Verizon dropped a real stinker on the NCAA Final Four called #WeNeedMore, and we need to talk about it.

You’d think a wireless telecom giant wouldn’t pay north of $1 million for a 60-second commercial without a decent piece of creative to share, but they somehow managed to take a promising message and twist it beyond recognition.

First, you’ll have to suffer through the commercial itself:

Let’s Boil Advertising Down to Positive and Negative Messaging

Typically, advertisers choose either a positive or negative strategy before they start cranking out ad copy.

Negative messaging focuses on something worth avoiding at all costs, and the action being advertised (a donation or product, for instance) is the savior from that terrible fate.

Positive messaging dangles a desirable outcome in front of you like a carrot in front of a donkey (fitness, wealth, etc.). Wordstream studied this in depth in 2015 using A/B testing.

The positive advertisement in Wordstream’s study looked like this:

The negative ad took a different approach:

In this case, the negative ad produced 125% more conversions than the positive ad, but the results are neither here nor there—the point is that advertisers have to commit to an approach and execute that message effectively.

And that’s where Verizon went horribly wrong.

Verizon’s #WeNeedMore Commercial Conflated Positive and Negative Messaging

Verizon’s commercial started off in a harmless manner. With promise glimmering in their eyes, young kids recited career goals to the camera, while we couch-dwellers watched and hoped that maybe someday they would, in fact, be successful models and athletes.

And then Verizon, like the wireless curmudgeons we all know them to be, stepped in and dashed those hopes. How would your ten-year-old self have reacted to seeing your hero on TV saying, “My life is pretty awesome, but you’ll never accomplish your dreams—SO DON’T EVEN TRY.”

Anyways, that’s how it came across, even to my cynical adult self. Kids across the US are undoubtedly depressed today. Thanks, Verizon.

What Could Verizon Have Done Better?

In my opinion, the 60-second spot could have . . .

  1. Focused on the coolness of a tech career by showing tech “celebrities” doing cool stuff. You know, Jeff Bezos controlling a robot suit or Elon Musk talking about his rocket landing. An obvious call to action could be, “Hey, do you want to be rich and awesome like these people? #WeNeedMore in technology!”
  1. Featured those same professional athletes and models telling kids across the US that we need more young people to pursue tech. You can still use the kids’ heroes to convince them to get into tech! What did Verizon do instead? They made those celebrities tell kids that “We don’t need more LeBrons.”

Both would have been positive strategies, and both would have made tech look desirable without breaking any hearts.

Instead, Verizon confused positive and negative messaging by showing those cool, sexy celebrities in their environment, and then pulled a “bait and switch” to the negative side when those same celebrities turned to the camera and basically said, “We don’t want you in our club, kid. Go do something else with your life.”

Verizon essentially glorified the life of a model or athlete and dangled that carrot in front of TV viewers, only to yank it away and say, “but you can’t have this.”

That’s a great way to reach kids, right?

Wrong. Verizon would have been better off not using kid’s hopes, dreams, and idols against them in some patronizing, ignorant way. In doing so, they both dashed dreams across the county and made their own offering (a career in tech) look second-rate to the very careers they were advertising against.

The most ironic part? We actually do need more LeBrons.