As the old saying goes, nothing in life is free. Unless, apparently, you're unemployed.
Virgin Mobile on Thursday announced a Pink Slip Protection plan that waives as many as three months of wireless phone charges if a customer is laid off. It follows similar protection plans from Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co.
"The economy affects everybody, and it certainly affects our customers," said Jayne Wallace, spokeswoman for Virgin Mobile USA. "And our customers have said they've been changing their usage because money is tight."
Many companies have been taking the economy into account with their advertising messages by telling consumers they feel their pain.
Hyundai started offering lower risk to worried consumers in January. The Hyundai Assurance plan gives customers the option to return a vehicle if they are laid off within a year of financing or leasing it. GM and Ford announced similar programs this month -- but those carmakers will pick up an owner's payments.
GM's Total Confidence plan will make as many as nine car payments of as much as $500 each for car buyers in the event they are laid off within two years. Ford Advantage will pay up to $700 a month for a year.
Virgin Mobile will pay as much as $90 a month for three months. The tiny print: It's only for monthly plans without annual contracts; you must be employed to enroll; and you must be on a monthly plan for at least two months before claiming benefits.
The wireless carrier is offering the Pink Slip plan in part because unemployment issues tend to affect its prepaid base more than its customers on annual plans, Wallace said.
"Because the majority of our customers have income of $50,000 and less, they start feeling the pain early," she said.
Virgin Mobile also rolled out an unlimited text and messaging plan for $19.99. Customers can purchase that plan and pay 10 cents a minute for additional voice calls, which Wallace said highlighted the increased dependence on text messaging.
Payments of $90 a month are not as significant as the hundreds of dollars a month the car companies might waive for people who get laid off, said Justin Manfredi, director of client services at Door Agency, a Los Angeles advertising firm. But the message Virgin Mobile is sending will resonate with consumers, said Manfredi, who has worked with the GM and Saturn brands.
"Consumers are in fear of losing a job in this economy," he said. "Anything a brand or company can do to say, 'We understand what you're going through and we're here to help you' is good."