Can You Hire Me Now? Good.

June 6, 2016

All is fair in love and wireless-carrier wars.

If you were watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals last night on ABC — and there’s a good chance you were, because a record 18.2 million viewers tuned in for the opening game — you may have noticed a familiar face and voice.

Rewind to the early aughts when a nerdy bespectacled fellow was first seen traipsing about in Verizon television spots, ostensibly testing the strength of the wireless carrier’s signal in the least technical way possible.

Can you hear me now? he would say, followed by a dramatic pause. Good. 

“Test Man” — or Paul Marcarelli — hung up his trademark Verizon jacket and horn-rimmed glasses in 2010 after an eight-year stint as the carrier’s pitchman. He was the rare commercial actor limited to a caricature within a continuously re-booted ad campaign who permeated pop culture, like the Maytag repairman and the Dell Dude before him, or Flo from Progressive or Lily the AT&T associate of modern day.

Much has changed in the wireless industry since we last saw “Test Man.” Now, virtually every wireless carrier offers the same nationwide coverage. So, what better way to boast your service is just as good as your competitor’s than to actually use your competitor’s most iconic pitchman?

Enter: Sprint.

Now, this is more than just a smart and creative ambush from Sprint. It’s also a wake-up call for lackadaisical legal departments. While Marcarelli’s Verizon contract came to an end in 2011, it would seem evident it never included a clause pertaining to category exclusivity in perpetuity. Not good. It’s easy to get caught up in creative decisions and art direction, and more often than not, talent negotiations are long and arduous.

Consider this a reminder (courtesy of Sprint) that if you’re going to invest a great deal of brand equity in one person, make sure that person can never jump ship and beat you at your own game.