Verizon’s Old Pitchman, Paul Marcarelli, Switches to Sprint in Delicious Bit of Backstabbing

Luring away a wireless icon

Headshot of Tim Nudd

The wireless wars have been getting notoriously dirty, and now Sprint has come up with the most deviously clever attack yet—signing up Paul Marcarelli, who worked for years as Verizon's "Can you hear me now?" guy, as its own spokesman.

Sprint crows in the press release that "its fastest and most reliable network ever can lure away even the most iconic people in wireless." Below is the 30-second spot, from Deutsch, introducing Marcarelli as a Sprint customer. It broke Sunday night during the NBA Finals.

The national TV ads also will run on cable and broadcast, supported by print, digital, out-of-home and radio. Marcarelli is also on Twitter as @ThatWirelessGuy.

"I've watched with interest as each of the wireless carriers claims to be the most reliable or the fastest," the actor said in a statement. "But what I've found is … the 'better' that some other national carriers claim about reliability is really less than a 1 percent difference. Does anyone even really notice a difference of less than 1 percent? But when it comes to saving money … Sprint is by far the best choice for consumers. You get a highly reliable network and save 50 percent off most of the rates other national wireless carriers charge. Now that is noticeable."

It's a deliciously nasty move from Sprint. But what most viewers might not realize is that Marcarelli's decade as Verizon's "Test Man" character was fairly traumatizing for him personally, as outlined in a fascinating 2011 profile of him in The Atlantic.

We learned in that piece that Verizon made him sign a draconian contract that restricted his creative and financial opportunities, and prohibited him from discussing his experiences with others. It also, when the time came, fired him via email. Marcarelli, who is gay, was also harassed for years by a bunch of kids driving by his home at night who would scream homophobic slurs and "Can you hear me now!?" at him. Worried about losing his ad gig, he declined to file police reports about the incidents.

Not to say switching to Sprint is officially revenge, but it might not have been that difficult for Marcarelli to embrace a Verizon competitor. 

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.