We've mentioned a couple of times on this site that when it comes to the battle of HTC versus Samsung, advertising is of paramount importance. Why? Because people who don't read blogs with names like 'Gizmondo,' 'Android Cops,' or 'The Precipice' have no idea what makes the Galaxy S IV better than the HTC One or vice versa. In fact, more often than not, the average Joe looking to buy a new item in a field he has no expertise in has just one question: what's a good brand?
Marketing is the art of getting people to know and trust your brand. That brand is the bread and butter of any good company. "Galaxy" isn't just a designation or a model number. It's an identity. It's as important to a product line as self-expression is to a person. This is what separates a good product from a great one. Personality. After all, if we can connect emotionally with sharks, pencils, and Ben Affleck, why not our phones?
The One X failed to gain the commercial success that HTC has enjoyed in the past. In fact, the company's revenue has been dropping dramatically lately. Meanwhile, Samsung is gobbling up all the profits. Certainly there are a variety of factors at play, including but not limited to scale, distribution, and exclusivity deals, but marketing is one area that HTC has a distinct disadvantage. Not because it has to, but because the company seems to fundamentally misunderstand some basic concepts.
Let's take a look at some of them.
The Humor Connection: Fake Actors Vs. Fake Lines
You've probably seen the above video. It's Samsung's 'Next Big Thing' ad for the Galaxy S III. I say you've probably seen it not because you're reading Android Police and you're the target market for gadgets and nerdery, but because everyone has seen it. The video has over 17 million views on YouTube alone and has been broadcast on television ad nauseum.
Why has it been seen so many times? Because it's funny. Not Monty Python funny. Not even Dane Cook funny. More like Seth MacFarlane funny. It's just creative enough to appeal to everyone on a base level. Those who love really smart humor will find it kind of bland and cheesy, but will still laugh once or twice ('We've had [4G] for a while' is a pretty good line, I have to admit), but even your parents or tech-illiterate coworkers can get it.
More importantly than that, though, it's memorable. It has moments. Who doesn't remember when Hulk punched Thor out of frame? That is a moment. The ad above has those. The look on the guy's face when he sees them touch phones. The dude saving a spot for his parents. "The connector is all digital. What does that even mean?" These are the points that stick with you.
Now, let's take a look at a recent HTC ad:
Here we have sets featuring sets of actors acting like actors. Mildly amusing, I suppose. After all, who really likes fake ads with people pretending to enjoy phones? That's the basic premise behind this piece and, when you stop to think about it, you get it. HTC is trying to convey that even though this advertisement is a fabrication, the quality of the hardware is tangible.
Here's the problem, though: framing devices aren't moments. For comparison, the framing device for the Samsung ad is an Apple line. Even if they don't name it, that's what it is. However, the moments don't come from the setup. They come from the punch lines.
So, what are the moments of the HTC ad? What are the points we're supposed to take away? Well, reviews. It's certainly not the actors. They're okay at best. Nothing is really memorable. The closest thing to takeaway points are quotes from BGR and Engadget.
I've got an idea. Let's make a new rule for marketers everywhere: stop quoting reviews.
That's not just for gadgets. Movies should stop as well. When was the last time you decided to plunk down a huge chunk of change to go to the theater because "the critics are raving?" Was it never? I bet it was. And that's just for a two-hour commitment that costs $10 or so. Why would any reasonable consumer be swayed by a quote from someone they don't know at a site they've never heard of?
The Data Connection: A Crowd Vs. A Phenomenon
As a point of interest, that YouTube video of fake actors fawning over a phone has been viewed slightly more than forty thousand times. Compared to the 17 million for Samsung's Apple line parody ads. This huge gap is mirrored in the two companies' overall viewership on their mobile channels. The chart below compares the view counts of Samsung's most popular videos on its YouTube channel with HTC's. Sammy's top eighteen videos each have more views than HTC's most popular one.
Also, this just happens to be Samsung's global YouTube channel. When you look at SamsungMobileUSA, the picture isn't very different. While there are fewer individual videos here with more views than HTC's most popular clip, the volume of attention they've received is massive. This includes the Lebron James promotion and the Super Bowl ads.
When we talk about the vast gap between Samsung and HTC ads, these are the numbers you should keep in mind.
Here's another silly Samsung ad. Listen, I'll be one of the first people to make fun of this. It's so easy. This is a gift on a silver platter to people in the peanut gallery like me. That's unfair, though, because I'm not the typical consumer. Most people do not look that critically at ads. You know what most people watch when they see the above ad? A plot.
I know it's crazy, but there is an actual, honest-to-Google plot in this advertisement. It's a thin plot, sure. Very thin, and obviously designed to cash-in on our natural desire to find out "What happens next?" It doesn't matter if it's engaging or smart or clever or awesome. This ad has a clear point ("There's a new phone coming soon"), a clear main character (the Richie Rich knock-off), and a clear call to action (stay tuned!).
We have no idea what's coming next. Which is actually not true, we have quite a good idea. But from the ad's standpoint we don't. We have reasons to want to find out, though. We know what the Galaxy S III is. It's a great phone that sold tens of millions. Now they're making it better? Great! And what's this little girl doing? Are there some shenanigans to be had here? Let's watch, shall we?
