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Why Verizon Is Putting Actual Employees in Its New TV Ads

With the introduction of unlimited data wireless plans, Verizon pulled a major strategic course change in February. But to push its new offerings the carrier is sticking with its tried and true advertising strategy.

The emphasis in a series of new television ads hitting on Friday remains Verizon’s top-rated wireless network. And Thomas Middleditch, star of the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, will continue as lead pitchman. But to freshen the campaign a bit, Verizon decided to add some of its actual employees to the ad spots.

Verizon engineer appears in TV ad.Photo credit: Verizon
Photo credit: Verizon

First up is systems performance engineer Ammara Bhaimeah, an electrical engineer with a masters degree from UCLA who works in Verizon’s Irvine, Calif. office and loves the HBO show that mercilessly spoofs her profession.

In one of the spots, Middleditch asks the engineer for a reason why Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 phone will perform better on Verizon’s network. Bhaimeah gives him three reasons. “That’s two, maybe even three reasons right there,” the actor notes in a distracted manner as he is more focussed on stealing the new smartphone. “It’s exactly three,” replies the engineer with a big eye roll.

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Verizon hopes the new spots reinforce the message that it still has the best performing wireless network as measured in a variety of surveys. A recent report covering 125 metro areas by Rootmetrics, for example, found Verizon was extending its lead in network performance and reliability over the other three major carriers.

“We thought having an employee in here would be a great way to show behind the scenes what makes our network great,” Mike Haberman, Verizon vice president of network, tells Fortune. “This isn’t just something we have as a motto or slogan.”

But the low-priced unlimited plans from T-Mobile and Sprint that are chock full of money-saving promotions have attracted a growing number of Verizon customers. Meanwhile, Sprint has been running ads with former Verizon spokesman Paul Marcarelli for almost a year, claiming that the performance of all the wireless networks is basically the same now.

The competitor campaigns — and Verizon’s lack of an unlimited offering until recently — have done major damage to the brand. In the first quarter, Verizon suffered its first ever decline in regular monthly wireless customers. The carrier says massive customer defections turned into modest additions midway through the quarter after the Feb. 12 introduction of its unlimited plans.

Verizon spent $1.3 billion last year on TV, print, and digital advertising, almost more than Sprint (S) and T-Mobile (TMUS) combined, and enough to rank among the five largest advertisers in the country, according to data compiled by Kantar Media. AT&T (T) spent $1.6 billion to top all telecom carriers. The company isn’t saying how much it will spend on the new campaign, though advertising by all the carriers has picked up amid the fierce competition over unlimited data plans.

Whether Verizon’s new ad campaign is fresh enough to cut through the clutter — or sharp enough to avoid being skewered by its rivals in their next rounds of ads — remains to be seen.

Bhaimeah, who has worked at Verizon (VZ) for almost seven years, was picked after auditions with about a dozen possible employee candidates. Even the hard-working engineer was impressed with the long days it took to shoot the commercials. And, of course, she was dazzled by Middleditch.

“Thomas tried to make everything funny,” she says. “He just tries to make everything as perfect as possible.”

With Verizon needing to rebound from a tough first quarter, “as perfect as possible” is just what the company needs from these new ads.