Two Important Lessons Your Business Can Learn From a Failed MetroPCS Marketing Campaign

On RT 46 near my house in New Jersey, there’s a MetroPCS billboard pictured above.

Whenever I drive to my office (aka Starbucks) I’m confronted with this distinctly off-code piece of advertising. It bothers me that there was an entire advertising team working on delivering this message to the masses and no one noticed how divergent and even divisive this billboard really is.

Let’s reverse engineer the data on this billboard and see if we can find where they went wrong. More importantly, what lessons can we take away from this and apply to our marketing and business efforts.

What MetroPCS did Right/Safe

They used primary colors (red, white and blue) as their color schema. This is both boring, safe, as well as not-so-subtle shot at appearing patriotic.

Also, their design is NOT overwhelming. Big, simple letters, easy to read, no clutter. Very nice.

What MetroPCS did Wrong

This is the interesting part to me. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to dissect this from the bottom up.

No Contract

No contract sounds like a fine marketing strategy. It hits the right buying triggers. We are not tethered, we are free, we have no obligations, we can change our minds at any time.

The target audience for this trigger are young males. Often students, drug dealers, transients, people in transition, secret agents (or people who think of themselves as such) and similar.

On it’s own, this would make for a powerful buying trigger, however. Coupled with the “Even Pricing” cost of the service, it makes for a distinctly off-code piece of advertising.

Not $40-ish. $40.

Even Pricing is a marketing and sales tactic reserved for items who are perceived as luxury.

You will never walk into a jewelry store an see an engagement ring priced at $4995.98. What you WILL see is $5000.00

Conversely, you will never walk into a Wallmart, and see a 28′ TV priced at $500.00. It will always be something like $499.97. (in marketing circles, this is known as Odd Pricing.)

The target audience for Even Pricing (aka Luxury Pricing) are folks preoccupied with status, the pursuit of status, and display of….status.

Secret Agents Don’t Care About Status

When you combine “No Contract” with Luxury Pricing, you get a billboard that is at odds with itself.

On one hand, its trying to appeal to the transient, commitment-averse, drug-dealer in all of us; on the other, it’s sending a message that what we’re buying is a luxury item.

The transient is not looking to buy a luxury item in a throw away phone.

Know Your Buyer

If you’re selling to everyone, you’re selling to no one. Know your buyer. Know him well. Know him intimately. Know him thoroughly. Know him Biblically. Know him better than you know yourself.

And for God’s sake, don’t send him mixed messages. Don’t confuse him. Don’t appeal to his transient side only to try and appeal to the sense of status in a transient’s bag on a stick.

It doesn’t work. It only serves to create mental static which causes the prospect to give up and go someplace else, less confusing.

Pop Quiz

Unlimited talk, text, web.

  • Do you think this could have been arranged in a better way and made more effective?
  • How would YOU arrange it and why?

Dino Dogan

Global Force for Badassery | Founder of Triberr | Refugee from Bosnia | Writer for Technorati | Speaker | Lousy Martial Artist | Pretty good singer/songwriter | Hi 🙂

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  • Nancy Davis

    Hi Dino,

    Hey! I think I know that billboard! I am in Bergen County. I bet you are near me! What would I do differently – first of all, i agree about the pricing. I would have priced it at 39.97, that way you can say it is UNDER $40.00.

    I also would have got rid of the 40-ish, I would have pushed a better price, and no contract. Go for the transients since that is clearly my target. 40-ish sounds weak anyway.

    I would have said “Unlimited Service for less than 40 dollars a month” A nice, clear message.

    That blue is too dark too. This is not a billboard I would look at or remember. .

    • Anonymous

      You read my mind Nancy! I was going to say the 40-ish price point comes off as weak sounding. I think the marketing team was going for some hip lingo that those college kids could understand.