Okay, so maybe the average consumer isn't using the word "shenanigans" in their head, but close.
Once again, though, let's compare to what HTC did to tease its upcoming device hardware:
This was an infographic posted here. This post is called 'A Brief History of Photography' and, if it weren't for someone connecting the dots themselves, no one would have realized this image was a teaser for a new HTC device. In fact, it's unlikely that most people cared all that much once they did discover that fact. Why?
We already know what's coming.
I hate to sound cruel. I really do because I love HTC. In fact, my Evo was the first phone I ever truly adored. I want so badly to want another HTC device. But it's my job to be honest: this is a horrible teaser. It's not just that it's buried in a boring infographic. It's that it's given away everything. Now we know what HTC is pushing: camera and sound. We've already seen Beats in everything they make, so we probably shouldn't expect much new there, and the camera will be better.
Both of those things are good, don't get me wrong. But people who don't care about audio or cameras can officially tune out now. Thanks for listening! Show's over folks! Is that really the kind of teaser you want? No! Of course not! You want something that will draw people in. Make them curious. This caught the attention of spec nerds and audiophiles. It does not catch the attention of anyone's mom, or a middle manager, or someone who spends all their time in a cubicle. These are people, too. They need to be part of the market.
The Demo Connection: People Vs. CGI Renders
Television ads are one thing. When you get to the web, though, you can get a lot more of people's time. This is a great chance to explore more of what a phone can do. Look at its features, explore the hardware, and really let people feel what the device would be like. The above Samsung video does this by spending some time on the CGI model to start with, then expands to families and how they will use it in their daily lives. What is the purpose of having this device?
Features aren't enough. This is the thing that HTC seems to forget. While Samsung creates some great software add-ons, like the ability to mute your phone by turning it over, those are secondary to the main point of having a phone: people. See if you can spot the difference in HTC's one minute intro to the One:
Can you see it? Do you notice the very large, tangible difference between this video and the Samsung one above? No one ever holds the phone. Ever. Not once. A solid sixty seconds for one of the first videos we would see introducing the flagship HTC One device and we never see a human being wrap their hands around that gorgeous aluminum body.
Maybe production wasn't finished when they made it. Maybe they had the thing under wraps and didn't want to let some commercial actors have access and potentially violate an NDA to send a photo to some blog with a name like 'Android Law Enforcement Officers.' However, it seems like a massive oversight.
These videos aren't the center pieces of all advertising. In fact, you can do both. It's possible to have a video like this that showcases the names of the new features and shows people using them. However, if you look back at HTC's record, the company just does not have a history of creating a very full campaign. When this is where you leave it (or worse: allow carriers to do your advertising for you), it's a setup for failure.
The Final Countdown: IV Vs. One
The HTC One is a good phone. At least as far as we can tell so far. There are some odd button placements, no removable battery, and Sense 5.0 still has some proving of itself to do. However, so far it's made a solid showing. Nothing that we've seen screams "Deer god, whatever you do, please don't buy this!" There are some things people might not like but, barring some catastrophic software failure, it's possible for the One to be a commercial success.
However, as we've stated before, HTC needs to step up its marketing game. This isn't new territory for the company. The manufacturer knows what it's like to have a hit on its hands. It may take more to impress people now than it did when the Evo first came out, but the template is still largely the same. Think about that HTC. Years later, the phones we crave the most are still strikingly similar to the Evo. Large-screened slabs with front-facing cameras, soft buttons, powerful rear shooters, and an emphasis on looking awesome. Sure the Evo was plastic, but it looked like a hot rod. You know how to come out of the gate swinging. You've got the hardware on your side.
Now get a team to put together some ads that tug at our emotions. It doesn't have to be a family camping in the backyard, but give it an identity. Make it memorable. Don't quote reviewers because no one cares. They read those to get information, not to fall in love. Your job is to make us feel like the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous (or handsome) woman (or man) just walked in. They smile at us from across the room and start to walk over. Our hearts flutter. They reach us, wrap their arms around our waist and say "I'm the HTC One, and I want to spend the next two years of my life with you." At that moment we need to melt.
Or go for a more family-friendly approach. We're sitting on the TV with the wife and kids. 'Who's the actor in that thing we're watching?' someone says into Google Now. The answer pops up right away. Cut to the family playing outside. Take some Zoes (or whatever) and show the smiling, happy people. Put the phone in their hands. Make them feel (and us as well), like the HTC One is part of the family.
Heck, you could even go real bold and try some antagonistic ads. Everyone needs a cause, right? Make yourself a rebel. We don't go for hardware made of thin plastic. This is a precious item. We make it out of sturdy aluminum. A year or two from now, it will still look great. Made to last. You have some of the nicest, most durable hardware on the planet, something you have in common with Apple, and that's a major criticism of Samsung. It boggles the mind that this isn't the first and last thing ever said in every HTC ad.
Look at your phones, HTC. Find the best parts about them. Most of those things will not be the brand new feature you just invented and named. Then showcase those parts in people's hands. Make several videos like that and put them everywhere. You may not have the money that Samsung has, but you can save some cash by getting the film crew off the Rihanna bus and back to real work.