In Depth

Reports of Verizon Guy's Demise (Slightly) Exaggerated--Company Says Actor Is Still on Contract, but 'Test Man' Has Been Mostly Off the Map for Two Years

By Kunur Patel
Advertising Age

The Verizon Guy got the boot? Not really.

When The Atlantic during an interview with Paul "Can You Hear Me Now" Marcarelli noted that the actor was informed via email that the No. 1 wireless carrier was taking ads in a different direction, word went out that the iconic character was dead. But such doom-saying overlooked two salient facts. First, according to a Verizon spokeswoman, the company still has a contractual relationship with Mr. Marcarelli, known officially as Test Man. Secondly, with the exception of one spot, Test Man hadn't been heard in years.

That recent rare appearance? To introduce its new iPhone 4, Verizon brought Test Man -- a symbol of the company's "most reliable" network -- out of hiding to goose AT&T's often-criticized service. The opportunity was ripe. Not only did Verizon end AT&T's exclusive hold on iPhone, the two biggest U.S. carriers are public archrivals -- not strangers to ad wars or, even, legal battles.

But before that one appearance, Test Man hadn't been in Verizon ads since the No. 4 ad spender in the U.S. hired McGarryBowen to handle its wireless business one year ago. But even before McGarry took the reigns from McCann Erickson last spring, Verizon pushed its "Map for That" ads contrasting its 3G coverage against AT&T's, which reached fever pitch in late 2009 when AT&T brought suit for false claims. Test Man wasn't in those ads either.

With McGarry, Verizon has launched robot- and sci-fi themed Droid commercials and network ads under the banner "Rule the Air." Lightning-bolt-themed ads have been used to illustrate the Verizon network. Again, no Test Man.

Verizon would not provide further comment on the Test Man character or Mr. Marcarelli. The carrier has been tight-lipped about this pitchman. In 2002, Ad Age revealed Mr. Marcarelli's name for the first time.

Test Man and his now-ubiquitous tagline "Can you hear me now?" were the construct of Bozell, New York. The account has changed hands at least four times since Bozell. Verizon Communications, across all its divisions, spent $2.2 billion in U.S. measured media in 2010, according to Kantar Media.

So, why exactly have people not realized Test Man has been missing, even considering the billions Verizon spent on advertising not featuring the character?

"When we see the same voice and face over and over, it develops a comfort level," said telecom analyst Jeff Kagan. Test Man came on board when Verizon wasn't doing well on the customer-care front, Mr. Kagan said. "He was the connection to the customer. Verizon needed that in the beginning, but now people assume Verizon has good quality."

"He may represent yesterday, because he's done it for so long," Mr. Kagan added. "And Verizon looking forward looks completely different. To have a consistent message through this transition period is key, but maybe Verizon has another idea."