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Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” ad pitchman has defected to Sprint

Can you hear him now, Verizon?
By Ashley Rodriguez
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Verizon pitchman known for traversing the country in the company’s ubiquitous TV ads, asking “Can you hear me now?,” is now touting a competing wireless carrier—Sprint.

Actor Paul Marcarelli, whose horn-rimmed glasses and deadpan delivery is familiar from hundreds of Verizon ads, has switched teams. As the “Test Man” (better known as “the Verizon Guy”), Marcarelli demonstrated the company’s claim that its network was the most comprehensive in the country by going to various remote locations and asking the perennial question of cellphone users, “Can you hear me now?” (The answer, presumably, was always “yes.”)

Now Marcarelli is starring in a Sprint ad campaign arguing Verizon’s coverage advantage is so small that it isn’t enough to justify choosing Verizon over other wireless carriers. ”I’m with Sprint now,” Marcarelli says in the ad. “Because, guess what? It’s 2016, and every network is great.” He added that Sprint’s reliability is nearly as good as Verizon’s—”now within 1%,” based on Sprint’s analysis of recent Nielsen tests—and that the carrier is cheaper than most of its major competitors.

Verizon reportedly had kept Marcarelli on “a short leash“ for years. He was locked into contracts that restricted him from acting in most other commercials or discussing the “Test Man” campaign for the better part of a decade, a 2011 Atlantic profile revealed. Personally, he was haunted by his iconic catchphrase, “Can you hear me now?”

Verizon did not immediately comment on Sprint’s campaign, or when its contract with Marcarelli ended.

Though Marcarelli told the Atlantic he had once been embarrassed by the role, he appears to have no qualms alluding to it now. As part of the Sprint push, he launched a Twitter account with the handle “@ThatWirelessGuy” and a profile that references his switch from Verizon to Sprint.

The big four wireless carriers—AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint—have been mercilessly targeting each other in ad campaigns for years. Sprint’s new effort suggests that the beleaguered wireless carrier, which was downgraded to the nation’s fourth largest last year, is getting scrappier in its fight to turn the business around.

Sprint’s claims that all US wireless networks are equally great remains to be seen, however. Carriers are famous for touting metrics and massaging the narrative to make themselves look better.

In a recent ad, “A Better Network as Explained by Colorful Balls,” Verizon pushed an independent Root Metrics study that tested wireless performance around the country and said that Verizon finished first in more states than its rivals. T-Mobile responded with an ad that said it had since doubled its LTE coverage, so that it reaches “pretty much everyone” Verizon does. And Sprint argued that it had faster download speeds than its competitors, based on a separate third-party analysis.

Overall, according The Wirecutter’s analysis of multiple third-party reports, Verizon seems to remain the leader in network reliability in most US regions, but other networks are closing the gap, as Sprint’s ad argues.

A Sprint spokesperson said the company tapped the former Verizon pitchman because he is “one of the most well-known faces in wireless” and is ”the perfect person” to demonstrate Sprint’s claim that its network is a better deal than Verizon’s.

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