Verizon Wireless and AT&T may have settled their differences over Verizon’s advertising messages in the courtroom, but there is little sign Verizon is pulling its punches elsewhere.
With its latest ad, though, Verizon may have toed over a line by invoking gender stereotypes.
The ad depicts the iPhone as pretty but clueless. Specifically, according to Verizon Wireless, it’s a “tiara wearing digitally clueless beauty pageant queen.” The Verizon Droid, by contrast is a robot, one that “rips through the Web like a circular saw through a ripe banana.”
If that language isn’t enough to convince you, consider the ad’s parting words: the Droid “trades a hairdo for can do.”
Verizon Wireless didn’t return a call from the E-Commerce Times by this article’s deadline.
The ‘Could Be Worse’ Defense
This isn’t the worst the advertising industry has thrown at women. “There are many other, better examples, of women being exploited in the body wash category or domestic beer category,” Chris Cakebread, advertising professor at Boston University, told the E-Commerce Times.
Advertising has used women as allegories for products and services for decades, he pointed out. “This is a campaign that compares the Droid to humans, objects that are somewhat soft in order to develop the analogy that the Droid is an incredibly rugged, fast phone, which contrasts the fragility of the iPhone.”
There is also this: Successful ads, particularly in the tech industry, are usually the edgy ones or the funny ones — or, best of all, both.
“Being serious and straightforward all the time is not good for the advertising industry,” said Scott Testa, a business professor at Cabrini College.
Poking fun of gender differences is a bedrock of many campaigns. Dockers, for example, is launching a global ad campaign — with spots planned for the upcoming Super Bowl — called “Wear the Pants.” The goal, the company says, is to “emancipate” men from the “Dilbert-hood” of cubicle khaki.
The intent of the campaign is to offer up a new definition of “masculinity,” one that embraces strength and sensitivity and appeals to men who can change a tire and a diaper, said Jennifer Sey, global VP of marketing. Dockers “wants to make them laugh at themselves and at the state of manhood.”
The question is, at what point does “edgy” become “offensive”? There is a case to be made that any flirting with gender stereotypes — particularly outside traditional areas such as alcohol, where it is almost de rigueur — is not smart for companies, Testa said. “It is certain to offend a percentage of your customer base, so why take the chance?”
The strategy is doubly dubious when one considers that Verizon will likely be supporting the iPhone sooner or later, he continued. “More and more organizations are using the iPhones for their executives, so for Verizon to come out and call it a toy, a ‘clueless tiara-wearing’ toy, is short-sighted.”
A $1 Billion Battle
Of course, the clash between AT&T and Verizon goes beyond the iPhone. The two companies are each spending more than one billion dollars annually to convince consumers that one brand has better overall coverage than the other and that one’s 3G network is better than the other’s, Cakebread said.
“AT&T would be better off putting that money into their infrastructure, as many iPhone owners complain about the 3G coverage and how bad it is,” he said, noting that while AT&T’s basic coverage has improved, its 3G network is weak compared to Verizon.
The attractiveness of the iPhone arguably has overshadowed many of these issues for AT&T, which may explain why Verizon is taking calculated risks and ramping up its attacks.
Is It Smart?
What is perhaps most ironic about this campaign and its negative stereotyping of iPhone users is how off it is, said Michal Ann Strahilevitz, an associate marketing professor at Golden Gate University.
“The iPhone is just as popular with males and with females, and it is particularly popular with highly educated males,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
“Verizon has many positives, including outstanding service and coverage,” Strahilevitz added. “They should focus on those in their marketing communications. Going after the iPhone is like saying Google sucks for search. You can say it all you want, but that does not make it believable, let alone persuasive.”