Verizon Commercial Suggests a Thanksgiving Without Phones

Is it a good campaign idea? Will it work? How can it develop to be meaningful? Here’s what I shared with Sydney Ember at NYT: http://nyti.ms/1SlxYbM

Imagine Thanksgiving without Instagram.

That is apparently what Verizon is envisioning this holiday season. In television commercial that it will introduce on Thanksgiving, Verizon is urging people to turn off their phones. The advertising campaign is certainly an attempt to drum up attention, but it also speaks to a broader trend among brands: telling people to spend more time with their families during the holidays and less time consuming anything other than turkey.

Verizon said its message was that it helps get users where they need to be for the holidays, but after they arrive, they should turn off their phones and spend time with their family and friends. “Once we get you to the people that matter the most, it’s taking that time to be present with those people once you get there,” said Melissa Garlick, who leads Verizon’s brand creative team. “I hope what people take out of it, quite honestly, is we’re America’s most reliable network and we got you where you needed to go.”

Verizon has previously encouraged users to turn off their phones. The company introduced an ad campaign in 2009 called “Don’t Text and Drive,” and it has supported safe driving laws. Verizon’s holiday message may be less dire, but the company said it was part of a larger effort to get users to put down their phones and focus on the moment.

Users, however, may be wary. After all, if they turn off their phones on Thanksgiving, how can they call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line? “Consumers are so skeptical today that it takes more than one nice holiday spot to get their attention and to get them to change their beliefs,” said

Allen Adamson, a brand expert and the former chairman for North America of WPP’s Landor Associates. “It’s a relevant message for the holidays, but it begs for an opportunity to do more.” Companies traditionally use the holiday season to advertise products and deals, particularly before Black Friday. AT&T, for instance, recently introduced new TV commercials with characters from the animated movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that promoted deals for iPad Minis and data plans. (AT&T also put out an online ad that told consumers to turn off their phones. The ad, released over the summer under the tagline “It Can Wait,” showed a car accident after a mother checked her phone while driving.)

Verizon plans to run ads for products as well during the holidays, but its turn-off-your-phone campaign also aligns with a subtle shift in focus this year, from sales to personal connection. Several big-box retailers said they would be closed on Thanksgiving, and REI, the outdoor retailer, said it would be closed on Black Friday. REI said it would still pay its 12,000 employees “so they can do what they love most — be outside.” It then urged consumers to “join in by choosing to #OptOutside to reconnect with family and friends this Thanksgiving holiday.” Other retailers, however, are not ready to lose holiday sales. Target, for example, said it would open its doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving for a second year.

Many brands run commercials during the holiday season that promote messages rather than specific products. Toys “R” Us, for example, has an ad this year that features a young girl putting up a Christmas tree in her elderly neighbor’s yard. The title, “Light Up Someone’s Christmas,” is more about the holiday spirit than toys or games. But Verizon’s ad will perhaps resonate more than other seasonal campaigns, said Dean Crutchfield, a brand analyst.

“I think there is a really powerful message here that’s appropriate,” he said. “What Verizon might do is create a rallying cry around the holidays beyond the religious ones.”

©The New York Times Company

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Author: Dean Crutchfield

In an award-winning career spanning two decades, Dean Crutchfield has created, built and re-invigorated some of the world's most iconic brands.

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