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16 Feb 2017BIG NAMES GET THE CALL

As I'm sure you'll have seen on the news, America held its annual celebration of all things advertising last weekend. The four hour extravaganza featured over an hour of the most expensive commercials of the year (averaging at a cost of approximately $5 million each), and this year, they managed to keep the amount of unwarranted interruptions by a live sporting event to just 16 minutes. (We still don't understand why they call it the Superbowl.)

Several telecoms operators took the opportunity to sell themselves to the masses, but it was, as usual, T-Mobile that won the day. Of the three commercials that they aired, it wasn't the one starring Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart that made headlines, and Justin Beiber's offering only made the news when the Minnesota Police Department threatened to make drunk drivers watch it as punishment. No, the one that really got people's attention was the kinky '50-shades' style attack ads featuring comedian Kristen Schall. Verizon, the target, immediately leapt onto Twitter to attempt to minimize the damage – but as usual, rogue T-Mobile CEO John Legere was there, waiting for them.

The other operators were relatively tame by comparison, choosing to focus on their loyalty rewards, the perils of billshock and the lengths people will go to to avoid it. Verizon's offering, as official partner of the NFL, was staggeringly dull. Not one single celebrity in any of them. Maybe it’s because the biggest stars are too busy to feature in phone commercials. Or maybe it's because they're all off making adverts elsewhere, like the UK, for example. Kevin Bacon (and the occasional special guest) has been on British screens for several years in a long-running campaign for mobile operator EE.

While Kevin Bacon has had a long and illustrious movie career, we would be hard pressed to consider him an A-lister (sorry, Kev), not when you look at who British Telecom have managed to put in their ads over the last few years. Bruce Wills, Alec Baldwin, Ryan Reynolds and most recently, Jeremy Renner have all helped BT with their domestic SIM offerings.

It's not all one-way traffic – sometimes, celebrities from elsewhere come to film ads for the USA. But it's not quite the same. Energy levels are lower, there's less commitment to the role. Take Ricky Gervais' work for Verizon a few years ago: no thrills, no special effects… barely any props at all. Still, this looks like a blockbuster production when compared to his next effort, this time for Australian operator Optus. This low-effort cameo went over so well, he was asked to reprise it. Twice.

Phone manufacturers also attract the big names to their commercials, and in these instances, at least the budget is worthy of stars. It's just that these ads are often very weird. Take this bizarre scenario, for example, in which US comedian TJ Miller is a smartphone personified. Or LG’s nightmarish vision of a world populated entirely by Jason Stathams. Perhaps the saddest reality is the one created by Samsung, who turn rapper Lil' Wayne from a wide-eyed innocent (albeit one that is somewhat overpayed) playing with his new gadget, to a lost and lonely man, trapped endlessly pouring champagne over his phone.

As strange as things get in the world of phone advertising, it’s worth remembering how far we've come since the early days