      • Nancy Davis

        Yeah, because all the “really cool” kids talk like that. Yeah right…

    • Dino Dogan

      Those are all great points Nancy. And I couldnt agree more. Thank you for you 2 cents 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Cool post, very interesting points. I wouldn’t have noticed the contradiction myself. I just read a post recently (can’t remember where, might have been Neuromarketing) about the psychology of pricing, and I think you’re absolutely right about this sign targeting different buyers with two different messages.

    On the other hand, on a billboard, you have to keep the message very simple because people usually read it while driving (or riding) by, right? So it might take away from the impact if they put something like “Not $39.99-ish. $39.99.” I think that’s too many numbers to process quickly. It would just be overwhelming, and most people would skim over it and not process the message.

    I definitely think the message could be improved, but I like the idea. Maybe it would do better in another format, like a subway poster or something.

    (And I agree with @twitter-117500958:disqus about the blue being too dark. I don’t think there’s enough contrast.)

    • Dino Dogan

      I agree that if they used 39.99, people driving by wouldnt focus/notice on all 4 digits. But I see that as a good thing. They would definitely see the leading 3, so when recalling they would probably think 30ish. So, 39.99 would give them ish without the 40 in front 🙂


      • Anonymous

        I agree that that would give an impression of a better price. But the overall message would be lost. I think that the message they’re going for is: “Most companies say they charge $X, but then add on fees and you actually pay more. But when we say we charge $X, we really mean it.” Now that I think about it, I think that message is just too complex for a billboard! I think they should have just focused on saver pricing + no contract.

        Thanks for the discussion! Very interesting =) I subscribed to your feed, looking forward to future posts!

  • The JackB

    Without seeing the numbers I can’t call this a failed advertising campaign. Since I was a college student alongside of the pyramids I can’t tell you how much I paid for cellphone service, but this probably would have caught my eye. Plain wrap, but straight pricing.

    • Dino Dogan

      Advertizing numbers (especially when it comes to effectiveness) are practically non existent. And few that exist are based on wild speculations. So, no numbers for this one….we have to figure it out on our own 🙂

      • The JackB

        I sold space for many years so I am pretty well versed with how the ROI is determined. In the online world there are a ton of metrics that are used to determine effectiveness. It is not foolproof but there is often a lot of meat to digest.

        You can track impressions, pageviews, clicks and what happens after the click.

        Billboard space is still often sold on a CPM basis but is harder to track the results.

  • The JackB

    Without seeing the numbers I can’t call this a failed advertising campaign. Since I was a college student alongside of the pyramids I can’t tell you how much I paid for cellphone service, but this probably would have caught my eye. Plain wrap, but straight pricing.

  • The JackB

    Without seeing the numbers I can’t call this a failed advertising campaign. Since I was a college student alongside of the pyramids I can’t tell you how much I paid for cellphone service, but this probably would have caught my eye. Plain wrap, but straight pricing.

  • Anonymous

    ‘If you’re selling to everyone, you’re selling to no one.” – Love that line! And it’s all too true.
    One of the biggest marketing mistakes is casting too wide a net and just hoping that someone out there gets caught.

    The billboards language suggests they want the college student, but the layout and colour choice says they’re going for the low-income buyer. Too much going on, too noisy.

    However, as The JackB said, we’re only seeing a snap-shot (ha!) of their marketing campaign. Is this billboard have any other supporting messages out there in other media? And what are the sales numbers?

    My guess from the billboard is that there was little research or supporting marketing behind this. Honestly, looks like they just had the guy at the billboard rental office through something together.

    • Dino Dogan

      To me, this looked like a billboard that tried to trigger certain innate responses (sense of patriotism for example) but it was put together by a first year psychology student or third year marketing student. Individually the triggers are sound but together they clash.

      Lack of big picture awareness it seams.

      • Stan Faryna

        I really like the billboard ads in Europe. The best of them generally start with a great ass or a great after-sex smile + healthy cleavage in a bra. I’m sold from there. Doesn’t matter what the message is. At that point, all that matters is whether I need that product or not. [laughing]

        And, frankly, any idiot can come up with my kind of ad.

  • Ryan Critchett

    Dino. I love this post, bro.

