Not that long ago, the manufacturer of your phone had very little to say. They made things, and your carrier marketed and sold them to you. They were the fountain from which all knowledge flowed; they were the one’s buying the Super Bowl ads. Now Samsung is planning a big ad buy for the game to promote the AT&T-bound Galaxy Note, and last year Motorola showed off its neo-1984 spot for the Xoom.
Now that handset makers are coming to the forefront to combat Apple, let’s look at how they are doing. Will Samsung, Motorola, and the rest convince anyone with these TV spots, and who are they talking to, anyway?
Mocking the other guy
Look at the Motorola Xoom ad last year and Samsung’s series of line-waiting adverts, and it’s pretty clear just who these companies are poking fun at: Apple and its associated line-waiting fanboys. Motorola portrays iOS folks as mindless automatons unaware of the awesomeness that is the Xoom. In hindsight, it’s a little less impactful considering how the Xoom did. Samsung meanwhile tries to make iPhone-users come off as misinformed and pretentious.
These ads aren’t going after those already using an iPhone; you don’t ridicule the one you love. These ads are designed to snare the user that has not yet bought an Apple device, and maybe not even an Android phone. People get emotional about these devices, and plenty of people have found that off-putting. By making a caricature out of iPhone users, Samsung and Motorola want to make them the bad guys in the debate, and no one wants to side with the bad buy.
These are not ads for a device so much as they are ads for a point of view. People that already have a low opinion of the Apple way of doing things very well may agree with the tone of the ads, and will get a laugh out of it. But it also comes off as a little bit of a low-blow. Does that bother Apple with its mountain of hundred-dollar bills? Probably not, but the users might be a little offended.
Warm and fuzzy
HTC loves you. You are a unique and beautiful snowflake, and HTC just wants to be a part of your life. That’s really the core of HTC’s “Quietly Brilliant” ads from recent years. These are commercial spots written to tug at your heartstrings, and make you get all teary at the prospect of buying a new smartphone on a two-year contract from that kiosk in the mall. Yeah, we know... there’s something in our eyes too.
Unlike Motorola and Samsung, HTC was an unknown name to most consumer until a few years ago. Sure, many people had used an HTC-built device, but they were almost never branded as such. Moto and Samsung have this almost flailing urgency in their ads. They’re valiantly punching up, trying to knock Apple off its pedestal. HTC just wants you to know they are there.
The strange thing is that the strategy has kind of worked. People know who HTC is, and many users are firmly entrenched in HTC’s Sense user experience. There are no speeds and feeds in HTC’s ads, and no focus on the competition. Just people doing fun things, and using HTC’s phones. It might not make people crave a Sensation, but HTC gets to stay above the fray.
What’s wrong here?
Quite a few of these ads might be fun to watch, they might even get some hits online, but they don’t represent the product particularly well. Apple makes people want the iPhone in part because they show you how it works. The in-store displays are part of that, but the ads are big too. The commercials being aired by Android manufacturers never show the devices doing things.
Take the 1 minute long Motorola Xoom ad from last year, for example. In that minute of video, there are roughly 10 seconds of actual tablet use shown to the viewer, and it’s chopped up throughout the commercial. You can’t get a feel for what a device does or why you’d want it in that time. The ad might be eye-catching, but did most people even know what it was an ad for?
Samsung falls into the same trap by spending the entire time making up pretentious things for Apple fans to say. Again, it might be good for laugh, but the phone is on camera for precious few seconds. We have not seen the version of the ad that is going to air this weekend, but from the teaser, it looks like a clone of the last ad for the Galaxy S II. If it’s more of the same, it will be a missed opportunity for Samsung.
An Android phone ad might be eye-catching, but did most people even know what it was an ad for if the device was only shown for 10 seconds?
HTC tends to show small snippets of its devices doing things, and that’s a good thing. But there are also a lot of smiley, happy people getting all up in the camera when all we really want to see is that phone they’re holding. HTC often displays a “You” banner at the end of its ads, and that’s been a central theme for the company.
Most of the phone-specific ads we see today are made by the carriers. That shouldn’t be surprising, though. The carriers usually have a warehouse full of devices that they bought up front, and intend to sell through as fast as possible. Carrier ads often pick a feature, and flaunt it. Verizon likes to talk up 4G speeds, and maybe the Beats audio on the Rezound, for example. The carrier’s ads can go off the rails too, though, when they focus on scary exploding robots and such.
OEMs taking come control of their brand is not a bad idea, but they aren’t selling ideas; they sell phones. The phones should be the star of the show like Apple has already learned. A manufacturer should not be relying on salespeople in stores to move devices. They might just as easily talk a user out of a particular phone as into one. Show a consumer features that they like, and they can go to the store to buy that phone based on what they already know about it.