From T-Mobile to RadioShack: The best and worst wireless commercials at Super Bowl XLVIII

By Phil Goldstein

Super Bowl XLVIII was a dud of a game, with the Seattle Seahawks crushing the Denver Broncos 43-8, but it was still the most-seen broadcast in U.S. television history. According to Nielsen, Fox's Super Bowl broadcast delivered an average 112.2 million viewers.

In fact, the advertisements may have been more entertaining than the game, and this year there were an unusual number that either directly or indirectly related to the wireless industry or technology.

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) led the way with multiple Super Bowl commercials, including two separate spots featuring free agent National Football League player Tim Tebow. Since Tebow is currently without a contract from a team, he was ideal to highlight T-Mobile's no-contract wireless business.

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert wrote in a company blog post that "Tebow's spots--together with a third ad that drove the 'Contract Freedom' message home--have already been viewed close to 5 million times on YouTube. And they've generated huge buzz and well over 100 million impressions on Facebook and Twitter."

Here is a breakdown of some of the wireless-themed commercials that ran during the Super Bowl:

T-Mobile: Tim Tebow goes no contract

These two 30-second spots show that Tim Tebow can--without an NFL contract--use his free time to deliver a baby, catch the Yetti, perform his own movie stunts, save puppies from a burning building, ride a bull and go on tour as a rock star. Even if earnest pitchman Tebow doesn't brim with comedic charisma, the message from T-Mobile is clear: T-Mobile's no-contract plans will free you from the drudgery of your current wireless contracts. The message dovetails perfectly with T-Mobile's offer to pay up to $650 in early termination fees (ETFs) for customers who want to switch to T-Mobile from other carriers.

T-Mobile: We killed the wireless contract

In this understated spot that ran in the game after the Tebow commercials, T-Mobile simply uses words across its famous magenta background. As Slate noted, the commercial uses the theme song from the classic, animated version of "Robin Hood," which might have been a sly way for T-Mobile to express a "robbing from the rich to give to the poor" mentality against Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T). The ad copy is blunt and reads like it could have come from the mouth of T-Mobile CEO Jon Legere: "Wireless contracts suck. You know it. And we at T-Mobile know it. So we killed the long-term contract." The ad then turns into a pitch for customers to drop their contracts and allow T-Mobile to pay their ETFs. 

So far this pitch seems to be working. During the past three quarters T-Mobile has managed to add a total of around 3.7 million net new customers, an astounding feat in a highly competitive market. (Never mind the fact that the carrier has managed to do this mainly through lowering service costs.)

Sprint Framily

Sprint (NYSE:S) has been following a pattern with its ads promoting its "Framily" plan and calling circle. The ads show a group of people gathered together, usually with one awkward or unwanted group member (in a previous spot it was a daughter's boyfriend). For its Super Bowl ad, Sprint used a band and some roadies. The ads are meant highlight that with Framily, the more people who are added to the plan, the lower the rate they pay, and that everyone pays their own bill. Under Framily, new Sprint customers pay $55 per month per line for unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of data. For each new Sprint customer joining a Framily group, the cost per person drops $5 a month, up to a maximum monthly discount of $30 per line. 

A group of at least seven people will get unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of data for $25 per month per line, excluding taxes and surcharges. In addition, Framily members can each pay $20 per month per line to buy unlimited data plus get a new phone every year, or they can add 1 GB or 3 GB per month to their plan.

Target Brightspot

Target used a brief, 15-second ad to tout Brightspot, the prepaid wireless service it launched last fall on T-Mobile's network. The ad touts that the no-contract service offers unlimited voice, texting and web browsing for $50 per month. A Target spokeswoman said an ad that used a $45 price point, and was seen in YouTube videos, was posted in error.

According to the Brightspot site, the service offers a $35 plan with unlimited voice and texting but no data. The second plan, which was advertised in the spot, is $50 with unlimited voice, texting and 1 GB of HSPA+ or LTE data before speeds are throttled down to 2G. Customers can choose a phone to go with the service or can use their own unlocked phone and pick up a SIM card kit. The service also offers a $65 plan that gives users unlimited voice, texting and 4 GB of LTE data before throttling, but that is only be available online and not in stores. Brightspot rewards customers with $25 Target gift cards for every six months of continued service.

Beats Music uses Ellen Degeneres

In this minute-long spot, comedian and talk show host Ellen Degeneres plays a version of Goldilocks, walking through a surreal and scary fairy tale landscape. She comes across mobile devices and Beats headphones and plays music and dances to music that is by turns "too fast" and "too slow."  Finally, she uses Beats and gets to dancing to Aloe Blacc's song "Can You Do This." The service then touts the Beats Music family plan available through AT&T.

In January AT&T launched an offer for Beats that gives customers on a multi-line account the curated streaming music service for $14.99  per month. AT&T and Beats Music have said up to five family members across 10 devices can access the Beats Music service and get their own personal music on their own personal devices. The marketing of the service in AT&T stores and online was delayed until Jan. 31 due to what AT&T said was "overwhelming" demand. The use of Ellen, known for her dancing on her show, was an inspired choice, and the ad also highlights that in addition to personalization technology, Beats Music uses human experts to curate hand-picked songs while streaming.

RadioShack: The 80s called

In its ad, RadioShack made fun of itself by admitting that it needs to update its store layout by having two sales associates note that "the 80s called; they want their store back." Then, a legion of 80s cultural icons ranging from the demonic doll Chucky to Hulk Hogan, Alf and Jason from the "Friday the 13th" series take apart the store and a gleaming new store is revealed. According to TV and video advertising analytics firm Ace Metrix, the ad was the fourth-most effective that ran during the Super Bowl. 

However, it appears it was somewhat poorly timed. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal¸ which cited unnamed sources, RadioShack is planning to close around 500 of 4,500 stores in the coming months.

Microsoft: Technology

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) used a one-minute spot toward the end of the game to highlight how technology has the power to untie and inspire people, highlighting its Kinect motion control system as well as Windows 8 and Skype. The ad uses a voice-over narration from Steve Gleason, a former NFL player who suffers from ALS and was using a text-to-speech technology to narrate. Although the images of technology in the commercial are somewhat anodyne--medical research, space shuttles taking off and artificial limbs--the ad has been viewed more than 2.23 million times on YouTube. According to Ace Metrix, it was the most effective ad of the Super Bowl.

Mazda mentions Marty Cooper

Although this ad was released prior to the Super Bowl, it ran during the game (at least in this reporter's home market). The ad references Martin Cooper inventing the cellular phone in 1973. "When Martin Cooper invented the mobile phone in 1973, connectivity took a mighty leap forward," the ad states. The ad then shows how the new Mazda 3 uses wireless connectivity and mapping technology. 

However, although Cooper did make the first cell phone call on April 3, 1973, in New York City, he didn't single-handedly invent the cell phone. That call was the result of collaboration among numerous individuals and companies, including Bell Labs and Motorola. As CBS News noted, Cooper and his colleagues filed a patent for a "radio telephone system" in October 1973, but the first commercially available cell phone did not appear until 1983.

Article updated to clarify the nature of the delay for AT&T's Beats Music service. Article also updated to clarify Brightspot's ad.

From T-Mobile to RadioShack: The best and worst wireless commercials at Super Bowl XLVIII

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