New iPhone ads stick up for AT&T

Apple joins marketing war against Verizon with new TV spots

Apple Inc. yesterday joined the fracas between AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless over 3G coverage with a pair of television commercials that defended its U.S. mobile partner.

The ads highlight the fact that users of Apple's iPhone can take calls while simultaneously browsing the Web, sending text messages and reading e-mail when on AT&T's network. Both ads end with the tagline "Can your phone and your network do that?" -- a reference to Verizon's inability to handle calls and other tasks at the same time.

AT&T made that same point in an ad that debuted last week that features actor Luke Wilson claiming that AT&T's service has several advantages over Verizon's. "Which network lets you talk and surf at the same time?" Wilson asks, then slaps an "X" in a checklist under a column labeled "AT&T."

Wilson's advertisement was AT&T's first televised response to a campaign launched in October by rival Verizon that compared its 3G coverage to AT&T's using the phrase "There's a map for that" -- a take-off on the "There's an app for that" line most Apple iPhone commercials use when touting the 100,000 programs available from the App Store.

An executive at The Nielsen Co., the company responsible for the Nielsen Ratings, told Advertising Age last week that he expected more ads from AT&T and described the Luke Wilson ad as a "stopgap."

"It's inevitable there will be more to come. Verizon will not stop running those ads," Nielson senior vice president Roger Entner told the publication.

Since Entner's comments, Wilson has appeared in several more commercials for AT&T, including one where he stands on a huge map showing the carrier's 2G and 3G coverage areas, and another where a purported Verizon customer is forced to juggle two phones to talk and surf the Internet at the same time. That ad ends with the line, "AT&T, a better 3G experience."

AT&T is Apple's exclusive iPhone partner in the U.S. market, although some analysts have suggested that the deal, rumored to run through June 2010, may not be extended as Apple searches for a wider reach using multiple carriers, a tactic it has already applied in several other countries. Ironically, even though the new Apple commercials slight Verizon (though they don't specifically name the AT&T rival) many experts believe that Verizon is a prime candidate to become an iPhone partner in 2010.

Verizon's ads prompted AT&T to file a lawsuit earlier this month in a Georgia federal court, accusing its competitor of making misleading claims with maps that showed scanty 3G coverage. Those ads, charged AT&T, "deceive consumers into believing that AT&T customers cannot communicate in areas where they have no 3G coverage." The company asked a federal judge to issue a court order that would have forced Verizon to stop airing the spots.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten denied AT&T's request.

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