T-Mobile Taps NBA for New Web, TV Campaign

T-Mobile has launched new TV spots for its myTouch 3G phone, and has tapped National Basketball Association players Dwayne Wade and Charles Barkley as the stars of the ads.

The effort, by agencies Publicis in the West and Optimedia, which handles media buying duties, is part of the wireless carrier’s ongoing push behind the myTouch 3G. The nation’s fourth largest carrier released the phone—which uses Google’s Android operating system—in August, also backed by ads featuring celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Jess James and Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers.

T-Mobile did not disclose the cost of the campaign, but said it is the largest in the company’s history. (The device costs $149.99 with a two-year contract.) As such, the wireless carrier is driving attention to the phone—especially around the holidays—via its sponsorship with the NBA.

The campaign marks T-Mobile’s fifth year as an NBA sponsor. The new spots, which begin running on TNT tonight, show basketball stars Dwayne Wade and Charles Barkley humorously showing off the features of the phone. In one 30-second spot, for instance, Wade snaps several celeb portraits of himself, while a bewildered Barkley asks: “Man, what are you doin’?” “I have this app. It has pictures of all my clothes, so I can mix ‘n match,” Wade explains, hinting at the phone’s “personal” features. “Thousands of apps. And more added everyday,” the voiceover at the end says.

Another ad, with Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, will break on Christmas Day during the Magic vs. Celtics game. Like the above ad, the spot centers on how these players “use the device to express their passions,” with Howard’s being that of fitness, said Mike Belcher, vp, brand communications for T-Mobile.

Last year’s T-Mobile-NBA sponsorship promoted the wireless carrier’s myFaves plan, which allows users to make unlimited calls to five contacts on their list. (The spots also featured Wade and Barkley.) While those spots centered on the back-and-forth humorous banter between the two athletes, the new myTouch 3G ads focus on the phone’s applications and features, Belcher said.

T-Mobile is using a combination of television (both 30- and 60-second spots) and online, including YouTube, in this new effort. The overall goal is to “drive consideration among NBA fans . . . It’s an important franchise for us,” Belcher said of the myTouch 3G.

Greg Sterling, an analyst who covers the mobile industry, however, said the “personalization theme is not enough to sell the device,” though an increase in marketing spend will “raise the profile of the device.” He added that Verizon Wireless has managed to do exactly that through advertising for its Droid smartphone (including recently taking over four vacant storefronts).

“In this increasingly competitive smartphone environment, ad spending and branding of this type will be a necessity to create demand and generate sales,” Sterling said. “It will be extremely rare in the future for PR and word of mouth to alone accomplish this.”