BrandIndex's weekly Brandweek Buzz Report: wireless price wars, Toyota/Lexus, and State Farm

War Between Wireless Carriers Doesn't Sway Consumers

March 12, 2010

The price war between wireless carriers—AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint—hasn’t changed consumer perceptions much at all. All the carriers still get low value marks, and for Verizon Wireless, it’s caused a drawn out lull, according to market research firm YouGov's BrandIndex report.

The Brandweek Buzz Report by YouGov is a weekly consumer perception report that analyzes the most talked about brands based on buzz: The scores are based on weighing positive and negative perceptions of a brand. A +100 score is positive, a -100 score is negative, and a rating of zero means that the score is neutral. This week's report also features scores based on brand value and quality.

YouGov interviews 5,000 people each weekday from a representative U.S. population sample. Respondents are drawn from an online panel of 1.5 million individuals.

This week, the report spotlights:

• AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint
• Toyota, Lexus
• State Farm Insurance

Wireless Price War
After calling each other names throughout the fall, the two largest wireless carriers switched tactics in the one area where consumers see the whole category lacking—value. AT&T came out swinging first by announcing it was lowering the price of its unlimited calling plan from $99 to $69, which Verizon Wireless quickly matched.

The initial impact in early February was immediate. AT&T’s value score jumped from -4.5 in mid-January to 10 in a matter of two weeks. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless’ score was cut more than half to 9 in the same time period. When the deal was matched, AT&T retreated to pre-promotion negative territory levels, Verizon Wireless did a modest bounce back, and Sprint rose from -36.1 to -16.

Sprint’s recent ad featuring CEO Dan Hesse burst the whole bubble. Hesse pointed out that with Sprint's competitors, what you see is not what you get: AT&T and Verizon Wireless’ deals were just for voice, and all mid-level smartphones would require an additional data or text plan. Sprint then promoted its $69 package as an all-inclusive with unlimited voice, text and Web. Sprint’s attack had a mild effect on the brand, taking it from -25.5 to -23. AT&T slowly climbed back into positive sentiment with a current 5.7 score. Verizon Wireless still leads with 20.5, but still lower than its Jan. 4 score of 36.1.

Toyota's Effect on Lexus
Toyota’s recalls have caused major brand trust issues with consumers, but how have they affected its luxury brand, Lexus? Toyota is never mentioned in any of Lexus' marketing, as if there is no connection between the two brands.

Consumers have put two and two together, but not down to Toyota depths. Last year, Lexus was either neck and neck or slightly ahead of luxury category rival BMW in quality score, while fending off Mercedes Benz’ close approach. The game changed in early February, when the Toyota news exploded and Lexus began descending significantly from 44.5 to its current 30.7. While Lexus still has a good quality score (in line with Volvo), both BMW and Mercedes have taken a wide lead in the luxury category with 42.4 and 40.6 quality scores, respectively.

State Farm's Viral Success
More than a few people raised their eyebrows upon hearing that State Farm insurance was footing the sponsorship bill for trendy rock group OK Go and its new single “This Too Shall Pass.” OK Go’s previous videos have won praise for their viral success.

“This Too Shall Pass” is no exception: A paean to Rube Goldberg’s long elaborate devices—which were usually performed by one object hitting or going into another—has already generated 6.5 million views on YouTube. State Farm literally got the whole contraption moving at the beginning of the video, with its trademark red truck and logo clearly seen on the side.

Leading up to the video’s March 1 release, State Farm had actually been on a buzz score roll, going from 17.1 to 23.9, benefited by a milder than usual hurricane season and news that it warned federal regulators about Toyota’s problems back in 2004. However, after inching forward the day after the OK Go video premiered, State Farm’s score dropped from 24.2 to 20.2. The controversial homeowner rate hikes and President Obama’s increased rallying for healthcare reform were the major contributing factors.