    Like we talked about the other day, I can appreciate the dissecting of something, to better understand it. I think you make great points here.

    I’ve never really (for an appreciable amount of time) considered these kind of.. mixed messages in billboards, advertisements or any other attempt at getting a message across.

    Very cool identifications here. We should go take that sign down, or spray paint “YOU’RE SENDING ME MIXED SIGNALS” on it.

    • Dino Dogan

      Its right by my house man..get your spray cans out, lets do it 🙂

      • Stan Faryna

        “Its right by my house…”

        So you may have ad fatigue. The trail of cookie crumbs goes like this. [grin]

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Very interesting. A nuanced post : )

    Let me play devil’s advocate. Have you ever tried to write copy for a billboard? This is by far the most difficult task in advertising. You have to communicate a unique value proposition at 80 miles an hour.

    So the way I see it, they threw away the 39.99 pricing convention in an attempt to be clever and stand out. I give them props.

    Love your dissections Dino!

    • Dino Dogan

      Never tried it but I reckon it could be a challenge.

      I think that if they simply stated “Under $40.00” it would make for a more powerful and just as readable copy. I even thing that saying something like 39.97 would have been better, because people would automatically translate that to mean 30ish 🙂

      Love your visits and POV, Mark. Thnx for chiming in 🙂

  • Keith Bloemendaal

    Well, I am not too young (40 this year), and “no-contract” appeals to me…. also I am no drug dealer (although at times I wish I had their money without the risk), but the no-contract appeals to me because I have THEM by the balls instead of them having ME by the balls. I would rather pay more for a phone (Like $179 for a Blackberry or $199 for a Droid) from someone like Virgin Mobile, pay $40 per mo (or $60 tops), get unlimited blah blah blah, and if I don’t like them one day… BAMMMMM buh bye!. I am tired of cell companies making you sign 2yrs if you want to talk to a rep! Screw them!

    The rest of your post is right on tho 🙂

    • Dino Dogan

      Yo yo yo Mr. Bizhax…how is the new venture rolling along?

      You are the guy I refer to as the “Secret Agent” lol thats how you strike me 🙂

      • Keith Bloemendaal

        Sorry for the delay replying Dino, I just went on Disqus and realized the email I was using was from an old site I don’t have anymore LOL…

        The new venture is ROLLING nicely… matter of fact I am starting a new “brick and mortar” biz as well here…. Golf Cart Rentals…. they are allowed for driving around the island as transportation so I will start working on the building we rented tomorrow and filling it with carts next week… opening Memorial Day! *fingers crossed*

  • Ivin

    Very good parableic post with some real life insight applying it online. Good post!

    • Dino Dogan

      Thnx Ivin, much appreciated. Love the new blog design 😉

  • Brad Holland

    I thought I needed to call to get a 40 of beer, like OE or St, Ides. That’s how us drug dealers roll.The design was great. Loved the red text. Reminded me of the days getting jumped in by the Bloods..Only thing missing was a pic of a Glock and I would’ve sold more rocks to buy what they’re pushin’.

    • Stan Faryna

      Glocks rock!

  • Constantin Gabor

    That’s why I come to DIY! To learn stuff like this. 🙂

    I had no clue about how the luxury items are priced.

    But it would be interesting to find out some data from MetroPCS about the effectiveness of this ad. Most of the time we don’t have their data so we can only speculate, right?

    • Dino Dogan

      That is correct. Im only speculating here. Considering ads (esp billboards) have impossible to track conversion rates I dont think we’ll ever see any real numbers. So the only thing we got is whats in front of us, and I think this billboard could have been done way better.

  • Stan Faryna


    I enjoyed your rant. Hell, I love it when you rant! Don’t stop…

    Below is my honest opinion. (and please Forgive me dude for contradicting you). If my Triberr account is suspended tomorrow, I’m going to be so pissed at me that I should go out and buy a bottle of Jack Daniels right now. [grin]

    Here’s the bigger picture…

    1. A billboard ad communicates a message in a strange way. In a manner of speaking, it displays at one second frame rates across many viewings. Unless it’s at a stop light.

