Commentary

Wireless Ads Offer Frustration-Free Alternate Reality

AT&T's

Wireless companies will spend a total of $126 billion this year to upgrade their networks and information technology to cope with a coming "data tsunami," according to a Wall Street Journal story today. That amount reflects a 10% increase over last year, as telcos scramble to power all those smartphones, e-readers, tablet computers and other emerging devices hitting the market.

But you'd never know wireless operators have had problems even handling ordinary calls from watching their recent commercials. In ads touting their services as the gateways to the world of on-the-go Internet, media and business nirvana, not only are there no dropped calls -- but everything is in reach with the click of a button.

Take AT&T's new "Rethink Possible" campaign, replacing the Luke Wilson-starring attack ads against Verizon Wireless with a series of whimsical, feel-good spots created by BBDO North America. In one of the new commercials called http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xAJmdhQzJ4&feature=player_embedded "Ripple Effect," a man uses his AT&T-powered mobile device to instantly switch train tickets so he can board the train carrying his future wife.

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To do something like this at the last minute even at a ticket window is tricky -- pulling off it off via mobile in an eye blink is preposterous. By the time the guy changed tickets on his device, his future wife (and future mother of the U.S. president) would've been long gone.

And in a new Verizon commercial, an entrepreneur pitching a new client leaves behind a thick presentation in a cab only to have his office send another copy via his mobile phone that we see him download before he's even left the curb after getting out of the taxi. The ad doesn't suggest he's living in a future time when such instant transfers of mobile data might be possible. Or that he's located in Asia.

Of course, there's an implicit suspension of disbelief in such high-concept ads that allows companies to compress any action so that it fits within the 30-second bounds of the medium. But couldn't there at least be some sort of "Results May Vary" disclaimer, acknowledging the discrepancy between the alternate reality in the ads and the world of wireless frustration most consumers are more familiar with?

As it is, the gap between the super-fast ideal of accessing mobile data in the TV spots and real life only inspires a snicker. Both Verizon and AT&T are busy building out their upgraded networks, with Verizon planning to offer 4G service later this year and AT&T in 2011. But until higher speed service is widely available and reliable, the ads of the two wireless giants won't connect with consumers' everyday experience.

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