How Ryan Reynolds-owned Mint Mobile's popularity is soaring on its irreverent and non-traditional marketing stunts

  • DTC mobile carrier Mint Mobile has grown revenue rapidly in part thanks to its irreverent marketing.
  • The Ryan Reynolds-owned carrier has used tactics like voicemails and holiday cards.
  • The company claims its strategy has helped boost revenue 50,000% over the past three years.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

This month, as T-Mobile and Verizon prepped Super Bowl ads, low-cost phone carrier Mint Mobile ran a $130,000 print ad for the second year in a row, saying it would rather spend the money to benefit its customers.

The stunt exemplifies the nontraditional marketing that the carrier has used to take on the telecom giants — helping the 4-year-old company grow its revenue 50,000% over the past three years, CMO Aron North told Insider.

“We’ve always been a bit of an outlaw when it comes to our marketing, and our tone has only become sharper over time,” said North. “We will never have a giant TV budget to talk about our network — we do things that tell our story in a smaller, smarter, more strategic way.”

Mint Mobile has leaned on self-deprecating humor and Ryan Reynolds to drive its marketing

Mint Mobile provides its services using T-Mobile’s wireless network infrastructure and is part of what have come to be known as mobile virtual network operators. The model lets Mint Mobile cut infrastructure costs and offer plans at $15 a month compared to plans from giant carriers that start at around $50 a month.

Its ad campaigns have leaned on dry, self-deprecating humor, irreverent messaging, and non-traditional channels to promote itself as more affordable than other carriers.

They’ve also often featured actor Ryan Reynolds, who purchased an ownership stake in the company in 2019 and serves as its de facto spokesperson. Reynolds has also pitched his other brands including Aviation Gin, which was sold to Diageo in 2020.

After the pandemic began in March 2020, the company told customers it was giving them unlimited data by having Reynolds leave voicemails for subscribers. In May 2020, Reynolds touted the benefits of being a subscriber through a PowerPoint deck that used cheesy stock images, a puppy, and even a video of his mother. It has also used direct mail to send personalized holiday cards to all its subscribers.

“As early entrants selling wireless online direct-to-consumer, we’ve had to pioneer these new media vehicles and acquisition tactics,” said North, adding that the company had focused primarily on building brand awareness until recently. “I don’t think people are taking enough risks in their media plans.” 

As Mint tries to increase signups, it’s started taking more frequent light-hearted jabs at its competitors. 

In July 2020, it poked fun at sport stadium sponsorships of other carriers, implying that it was able to keep its plan priced at $15 because it didn’t have such expensive sponsorship commitments. And Reynolds warned people about other carriers trying to lure them into expensive contracts with the line, “At Mint Mobile, we don’t hate you” in a recent holiday campaign.

“We’re really trying to get people to challenge their conventional thinking and consider us,” said North. 

Mint’s revenue has grown over the years

The approach seems to have worked so far. In addition to revenue growing, its subscribers have been doubling year-over-year, North said, without sharing specifics.

Traffic to its site, which is a pathway to sales since it’s a DTC brand, grew 50% year over year to 3.13 million in January, according to SimilarWeb. 

“People have a lot less trust in big institutions than they did before, and traditional marketing is being upended by all DTC brands, and this is another example of that,” said Alice Sylvester, partner at ad measurement and attribution firm Sequent Partners. “It’s a smart strategy to be irreverent and edgy because it’s the only way to stand out among the big telecom companies that spend billions of dollars on their marketing.”

Mint rolled out an unlimited plan last year priced at $30 a month, and plans to expand into Canada.

Even so, it remains small compared to T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, and competition is heating up with newer players like Visible gaining traction. The telecom giants also have significantly larger ad budgets, and spent a combined $1.06 billion on marketing while Mint Mobile spent $9.7 million in the first three quarters of 2020, per Kantar.

Putting Reynolds at the center of Mint Mobile is risky, said Chris Beresford-Hill, chief creative officer at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York.

“It’s a huge advantage as long as they’re using Ryan Reynolds to set up and distinguish their brand voice, which can stand on its own at some point,” he said. “But they have to be really smart about it, and make sure they’re not ‘the Ryan Reynolds brand,’ but a brand that Ryan Reynolds is amplifying.”

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