The earnings announcement for Verizon Wireless impressed many because it rose almost 30 percent from last year, which in today’s economy is something to crow about. What’s wrong-headed, though, are those attributing its success to its ad campaign, which is about visually demonstrating all the “people” behind the network.

The “Dead Zone” and “Can you hear me now?” campaigns that may have increased awareness, but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t increase preference. (Verizon is running neck-and-neck with AT&T, and its iPhone exclusivity, as top dog. Although that exclusivity is about to end with an agreement between Apple and Verizon looming.)

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It simply amazes me that any wireless provider could differentiate itself by claiming ownership of table stakes like “network reliability” and “more bars in more places.” (The latter might work for a resort area, though.) When is the last time you had trouble with a cell phone connection? That may have been a problem years ago, but network reliability is now something everyone has. Few prefer Verizon for that reason.

Most of the company’s success has come through acquisition (think Alltel) and consolidation. Customers feel more handcuffed by their cell provider than are in love with them. Verizon’s competitors should take notice. There is opportunity in them thar hills to create preference when only table stakes are being marketing – even to those rare few in those increasingly hard-to-find “dead zones.”