If you turned on the TV any time during the early 2000s, you certainly remember the phrase, “Can you hear me now?” Cell service provider Verizon started running commercials in 2002 where they focused on the quality of cell service their company provided. The memorable catchphrase, always spoken by the same bespectacled man, stuck in people’s brains.
The Switch From Verizon To Sprint
Within two years, Verizon’s customer base grew by ten percent, and Paul Marcarelli, the actor in the commercials, was one of the most recognizable faces on television. Marcarelli worked for Verizon for nine years, always saying that same catchphrase. He and Verizon were linked together in people’s minds — which is why it was so shocking when he showed up in a Sprint commercial in 2016.
Marcarelli’s contract with Verizon ended in 2011. He decided to step back from appearing in commercials, turning his talents to producing independent films and writing screenplays. “I was retired from commercials,” he said while appearing on the Surviving Hollywood podcast. “I was like ‘That’s a great run, don’t get greedy.’”
“And then [Sprint] came to my agent with an idea,” Marcarelli said. They finetuned the campaign idea, working around the fact that Verizon owned Marcarelli’s character and catchphrase. “I didn’t have any interest in reprising that character anyway,” he laughed.
Sprint’s Ad Campaign
Marcarelli came up with the idea of always saying his ownname at the beginning of the commercials to make sure that viewers knew it was him speaking for himself and not the character he once played for Verizon.
“I thought there was something a little punk rock about it,” Marcarelli said, and he quickly accepted Sprint’s offer. The TV campaign, called “Paul Switched,” immediately went viral because people were surprised to see such a well-known spokesperson switch allegiances.
The first Sprint commercial was viewed over 14 million times. The CEO at the time said that Sprint had beat both AT&T and Verizon that quarter with the number of customers they added.
What makes it more impressive is that, in a fully saturated category like cell service, almost all new customers have to be poached. Sprint’s campaign persuaded many to switch over to their company – the main goal of a successful ad campaign. Marcarelli is still doing commercials for Sprint, or now T-Mobile, specifically, after a corporate merger.