Shootin’ The Breeze:

MetroPCS Wasted A Beautiful Day At The Zoo


75, sunny and not a cloud in the sky. It was West Michigan’s first perfect Saturday of 2015, so my friends and I stumbled out of bed, grabbed some coffee and hit up the John Ball Zoo in downtown Grand Rapids.

We spent time checking out the penguins, roared with the big cats and even saw some cute little monkeys, but the one thing that really caught my attention was this purple metroPCS tent.

The obligation to listen to their sales pitch kept people at bay. I couldn’t get close enough to take more pictures, because it would have meant me listening to stupid pitches.

At first glance, I was really impressed with their ability to give the people of the zoo (who happen to be metroPCS’s perfect target-audience) something of actual value (which is a one of the key components of building a strong brand). They were offering a free photo of you and your family at the zoo. Cool, practical and free!

Giving families a free photo is actually a pretty good idea. If a family goes to an amusement park, or something like a museum, a photograph can easily run $5–6$. For metroPCS to give away a free piece of memorabilia of your kids having fun is pretty damn valuable for a parent. It is a clever way to give their target-audience something of real value.


I talked about how important it is for brands to give people real value in this article. But the short answer is it would have made people like metroPCS a little bit more, which is a huge win for the brand.

The problem is, they didn’t really get any of this precious brand-building-value that they had hoped for. Instead of a cost-friendly tent at a local zoo really moving the needle for local metroPCS stores, they just wasted their time and didn’t get anything done. They had the right idea, but they forgot about one crucial element that kept them from pulling this off. Subtlety.

People have impeccable B.S. detectors and when they see a tent set up in the middle of a walkway, that B.S. detector starts to ring and alarm them. Everybody cherishes their own time and being solicited to (during a beautiful day at the zoo no less) is a surefire way to be avoided.

Not-so-shockingly, this is exactly what happened for that sad, little metroPCS tent. They lacked subtlety so people avoided them. When you walked up to the tent to inquire about the “Free Photo,” you saw two tables littered with faux phones and stupid little brochures. Even worse, the salesmen behind the tables instantly started their sales pitch. If your B.S. detector somehow hadn’t gone off before, it was certainly going mad now. metroPCS had a decent idea on their hands, but the execution was absolutely brutal.


MetroPCS should have respected people’s perspective (they were spending a sunny day with their families at the zoo and NOT shopping for new phone plans). If they treated the situation with a little bit of subtlety and creativity, they could have really pulled off something great. Here is what I would have done:

  • Ditch the faux phones, brochures, and salespeople. Why bother even trying to convert people’s attention into a sale today, it isn’t gonna happen and all you’re doing is making people annoyed. Subtlety goes a long way. Don’t worry about making sales today, instead, worry about giving people something of value and building up quality brand equity. That’ll lead to more sales in the future.
  • Tweak the Message. The idea of “Free Photo” is actually pretty cool. They should have doubled down on this and make it their sole focus of the tent. Tweak the message so it connects with your brand AND the audiences’ perspective. Something like, “Digital photos are nice, but don’t you want something physical you can throw on the fridge? Take a Free Photo on the house ☺.”
  • Deliver! Do your best to make sure this photo actually ends up on the fridge and that means making the photograph actually be a quality piece of memorabilia. metroPCS should make the photograph look like it was from the Zoo and not from a cost-friendly cellphone provider. They should only put a metroPCS logo on the back and then have the Zoo’s logo on the front of the photograph.

This might sound backwards, but the whole goal of the tent is attract new sales, right? Well, you aren’t going to increase sales by annoying people in the middle of a lovely afternoon with their kids. Instead, metroPCS needs to look at branding as a marathon and not a sprint. Give people value, so that they look at metroPCS in a slightly better way is a HUGE win. Plus, if they can deliver and give a quality photograph then word-of-mouth will start to works its magic.

There is no denying mothers talk to others mothers, and if metroPCS could have snuck its way into that conversation, then the tent would have been an incredibly successful way to spend those resources.

Little Billy is a sucker for big cats.

“Yeah, the zoo was a ton of fun. Little Billy really enjoyed the tigers. It was so cute. We are gonna go back in a few months when the new exhibit opens up. Oh yeah, don’t forget to go to the metroPCS tent. They will take your picture and give you a cool photograph for free. It’s purple. You can’t miss it. ”

Mothers would have been happy to tell other moms about this practical and valuable piece of information, but, instead, metroPCS failed to execute. That precious word-of-mouth marketing was never given the chance to start. It really is a shame, because they did start with a pretty good idea.

All in all, it was a great day at the zoo for me. I got some sun, stood five feet away from some massive tigers and got a first-hand example of what poor execution looks like.


If you got thought this value out of this article, or maybe just thought the tiger pic was cool, it would really mean a lot to me if you could hit that little “Recommend” button below. ☺