Yao Ming Stars in Ads for T-Mobile’s Fave 5

T-Mobile is promoting its myFaves free calling service with a new TV and online spot featuring professional basketball player Yao Ming alongside Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade and former NBA star Charles Barkley.

The ad, which broke this week, is a continuation of T-Mobile’s “Who’s in your Fave 5” campaign that launched nearly two years ago. The ever-evolving storyline plays off of the comic chemistry between Wade and Barkley. (Wade insists on Barkley adding him to his Fave 5 list to the point where he gives in and calls him almost every day.) Publicis in the West, Seattle, which has held the T-Mobile account for 10 years, handles.

The campaign has gained popularity with NBA fans, consumers and clients, said Mike Belcher, vp-brand communications at T-Mobile. But the telecom provider decided to broaden the campaign’s fan base with an athlete who had widespread appeal.

“We tried to figure out who would be the best brand exemplars,” Belcher said, adding that Yao’s involvement in the NBA and 2008 Beijing Olympics made him a good candidate. T-Mobile will likely future NBA stars as part of an ongoing effort. “Our relationship with the NBA will be expanding. It’s a very successful partnership,” Belcher added.

The new spot opens with Barkley and Wade trying a new restaurant at Yao’s recommendation and they get served live shrimp. “This is Yao’s favorite dish. Please enjoy,” a smiling-faced waitress beckons. As Wade reels back in disgust, Barkley gets a call from Yao, who is on his Fave 5 list. “Hey, Charles, how are you enjoying the shrimp?” Barkley replies, “It’s moving and it’s got eyes on me.” “Don’t be a baby,” Yao insists, telling them to eat the head. “Who’s in your Fave 5? MyFave5, only from T-Mobile,” the spot concludes.

Bob Moore, CCO of Publicis USA, said the new spot taps into the relationship aspect of the brand. “It gives people a sneak peek into the lives of NBA stars and personalities and how they have these moments of connections with their fans and families and how T-Mobile allows for that,” he said.

Bill Norris, evp at Peter Jacobsen Sports, which provides sports marketing counsel for companies like Lexus and Hard Rock, said bringing Yao into the picture is a logical move. “Yao is a handful of truly global sports icons, Wade is a legitimate superstar, Barkley is likeable and the NBA brand speaks for itself, so on paper it inks well,” Norris said.

T-Mobile spent $602 million on U.S. advertising in 2007, excluding online, and $436 million through September of this year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.