Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trading Places

It's pretty common in sports: a coach or a player leaves one team and goes to another. Of course, they're not being disloyal; it's just the nature of the business. This year, in fact, was first time a basketball player played for both finalists in the same season. Anderson Varejao started with Cleveland, and was an important part of that team early on. But then he was traded to Portland, and eventually to Golden State, who also had a record setting year. So technically, whichever team wins, he is entitled to a ring.

Often it happens because things haven't quite worked out as hoped. That was the story with Rex Ryan. After 6 seasons with the New York Jets with what can charitably be described as "mixed success," he and the team parted ways. Less than two weeks later he was hired by the Jets' intra-state rival, the Buffalo Bills. All he had to do was move about 400 miles northwest and swap his team cap. Oh yes, and have the tattoo of his wife wearing a Jets green jersey darkened to Bills blue.

But sports isn't the only venue for this switching of teams. You see it in politics as well. Katrina Pierson, the national spokesperson for Donald Trump, used to work for Ted Cruz. Hillary Clinton ran against Barrack Obama, then worked for him as Secretary of State. And in 1980, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush fought it out until Reagan won the nomination. Rather than walk away mad, Bush took back most of what he said about Reagan's "voodoo economics," and became his Vice President.

It even happens in the world of celebrity endorsements. Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan first appeared in multiple Coca Cola ads in India, but then endorsed Mountain Dew, a PepsiCo product. Nigerian actor and comedian Hafeez Ayetoro promoted mobile phone provider Etisalat in his home country, then was lured away to push calls by rival MTN. And tennis superstar Andre Agassi switched to Adidas in 2005 after a 17-year-long association with Nike.

Then there's Paul Marcarelli. A journeyman actor, he was a founding member of New York's Mobius Group Productions, and has performed in works by Eric Bogosian, Warren Leight, and Richard Nelson. He has appeared in commercials, as well as done voiceovers and acted in industrial films. He has even won awards for both acting and producing at the New York International Fringe Festival. Yet he is known less for all of that than for the 5 words he said over and over and over from 2002 to 2011: "Can you hear me now?" That's right: Marcarelli was the Network Test Guy in those ubiquitous Verzion Wireless commercials.

Up there with the Madge the Palmolive dishwashing liquid lady and the Maytag repairman, the Network Test Guy was one of those advertising Hall of Fame creations that, well, just worked. But even legends come to an end. After nine years, Verizon moved onto other campaigns, and Marcarelli was out of a job. That said, he wasn't too broken up. He told The Hollywood reporter, "Don't feel bad for me; I'm definitely glad that chapter is over. Most people my age are now trying to trade in their street cred for money, and I kind of made my money."

He continued as an actor and producer, doing film, TV and stage work. But then the folks from Sprint had an idea. And so this past week a new spot debuted. In it, Marcarelli plays in essence the same character. It's just that his pitch is different. "I used to ask if you 'can hear me now' with Verizon," he says. "Not anymore. I'm with Sprint now, because guess what? It's 2016 and every network is great." He goes on to talk about how Sprint's reliability and other carriers are similar, but their rates are much lower. They then twist the tag line just a bit: "Can you hear that?"

Only time and the market will tell if Switch Man has the same success as ancestral Test Man. If so, his old employer should consider the case of Roger Federer. He endorsed Rolex timepieces, switched to rival Maurice Lacroix, then back to Rolex. True, Lacroix was paid a hefty breakup fee, as Roger's contract was still in effect. But for Rolex, it was money well spent. Could Verizon entice Marcarelli back? Maybe. Then again, you know how hard it can be to break cell phone contracts.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has had Verizon phones for years. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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