    2. Good billboard ads aren’t designed for the complete message
    to hit you like a brick wall in one gaze like a bus stop advertisement.

    3. Several pithy messages should go into a good billboard ad. Each message is to be consumed at different glimpses. When the message that responds to you hits (if it registers to what you need), you will act only on the message relevant to you.

    Here’s the contradiction…

    That said, I have no problem with this billboard ad – it addresses the special needs of a billboard ad in a smart, savvy way. I don’t even have a problem with your observation of a mixed message. Red is a highly readable color. Likewise the white.

    If they had wanted to appeal to a sense of patriotism, they would have put stars in there. And the phone screen should have been blue – that would have been a discrete way to do it. At least, that’s how I would have done it and I’ve done several successful patriotic designs for multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns. For NRA and others.

    Furthermore, I would guess that the design intention was gender neutral. We don’t see a pretty boy or girl. Or I can’t see it from your pic. And, since it’s a billboard ad, you have to be obvious and direct.

    Last but not least…

    What would be interesting to me (if I had designed this billboard ad) is what bugs you, the duke of badassery, about my ad design. Because maybe I am using all the elements of good billboard ad style but I’m not connecting you with the message.

    I’m trying to read between the lines of your blog post. And I first ask myself, is your problem with the brand (Metro) or the message? Well, since I know you will reply, I don’t have to make human sacrifices so that I can read your mind.

    You tell me. How do you feel about Metro? Are you a customer? Were you ever a customer?

    Maybe I’m being obtuse, but I think the really interesting conversation/discussion can now begin.


    Recently on my blog:
    K-9: AWESOME Hyper-intelligent Eyewear #fanart

    • Dino Dogan

      I like where your mind is at, Stan.

      No,I have no relationship (past or present) with MetroPCS. This ad has been vexing me for months before I even realized which company it’s advertising.

      You’ve made some solid points in your argument. I could contradict some of them but I think we would be getting into very esoteric waters at that point. So I will only say that I love having you here…you always bring your A game 🙂

      • Stan Faryna

        You’re a fair and kind man, Dino Dogan.

  • Danny Iny

    I think the biggest issue with this piece is targeting. You’re right that it looks drab and dull and doesn’t catch the eye, and the even pricing doesn’t jive with the low rate. You’re also right that “No contract.” should have been much bigger and more prominent.

    The biggest issue, though, is the message-market fit. If you’re right that “The target audience for this trigger are young males”, then the message of “not 40-ish, 40” will go right over their heads (even though I thought it was cute). If they were targeting the 30-50 set, then it would play a lot better.

    • Dino Dogan

      To be fair, Im only assuming the target demo is young males (and those who feel like young males) because of the no-contract piece. Who does freedom from commitment appeal to the most? Id say young males, but I could be wrong…

  • Robert Dempsey

    Hot damn Dino great stuff. That is a mixed message as you explain it. I imagine they could have combined the odd pricing with a much stronger call to action emphasizing their USP of no obligation. A fair amount of people continue to hate contracts (including yours truly) and that’s a strong reason to go with them.

    • Dino Dogan

      I like that word better. No Obligation. That hits all sorts of right triggers. Might even be used in combo with No Contract.

      And since they have mere seconds to sell the message, why try to sell two messages? Why not emphasize just that one UVP? I see it as a miss, thats all.

      Glad you’re finding this useful Rob 🙂

  • Eugene Farber

    The $40 definitely caught my eye, that’s cheap as hell. But something does seem off about a nice round number like that, lol.

    I never really realized that high end stores, like jewelry stores, don’t use the odd pricing until you mentioned it. Happens to be true. I can vouch for that so your readers know you’re not a liar 🙂

    But how do you not emphasize the no contract?!? I personally stick to my old phones without using the upgrade option just so I can continue going month-to-month with the service instead of getting stuck with another two year contract. And if I want to upgrade a phone I’d rather pay extra and pay just for the phone itself without the contract just to have the freedom.

