He used to be anonymous. Now he’s one of us.
If you couldn’t hear him before, you can certainly hear him now, loud and clear. Paul Marcarelli, the former Verizon commercial pitchman who, from 2002 through 2011, forever burned the mobile service provider’s catchphrase into our collective consciousness, recently returned to Adland as Sprint’s spokesperson. And although he was known only as the anonymous and all-business “Can You Hear Me Now?” Guy when he was with Verizon, these days, with Sprint, he’s friendly, he’s funny, he’s Paul. He’s one of us! Just another consumer in search of the best cellular service at the best price.
In a nod to Paul’s Everyman quality, Sprint has even begun weaving his personal life into his commercial life in what surely represents a landmark commitment to inclusivity and diversity throughout the company’s entire culture. That’s a bold statement in times like these. Can you hear that? Good!
How did you come to represent Sprint?
Well, as you may know, Verizon ended their relationship with me several years ago, and I’d already begun working behind the scenes on independent films, sometimes as a producer, sometimes as a writer, and sometimes both. So I really hadn’t been seen on camera for some time, the longest gap, in fact, since I started acting in commercials 20 years ago.
What most people don’t know is that I had what many might consider a really good run in commercials for companies like Merrill Lynch, Dasani, Old Navy and Heineken for several years before I ever auditioned for Verizon. I’ve been saving my money since I first started out, always operating under the assumption that each job would be the last, so by the time Verizon changed directions with their advertising, I’d pretty much committed to an on-camera retirement, which left room for other pursuits. And I’d already turned down many less interesting opportunities to leverage my commercial visibility.
But Sprint reached out to my agent Ken Slevin at CESD in New York, to see if I’d ever consider trying out their network for myself. And if I experienced first hand the vast improvements taking place for their customers, would I consider helping them get the word out. I’ve always liked an underdog, and since Marcelo Claure took over as CEO, the company’s marketing focus, they told me, was on getting a second chance to make a first impression. And since I was still so recognizable for the character I’d played many years ago, they figured I might like the opportunity to do the same thing. A good fit, right? My husband has always been a happy Sprint customer—and uses Sprint for his small business—so I already had a feeling this was going to work out great, but I went into a Sprint store anyway, switched carriers, became a real customer and the rest is history.
How many Sprint commercials have you been in?
I’ve been on board since May and I’ve now done more than a dozen spots in English as well as a handful in Spanish, and countless videos for social media, Youtube and other non-broadcast outlets. I’m appearing in print ads, and on billboards and subways and buses, in pop-ups and in-store displays in both direct and indirect retail outlets. I’ve been meeting employees all over the country, furthering cooperative relationships with Sprint partners like AAA and Sling TV, championing initiatives with the Sprint Foundation like The One Million Project, which is working to wipe out the homework gap, and there’s also a Twitter feed. And as branded content continues to evolve, I think we’re all hoping there will be opportunities to get the word out there, too.
Which is your favorite commercial?
Ha! I don’t play favorites with my babies. But I am particularly proud of the spot we did with my husband. Since I’m speaking from my own experience in these commercials—and using my own name and details of my life and interests throughout the various platforms—it only made sense to introduce the person I’m married to at some point. But I think the decision to include a major brand spokesperson’s same-sex spouse in a national commercial was pretty bold. To my knowledge this has never been done before. And the fact that the commercial was widely embraced seems to mark considerable progress since I started doing this in 1997. It goes way beyond a company recognizing and appealing to a specific demographic, and in my experience of it, represents Sprint’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity throughout its entire company culture.
Are you recognized in public?
Yes, definitely. And now people know my name, which is a totally new phenomenon. I was accustomed to people recognizing me from the character I once played. But to have people come up to me on the street and address me by name is totally different. It’s particularly gratifying when they say, “You’re the guy, right? The one that switched to Sprint?” It’s all well and good to be recognized, but to know the message you’re trying to communicate is coming across suggests you’re doing your job well. At this point in my career, that’s what matters to me: trying to do a little bit better every time.
Any memorable fan reactions or experiences?
I had a delivery guy in Brooklyn spot me on the street, screech to a halt in an intersection and hop out to take a selfie with me. When he was done he asked me to direct traffic while he parallel parked his truck.
What’s the best thing about being the Sprint Guy?
Mostly, I really like the idea that I’m helping people save money. I come from relatively humble beginnings—both my parents were school teachers and every dollar counted. We were not raised to spend twice as much for a fancy brand when you could get something that’s largely the same for half the price.
Is there any downside?
Not one I can see. I’m slightly bothered by the criticism that I’m somehow disloyal because I once worked for one company and now I’m with someone else. Let’s put it this way, if a friend of mine got dumped by their girlfriend, and then several years later found someone they liked even better, I know I for one would be super happy about it.
What’s the biggest difference between you and the Sprint Guy?
I am the Sprint Guy. He is me. Unlike my previous job I’m not playing a character. On camera I’m a little more chipper than you might find me to be on any given day, but I always try to make a good impression so the depiction is not inaccurate.
Are there any perks to being the Sprint Guy? Free cellular service? Free phone?
That’s not our arrangement. I pay for my own phone like everyone else, I pay for my plan, I call customer service if I have a question and I go into the store to upgrade or what have you. From the outset we all agreed if I was going to do this, to use my real name to endorse the Sprint brand, I had to become a real customer. The perk is that in doing so I get great service and save money.
Who’s your favorite brand spokesperson?
I adore Stephanie Courtney, who plays Flo in the Progressive ads. We’ve never met, but we share an agent (CESD), and I’ve been a fan of her work ever since she played Juna’s publicist on “The Comeback.” I think she’s a genius. Her acting is rooted in the principles of improv so every choice she makes is a positive one, which I think allows her to get away with a sly comic sensibility you don’t normally associate with commercial acting. I want to write a movie for her!
Where else can we see you?
I just appeared as the guest monologist at Upright Citizen Brigade’s Sunday night imrpov show ASSSCAT. It was terrifying, but totally fun. And I’m executive-producing documentary filmmaker Jenni Olson’s follow up film to her 2015 Sundance hit, “The Royal Road.”