Sprint Surprises Verizon With Turncoat Pitchman

Actor Paul Marcarelli

Fans watching the Golden State Warriors blow out the Cleveland Cavaliers in Sunday’s second game of the NBA finals also got an unexpected blast from the past during the commercial breaks.

In the constant game of one-upmanship that is the cellular market, actor Paul Marcarelli, who starred in dozens of commercials for Verizon as the “Can you hear me now?” guy, reappeared on the small screen. But he wasn’t pitching Verizon. Instead, rival Sprint poached Marcarelli to poke fun at Verizon.

“Hey, I’m Paul and I used to ask, ‘Can you hear me now?’ with Verizon,” Marcarelli says in the new spot. “Not anymore. I’m with Sprint now because, guess what, it’s 2016 and every network is great.”

The new commercial comes as Sprint (S) tries to pull out of a slump that dropped it to fourth place in the U.S. wireless market. The carrier is offering some of the cheapest wireless plans on the market and remains under intense financial pressure with a heavy debt load leftover from its $22 billion acquisition by SoftBank Group in 2013.

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The ad will also appear in a nationwide campaign on cable and network stations in print and digital spots, Sprint said. The company also created a Twitter account for the Marcarelli campaign dubbed @ThatWirelessGuy.

The Marcarelli hiring could also be payback for Verizon’s (VZ) recent series of commercials where actor and comedian Ricky Gervais peered in at the fine print on a map Sprint had used in some commercials. Gervais noted that the small text said the map did not actually display coverage.

“Some of them stretch the truth a little bit,” Gervais says in the ad, though he doesn’t mention Sprint by name. “Oh, map is not a depiction of coverage—well then, what’s the point?”

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