By Kevin Cowherd
The Baltimore Sun
11:44 AM EDT, April 1, 2013
The AT&T commercials with the little kids gathered around the classroom table answering questions ("Is it better to be bigger or smaller?") from the smarmy focus group leader?
They were cute the first time around.
Maybe the first 10 times around.
But around the 10,000th time around, they got really, really annoying. And since it's apparently a law that no NCAA tournament game can be broadcast without 15 or 20 of these spots, the annoyance level has now reached epic, gouge-out-your-eyeballs, please-make-it-stop extremes.
Now the telecommunications giant -- or at least its ad agency -- has switched gears.
Now there are a couple of new spots that feature NBA legends Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell around the classroom table instead of the cute little kids.
In one commercial, the four hoops icons answer the same dopey "Is it better to be bigger or smaller?" question, and the smaller focus group leader has to jump out of his chair to high-five the giants around him.
In the other spot, the guys agree it's better to be faster than slower, whereupon Magic supposedly hurts Bird's feelings with a snide reference to the former Boston Celtic superstar's speed -- or lack thereof -- leading the fast-break.
And the spot ends with the focus group leader attempting -- awkwardly -- to give Bird a consoling hug.
They're both OK spots -- whimsical, semi-clever, not hysterically funny. But if the "nation's largest 4G network" continues to air them ad nauseum, as they do with all their other "kids" commercials, we'll grow to hate these spots, too.
As usual, it's the constant repetition, rather than the content of the ads, that makes viewers cringe and eventually turns them off.
But the spots must sell some phone plans, too, or they wouldn't be getting the air-time they get.
"Beat them over the head and they'll buy" -- that's always been the mantra of advertising. And "the nation''s largest 4G network" has that down pat.
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