Sprint has recently started an ad campaign called the "Listening Tour" which is essentially a focus group with actual customers from Sprint, as well as those from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. A recent ad, which can be seen below, shows Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure at a discussion, asking what comes to their mind when he says "T-Mobile." One woman had one word that has stirred a lot of controversy when she said "ghetto." The use of this term to describe the carrier has created a lot of outrage, and the ad has since been pulled for the following reasons.
This comment of her calling T-Mobile "ghetto" was enough to get everyone in the focus group room laughing, and was the sole basis for a commercial. Yes, most commercials like to bad-mouth the competition, but many have said that this ad went too far.
The Verge states that the ad is "essentially just a group of white people laughing at the idea that T-Mobile can be associated with minorities and lower-income customers. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, on the other hand, are positioned as legitimate options for the customers at this fancy meal. To put it simply, the spot is pretty racist, and it's bewildering to think that Sprint approved and published this."
In fact, there was a social media backlash, according to NY Daily News. A Twitter user @snorkel42 wrote: "@verizon Can I get in on the non-racist deals? Would love to ditch @sprint". Verizon responded by saying: "We'd like for you to join. We'll help cover your cost to switch to better".
At first, it seemed like Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure was going to stand by the ad when he tweeted "Honest answers from real people on my #Listening Tour across the country. Sometimes the truth hurts, @TMobile".
The Sprint CEO then shifted gears when he issued an apology: "I've just read all the comments regarding the video we posted and I want to profoundly apologize again to anyone I offended. As a proud Hispanic immigrant, I should have been more sensitive and known not to publish the customer's comment. This was an honest mistake and lesson learned."
So what is the lesson learned? Agency Spy states that some people can't quite get past using the word "ghetto" as a catch-all term meaning cheap or disreputable. In fact, IPG announced that Campbell Ewald CEO Jim Palmer was fired because there was an email that went public that said it was going to celebrate "Ghetto Day".
John Legere, who is T-Mobile's CEO, is normally active on Twitter, but all he tweeted about the incident was "I don't think I need to respond". So the question remains: should Sprint have known better? Leave a comment below with your answer on this issue.