    Someone didn’t think this through very well.

    • Dino Dogan

      It just looks to me like someone very green put it together. They are communicating on lower levels but they are sending mixed signals. That shows inexperience to me. Of course, Im only speculating.

      Btw…see what I mean about the young-male as the target audience with the no-contract thing? You are in their demo and you prefer being untethered.

      • Eugene Farber

         Yeah, I totally see what you mean. I probably am the target audience. If only they had a hot chick holding that phone, then they’d have me! 🙂

        • Stan Faryna

           “If only they had a hot chick holding that phone, then they’d have me!”
          My point, exactly.

  • dissertation service

    cool) byut the most i liked about secret agents))))) i think they do care))))

  • Edwin

    LOL I honestly thought it was a good ad but if I would change it I might make it say something like “$40 Can Give You Talk, Text, and Web and Enough Left For A Quick Bite”

    • Dino Dogan

      I like your loose, informal and down-home take on the add (the “Enough Left For A Quick Bite”)…that WOULD make the ad less stuffy. As it stands, the formal delivery doesnt match the looseness of the target audience.

      Nice work 🙂

  • Jens P. Berget

    I haven’t seen this billboard, since I live in Norway. Actually, we don’ have big billboards at all, we have some, but they’re way smaller than this one. 

    When I look at the billboard, I didn’t quite understand the message. I saw the $40, and I sort of understand that it’s per month? Or is it a disposable phone, where you pay $40 and then that’s it? The most important part of the message is the price, no doubt about it (because of the big letters). But why use such a “bad” phone in the ad? 🙂

    – and the phone might actually not be relevant, because what you pay for is not really a phone (because you already have the phone) ?

    I like the way you are dissecting the billboard, and I have never thought about the luxury pricing (and the drug dealers) before 🙂


    • Dino Dogan

      It is illegal for kids to paint graffiti on sides of the highway, but its perfectly ok  for corporations to plaster their message everywhere. Funny how that worked out for corporations, isnt it?

      • Jens P. Berget

        True. I would prefer grafitti anytime, that would be awesome. 

  • Robert Pinto-Fernandes

    Dino, just done a Podcast with Ryan Critchett and he’s put me onto your blog. Awesome post, what an interesting and in-depth analysis. A clear marketing message is important, but a clear target market is essential. I was saying to him how much I love when people add their own unique twist and analysis to a real life example – always makes for great content! Keep up the good work dude, I’ll be back on here real soon!

    • Dino Dogan

      That @ryancritchett:twitter is one slick cat, aint he?

      I loved  interview with @JKtheHustler:twitter  awesome stuff…cool accents and great to hear you two 🙂 Ive learned a lot. 

      • Ryan Critchett

        😉 Am I? I’m trying to figure out what made you say that out of nowhere. Pretty cool how disqus notifies you when someone mentions you. Wow.   

  • Anonymous

    Dino, I like your dissection of this billboard, very well done.

    You never can underestimate the importance of being clear with your marketing. If you want to be a success and have lots of clients, the more ‘crystal clear’ you can be, the better it’ll work out. Customers don’t want to have to figure it out for themselves, they want you to put it on a plate, served and ready for them!

    It’s like you go to a top restaurant, and you order the braised lamb shank. What comes out is 75% lamb shank, and 25% chicken breast. How would you feel? It’s certainly not what you ordered, and although you can still enjoy the meal, you have to separate the chicken from the lamb in order to get what you originally thought you were going to get.

    This is why it’s so important to be clear. Even if you ‘force’ potential customers to purchase by leading them to a purchasing point with clever marketing, you’re still being clear. You can never waiver, otherwise the customer will lose confidence in you. And if they lose confidence in you, they will not trust you with their hard-earned money.

