It Fits Better When It Shrinks

Who says the quest for sub-prime consumers was a bad idea? So long as the “officially over” recession stays far from over, today’s struggling consumer remains a solid bet.

At least, that seems to be the thinking behind the latest marketing salvo from Sprint Nextel-owned Boost Mobile. Winning its share of chuckles, it comes in the form of a just-released TV spot, which shows a giant who works in a grocery store whose wish that he could shrink is rewarded by a cell-phone bill that actually does. But what we’ve really got here, market-wise, is a shrewd appeal that’s recession-perfect, aimed not just at cash-strapped mobile users, but also at the rest of us who suddenly don’t feel so fiscally secure anymore. (Watch the spot here.)

“It’s definitely smart,” said Mikey Papillion, a blogger for Added cellular industry consultant Claus Hetting: “I can’t tell you if this will work, but it’s at least creative.”

Boost’s gambit—called the Monthly Unlimited Plan with Shrinkage—works like this: Make six months of payments on time, and the carrier will take $5 off your bill. Over a year’s time, you can theoretically lower your cellular outlay from $50 to $35, per the company.

Boost already offers pay-as-you-go plans, so the offer’s not intended to entice hedge-fund managers. According to Caralene Robinson, director of brand and marketing communications for Sprint Prepaid, however, the idea is to broaden market share at a time when lots of consumers—not just the minimum-wage crowd—are shaving off expenses.

“Historically, [the prepaid cell customer] has had a negative stigma,” said Robinson. “But now what’s happened is the economic downturn has caused consumers to examine what value means, and a desire to control expenses.”

Okay. But who cares about saving a measly 15 bucks over a year? Well, we could start with the 15 million Americans who have no job right now, and the countless millions more that fall into the “disgruntled” category, which includes working part time when they need to work full time. The government doesn’t count those folks for the official 9.6 percent unemployment rate, which some estimate could be as high as 17.1 percent.

The crapola economy has also led to unprecedented “churn”: Pre-paid customers who are carrier hopping monthly in search of a better deal. “Anything—even a novelty like reducing your payment every six months—is something to entice [them],” Papillon said.

But that giant who wants to get smaller? He’s still screwed.