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Terrell Owens for Boost Mobile


By Brendan I. Koerner

The Pitch Ad-libbing in an empty gym, eternally controversial Philadelphia Eagles wideout Terrell Owens waxes poetic on his dedication to the game of (American) football. "I'm running routes in my head right now, catching a pass right now," he informs us, while stealthily flexing his impressive guns. Owens also refers to the fact it's been "three long months" since he's been on a field, without explaining that the absence is due to a suspension for being a me-first tool. Towards the end, as Owens encourages fans to "get your popcorn ready" for next season's heroics, he briefly plays toss-and-catch with a Boost Mobile handset. The Berlin Cameron United-produced spot, which will doubtless be shown 3 million times during the Super Bowl, ends with the youth-oriented carrier's tagline: "Where you at?"

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Rip-Off Of A mish-mash of 1990s sneaker commercials and fawning ESPN SportsCenter profiles. I'm reminded, in particular, of the Nike ad featuring Lance Armstrong, which came out in response to allegations that the future Mr. Sheryl Crow was winning all those Tour de Frances with the aid of illegal fish tranquilizers or somesuch. Both spots have a certain damage-control flavor, though Armstrong's connection to Nike is a lot more obvious than Owens' tie-in with Boost Mobile. Given the fact that he probably can't go out in public without inviting a mob of autograph seekers, something tells me that Owens isn't really a push-to-talk kinda guy.

The Spin Boost Mobile's entire marketing strategy is predicated on youth appeal, and that means cultivating a quasi-rebellious image in lieu of talking up its payment plans or handset features. Case in point: the excellent ad featuring Kanye West and Ludacris from a few months back, which featured perhaps the catchiest adverrap ever. (Sample lyric: "My beats was so sick, I shoulda got a medic/But my credit was so pathetic I couldn't afford a debit.") The Owens spot is certainly just as eye-catching, if only because the wide receiver's become so well-known as the paragon of spoiled jocks. It's easy enough to dismiss his appearance as a calculating bit of image reclamation, but give Boost Mobile props for knowing how to create a stir.

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Counterspin I know there's an old chestnut to this effect, but is any publicity really good publicity? Casting its lot with the infamous T.O. will certainly garner lots of attention, but Boost Mobile doesn't want to back itself into a branding corner, either. That's especially true now that a rival may be emerging in Amp'd Mobile, another wireless provider that's targeting the 18-to-25 demographic. Unlike Boost, Amp'd is emphasizing unique content and more technologically-advanced headsets, rather than dropping all of its ad money into hiring celebrity spokesmen. At some point, Boost may have to take into account that even young wireless users are super-sophisticated nowadays, and that the bells and whistles of image building can only take their brand so far.

Takeaway Your mileage may vary on this commercial, depending on a) your level of football fandom, and b) your age. If you're above 25, Boost Mobile couldn't care less if you scoff at their blatant attention grab, or the cravenness of Owens' motives; you're old enough to leave prepaid calling behind, after all, and you're probably not enamored of buying a limited-edition phone designed by members of the Retail Mafia. And therein lies, I humbly submit, the genius of this ad. Boost Mobile, a subsidiary of Sprint Nextel, is avoiding the trap of trying to be all things to all people. It understands that its consumer base makes purchases based on style rather than specs, and that individuality is a valued attribute among these folks. And, for better or for worse, who's more about the individual than Owens? There's no "i" in his name, but there damn well should be.

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Hype-O-Meter 8.5; grade it a little less if you're an Eagles fan, or just a T.O. hater, but Boost Mobile deserves credit for its advertising cojones.

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Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Hype Sheet column appears every other Wednesday on Gizmodo.

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