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Now hear this? Sprint spins a twist on a Verizon pitch

Technically Incorrect: The man who asked "Can You Hear Me Now?" for Verizon was an advertising icon. Sprint may now be asking too much of him.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


You can hear him. But do you want to listen to 30 seconds of him?

Sprint/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When the idea came up, Sprint management must have said: "Heh. Heh. Heh."

After all, Verizon had hired Ricky Gervais to mock Sprint with so much contempt that he didn't even bother to utter the word "Sprint."

Now here's Sprint hiring Verizon's most famous pitchman. Yes, the nice man with the Buddy Holly glasses who kept saying "Can you hear me now?"

The new ad shows that actor Paul Marcarelli has aged a little, filled out a touch and enjoyed some excellent makeup work.

He's also been asked to do a lot more than he used to.

I fancy the only thing you may remember about Marcarelli is his incessant five-word question. Instead of making a mockery of just that, Sprint has suddenly asked him to give a rational -- and frankly quite dull -- explanation of how all the networks are more or less the same. So choose Sprint because it's cheaper.

In the first ad, we see Marcarelli walking down the street, liberated from that Verizon uniform. Instead, here he is wearing a yellow T-shirt. Yes, they had to shove the brand colors on him. Look, even his phone is yellow. How fortuitous.

As he wanders down the street, relaxed after having no doubt made many millions from plugging Verizon for the better part of a decade, he explains that now he's with Sprint.


Oddly, he wasn't with Sprint until the company asked him to do these ads.

He must think these phone companies just give their money away. They do when they're desperate to enjoy some sort of brand personality.

In a second ad, he benefits from Sprint's Direct 2 You service, in which a Sprint operative comes out to you, the customer, to activate your phone.

It's all pleasant enough, but does it move you to ditch Verizon for a carrier that is, well, what? Sprint's brand image is rather like that trinket that's been on your mantelpiece for a long time, but you can't remember where it came from. It's there, but it doesn't seem too relevant.

So here they present you with Verizon's former pitchman to tell you that Sprint is now almost as reliable as Verizon, but not quite. Oh, and that Sprint is cheap.

It's hardly a compelling message (and some dispute the 50 percent cheaper angle too). It might at least have been funny. But so far it isn't.

Instead, these ads will get some PR for Sprint, just because it's the Verizon guy who stopped saying "Can you hear me now?" in 2011.

But will consumers hear the call? Or will they just say: "Oh, him again"?