Execution: Viral + Sampling
Target: Selected Bloggers
For the past several months, Sprint has been seeding next-generation phones with ‘A-list’ bloggers including Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine, Steve Hall of AdRants and Joseph Jaffe. Sprint sends each blogger an e-mail noting that the Ambassador team has visited their blog and would like to offer them membership in the program and a free phone. After signing up, bloggers get a Sprint Power Vision-enable phone (a Samsung SPH-A920) which can download music from the Sprint Music Store, stream live TV, take pictures and video and play games. The phone is free to the blogger, including downloads of tunes, video and games, for six months at the end of which it is deactivated. The blogger can keep the phone but needs to pay Sprint at normal rates to continue using it.
This is a very nice combination of a influencer-sampling program and a PR effort for Sprint. Sending the editor of Vogue something you want her to take a look at is old hat, but in the blogsphere, freebies are somewhat of a novelty. This would be less ingenious if Sprint had just targeted tech reviewers like Engadget, but they cast their nets much wider into the self-appraising world of marketing and media bloggers. In doing this, they clearly understood that they were dropping a double-edged sword (and a few words on the second edge of that blade below) which could cut them. But for a company trailing behind Cingular and Verizon in the race for wireless dominance, this was a smart play.Also savvy was the execution by Sprint. They did not ask in their e-mail (which at first read to this Advertising Blog like it might be a phishing scam of some sort) for any press coverage on the device or the program. Instead they asked only for feedback on the phone. This shows that unlike others who have attempted to use the blogsphere for publicity, Sprint has someone (or some agency) who actually understands something of the nature of bloggers. At the present moment, blogging oscillates between stream-of-thought diarists-turned-commentators and prepubescent journalism. Asking a blogger to write about something is the surest way to get the cold shoulder or worse.Â
The hallmark of a good influencer program – particularly one aimed at any arm of the media – has to be propping up the egos of those involved. While some aspects of the Sprint Ambassador program do this well (some bloggers getting them while others do not), it could have been carried a step further to better effect. For instance, the phone itself is conventional in appearance in spite of the next-generation wizardry it can accomplish. Not much effort would have been expended in creating a unique color or style for the blogger-sampler phone but Sprint in an instant would have created a true object of desire – something that cannot be bought at any price. Then the spectacle of bloggers writing about the phone would have been multiplied by public sightings of these phones and the hierarchical implications for the blog world. Savvy companies have done this for years with celebrities, and it works.
The other issue with this program is the potential for a backlash. When Jeff Jarvis disclosed his Ambassador status, comments were equally divided between envy (why don’t I have a phone) and dismay (it is unethical to accept a phone). Although this advertising blog is known to be prickly on these ethical issues, we do not entirely see the point here. Providing evaluation products to those who are in a position to write about them is standard practice for companies with journalists. While the most pure, like Consumer Reports, decline these offers, most will accept as long as it is either disclosed or understood that the product has been provided. This is also not different from sampling which we marketers actively promote.
[Editors Note: For those of you wondering - yes, we did receive a phone. We are reasonably certain that we have not joined the 'A-list' however.]
Branding Bottom Line:
Sprint reminds us that a picture-phone is worth 1000 words.