The North American cell ‘phone market is competitive to say the least. There are four national carriers split into the two larger of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and two smaller carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile USA. T-Mobile USA has recently overtaken Sprint to become the third largest; both Sprint and T-Mobile USA are not afraid to use outspoken marketing tactics to score points off one another and the two larger carriers. Sometimes, the Chief Executive Officers battle with words over Twitter and sometimes the competition feels less friendly than simple banter between companies. The recent battle of words and supposed network speeds at the Superbowl appeared to lose the context that customers of all carriers were able to use their devices very effectively during the game and half time shows. Very recently, Sprint Tweeted a number of links to YouTube clips where the Chief Executive Officer, Marcelo Claure, asks a number of customers what they think of competitor carriers. Today’s story concerns one unnamed woman who announced that T-Mobile USA were “ghetto.” This in itself is not so much the story, but it is a combination of Marcelo’s agreeing reaction to the seemingly ignorant remark and the subsequent half apologetic Tweets that followed.
In the detail, the woman in question said, “Oh my God, the first word that came to my head was… ghetto.” Marcelo nodded his head and some of the table laughed. The woman being interviewed continued, “…that sounds, like, terrible! … I just felt like there’s always three carriers, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, and people who have T-Mobile, I’m just like, ‘why do you have T-Mobile?’ I don’t know…” Other replies to the same question from different potential customers included, “like the lame little sister,” “really terrible customer service” and “doesn’t work.” However, the media – and some offended would-be customers – have picked up on the potentially racist term. Since the original flurry of Tweets, Marcelo apologised and explained that the YouTube clip would be removed (and it now has).
The British Broadcasting Company, or BBC, recently ran an article discussion Quentin Tarantino’s use of the term “ghetto” because the term is nearly meaningless to many non-American eyes and ears. The article went into detail to explain the origins of the term and how it has been changed and distorted over the years. In 2016, using it in North America is certainly frowned upon in polite company! This is something that Marcelo Claure and Sprint appear to have overlooked when branding with Sprint and publishing the clip to YouTube. However, between the original comment and the removal of the clip, Marcelo explained that this was “not the best choice of words” by the customer – which looks like Sprint are deflecting the blame to the unnamed woman! There’s no mention of Marcelo’s agreement here nor the implication that Sprint share a similar view of the competitor carrier, which relatively recently overtook them in subscriber numbers. And let’s not forget the decision to brand and publish this particular clip in the first place.
It seems unlikely that Marcelo set out to offend customers and would-be customers by publishing the YouTube clip, instead the events appear to have unfolded as though they represent a series of ill thought out responses to genuine offense, rather than intentionally trying to upset individuals. Of course, it is also possible that this is a carefully engineered way to generate publicity and press around some customers’ opinions of T-Mobile USA and Sprint’s Public Relations team are taking the view that any publicity is good publicity – especially as Sprint are now America’s smallest national carrier.