    BTW, we must chat sometime on Skype or something, I picked up from Srini’s blog that you advocate a zen-like approach to doing work, with no end result in mind. Would love to talk more about it with you 🙂

    • Dino Dogan

       Id love to ….hit me up on skype anytime…my handle is dino.dogan

      • Anonymous

         OK, I think I’ve requested the right person 😉

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  • Extreme John

     Hey Dino, nice work in hitting each section of MetroPCS’s marketing on this billboard. I think over the course of the last 10 years I’ve put together something along the lines of 50 billboards for marketing my brick and morar business packages. I’m a billboard addict, you can hit some serious homeruns with the proper billboard marketing campaign… IF it’s done right.

    I can see what MetroPCS was trying to do here, the No Contract to me is a big one regardless of the simplistic price point they are “trying” to convey. The “No Contract” is huge in today’s market, everything from gym’s, tanning salons, and of course cell phone providers have done an excellent job of getting consumers frustrated with contracts, so seeing that great $40 price is hardly as valuable to Metro’s potential customer as it is with a “no contract” on the billboard, all though I would have exploited that and made it much larger.

    The price point also doesn’t bother me because I can understand what Metro is trying to do, it doesn’t mean the average buyer does. All of our price points are done with “odd pricing” with the exception of one billboard program I ran two years ago, “Unlimited Tanning $10 per month” it was simple and timed when the economy took a crap so the response was massive with over 5,000 signups in the first 3 weeks alone.

    What I would change on this billboard is the “nonsense”, get rid of the “Not 40ish” crap, it doesn’t need to be there. The billboard also could have used non patriotic colors that jumped off the board more. Simplify the message, make it bold and use contrasting colors.

    Great first read. Thank you.

    • Dino Dogan

      Awesome to hear from someone in the trenches 🙂

      I also didnt care for a lame appeal at patriotism. I dont need a patriotic booster from a fucking billboard. Makes that color combination look cheap and soiled to be on a billboard. How lame.

      You know why your “Unlimited Tanning $10 per month” even pricing worked?
      Because in a downed economy, tanning WAS a luxury item. So that
      billboard was perfectly on-code. But you already knew that lol

      Thnx for your input John. Huge fan 🙂

  • Danny Brown

     Do side-of-the-road banners and billboards still work? 

    The pricing structure doesn’t really bother me. I’m actually glad they went with a round figure as opposed to the dumbass “under $40 because it’s $39.99” gimick. You’re fooling no-one with that, dumbasses.

    And to be really honest, I’d love the ad to say “Do what the fuck you want for $40 per month”. Sold. 🙂 

    • Dino Dogan

      “Do what the fuck you want for $40 per month” would have sold me on it. No need for “no contract” verbiage, no need to say txt, web, talk …SOLD! One line…one phone, Im in 🙂

      I would have purchased that phone. Also, according to @extremejohn:disqus  yes, they CAN be effective.

  • Julie Nutter

    Dino, have I ever mentioned how much I love that you can look at anything, ANYTHING, and make it useful, amazing, and oh so relevant?

    Who the hell can look at a billboard and dissect marketing techniques, mixed messages, and make an awesome blog out of it?


    How cool. Just know that now I’m never going to look at billboards the same! (And it’s weird, because I felt something was off with that, but didn’t know what. Now that I’ve read the article, I get it a little better. Sweet.)

    The fact that you pointed out mixed messages in marketing…trying to appeal to two very different sets of audiences/customers in one message, took a minute to hit home. I had to read the whole thing and stop to think for a minute as to WHY that was a bad idea and wouldn’t work. I’m still processing, to be honest, but I’m getting a handle on it. It’s just something that I have NEVER thought about. We market to all sorts…. But maybe I’m going to sit down and think about to whom I am speaking, and if my message is clear or mixed.


    Learn something new every day! =D And today, from you, my favorite grandson. ;]

    (Sorry,…I keep having to play catch up! But, to be honest, I LOVE when I have a bunch of your articles to read on my “off” day. =] And I ditched my no-comment spree.It’s just not fun.)

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  • Steve Cassady

    When I saw the ad, I thought you were going to focus on another element of the ad.  I missed the $40ish, I thought it was 40ish focusing on technology/age issues which turned me off.  Then again, it may be my eyesight