Apple Fires A Shot In Escalating AT&T-Verizon Ad War

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New ads for Apple's iPhone find Apple sticking up for iPhone carrier AT&T by throwing jabs at Verizon and the Motorola Droid. The thinly veiled ads join an escalating war of words and images from AT&T and Verizon that's already seen maps, robots, Luke Wilson and a lawsuit.

It all started in mid-October, when a series of commercials for the then-upcoming Motorola Droid phone poked fun at Apple's iconic "i" prefix by flashing a series of "iDon't" phrases on the TV screen. The ads even employed the cute, cheeky indie rock Apple is known for using in its own commercials, finally ending in an ominously scrambled background that flashed the words "Everything iDon't ... Droid does."

Later in the month came Verizon's even more pointed "There's a map for that" campaign, in which it played on Apple's "There's an app for that" slogan for iPhone to skewer rival AT&T about the span of its 3G wireless coverage.

AT&T didn't exactly take it all in good fun, either. It filed suit against Verizon Wireless over what AT&T alleges were false claims about the scope of its wireless coverage in the U.S. based on the maps Verizon uses in the commercials.

"Verizon has stepped over the line of legitimate comparative advertising," AT&T states in the filing.

That lawsuit was thrown out by a judge earlier this month, so AT&T itself turned to print and prime time, launching a new ad campaign featuring actor Luke Wilson that claims AT&T has the fastest 3G network in the country. Several ads have since run featuring, in one, Wilson showing a map of AT&T's 2G and 3G coverage zones, and, in another, helping a customer juggle two phones because he has to use one for talking and one for Web surfing.

Now come the new round of Apple iPhone ads, which while they don't mention either Verizon or Droid directly seek to highlight the iPhone's ability for a user to take calls while he or she surfs the Web or uses other functions. Each ad ends with the phrase, "Can your phone and your network do that?" It's not a direct shot across Verizon's or Droid's bow, but the implication is there, especially since AT&T's Wilson ads make the same comparison. (You can check out one of the Apple ads here, courtesy of Vimeo.)

Expect the war of words and images to continue, although with the just-launched Motorola Droid on the upswing -- and Google Android-based smartphones taking center stage this fall -- it appears to be AT&T and Apple that are on the defensive.

AT&T has much to worry about in 2010 as it tries to hold on to its status as the exclusive iPhone carrier in the United States, especially now that the end of iPhone exclusivity has meant significant spikes in iPhone business in other parts of the world.

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