HTC hires 'Iron Man' star Robert Downey Jr. to help revive brand

HTC confirmed that actor Robert Downey Jr., star of the "Iron Man" and "Sherlock Holmes" film series, will be the spokesperson for a new advertising campaign aimed at restoring luster to the struggling company's brand.

The partnership will revolve around what HTC is calling the "Change brand platform" which it calls "a long-term strategy that celebrates HTC's disruptive impact on the mobile industry over its 17-year history." The campaign will kick off with an ad on YouTube on Aug. 15, which will be immediately followed by a series of TV ads and ads before movies.

Downey Jr. signed a two-year deal with HTC, and in addition to starring in the ads, he has been working closely with HTC's global agency 171 Worldwide (WWP Group) to shape the campaign. News of the partnership was first reported in June by Bloomberg, which citing unnamed sources, said Downey Jr. would be paid $12 million for the deal.

HTC said the campaign will have three phases, with the initial advertising campaign highlighting HTC's brand "with a playful take on what it means to different people." It appears that means Downey Jr. will be suggesting things like "hipster troll carwash," "hold this cat" and "humongous tinfoil catamaran." The second phase will feature ads highlighting HTC features, such as its BlinkFeed news and social reader and BoomSound audio. The third phase will then focus on HTC's products themselves. 

It's unclear how much HTC is spending on the new campaign. HTC CMO Benjamin Ho told Forbes that the company's $1 billion marketing budget was largely gone by the third quarter of 2012. This year, he said, the budget is the same but only $454 million has been spent, leaving the company with money to spend on marketing for the holiday season.

HTC has not said how much it is spending on the Downey campaign, which it is calling its "most ambitious campaign to date."

Smartphone companies have a spotty track record when it comes to using celebrity endorsers. Early this year BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) hired musical artist Alicia Keys to be its "creative director" and help promote the BlackBerry brand, but thus far that effort has not generated much positive sales momentum for the BlackBerry 10 platform.

HTC warned recently that it could post an operating loss for the third quarter, which would be its first since it became a public company in 2002. The smartphone maker also said it will release more mid-tier products to help improve its business.

Meanwhile, images and renders continue to leak online of the purported HTC One Max, the rumored phablet variant of the company's flagship One smartphone. Various reports have said the gadget will have a 5.9-inch screen, larger battery and a 2.3 GHz Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 800 processor. The device is rumored to debut in September.

HTC recently introduced the One mini, a smaller version of its flagship One smartphone, which the company hopes will help extend the One brand by reaching a wider range of consumers. HTC has said the One mini will be available in "select markets" starting in August and rolled out globally in September, but the company did not reveal pricing, specific availability or which U.S. carriers will offer the One mini.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Forbes article
- see this WSJ blog post (sub. req.)
- see this The Verge article

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