the benefits of using Siri for everyday tasks.    
Aesthetics: A-
Effectiveness: A
Overall Grade: A-

Special Report: The best and worst wireless ads of 2012
  • The best wireless ads of 2012