IDC: Do Windows Phone 7's teaser commercials tease too much, or not enough?

ramon llamas idcWith the launch of Windows Phone 7 smartphones coming up shortly, I've been keeping an eye out for some of the teaser advertisements. You've probably seen some of them here and here. In each of these, users are too busy with what is going on with their phones--texting, emailing, browsing the Internet--to be a part of what is actually taking place in front of them. A voice-over comes on towards the end, proclaiming that "we need a phone to save us from our phone" and the final words flashing on the screen read, "Be Here Now." These tie in nicely with Steve Ballmer's announcement on Oct. 11 that Windows Phone 7 allows users to "get in, get out, and get back into life."

As humorous as these ads are, they do point out a key trend in consumer behavior: Mobile phones, as great as they are for communication, entertainment, and information, have led to the ugly reality that many owners are bound by them. In the most extreme cases, mobile phone usage has taken precedence over common sense and civility. Know anybody who's texted during a meeting? Checked the fantasy football roster during a movie? Asked someone to wait while finishing an email? Yeah, me too. And I'm just as guilty.

Positioning WP7 as a solution

Microsoft's teaser advertisements have adopted a classic formula in advertising: point out a problem, and position the product as the solution better than anyone else's. The problems have been laid bare, and the solution, Microsoft would have viewers believe, is the new Windows Phone 7. But since this is a teaser, the solution need not be revealed already. Its mission, at least for now, is to stir curiosity and raise awareness.

Another way to think of Microsoft's ad campaign so far is to think of what it is not. Many would recall the short-lived Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld commercials that were supposed to promote Microsoft's plans around something big coming up. Ultimately, these commercials became shortened sitcoms with Gates and Seinfeld buying shoes and observing "real" families. Microsoft still aimed for the funny bone with the new WP7 teasers, but didn't let it become the only reason to watch. Instead, humor pointed out the problem of smartphone over-usage and reliance. In the same manner, consider how these WP7 teasers compare to advertisements for other smartphones in the midst of a major launch. When the Palm Pre and webOS were first launched in the middle of 2009 in the United States, it was accompanied by a commercial called "Flow" featuring orange-clad martial arts performers dancing about a woman exploring her new smartphone. Impressive? Yes. Did I understand how they connected with the Palm Pre or webOS? Not at all, as more time--and my attention--was focused on the performers instead of the device. In the case of the WP7 commercials, every frame is centered on the problem of smartphone overdependence.

What would a non-techie think of these WP7 teasers?

I showed these teaser commercials to several of my non-techie friends to see what they thought. Naturally, some found them humorous. All were quick to point out that someone they knew behaved exactly like the mobile phone offenders in the commercial. But two interesting reactions did come up:

First, what if someone wants to be immersed in his or her mobile phone? This came from someone who had gone through multiple smartphones over the years. His preference would not be to get in, get out, and get back to life, but instead spend time on his phone as he pleases. Why rush? He plays one gaming application after another, watches movies and video clips, fires up his smartphone browser to get the latest news and information, and exchanges texts, tweets, and messages relentlessly. "Isn't that what my carrier and [the company who made his mobile phone] want me to do?" he argued. In his defense, I should point out, he knows when to put his phone down, or better yet, shut it off. And he did have a point. Moreover, his usage justified his monthly bill and him buying more content, which should please his carrier and his smartphone platform of choice. For him, he did not want nor need to be saved from his mobile phone and did not want to be told otherwise.

Second, other people mentioned that the teasers pointed out the problem well, but by not presenting the solution, WP7 sets itself up for greater expectations of being the problem solver. It is one thing to point out problems; that is the easy task. But setting WP7 up to be better than all the smartphone platforms can be a daunting and risky task in the smartphone market, where comparisons are made easily and swiftly, and judgments are rendered either enthusiastically or harshly, with little middle ground to be had.

Waiting for WP7 to be here now

As a marketing approach, I like the idea of getting in, getting out, and getting back to my life. For WP7, that is clearly the philosophy. What I am hoping to see soon is how WP7 demonstrates itself to be the problem solver to smartphone over-usage and reliance. Having tested a WP7 device, it is easy to see how the new OS seeks to deliver a streamlined experience. But like most of you, I watch this through the lens of a smartphone market watcher. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft communicates its message to the masses, and how the message is accepted. 

Until Nov. 8, I'll be looking forward to WP7 to be here now.

Ramon Llamas is a senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team. In his role, Llamas tracks the quarterly results of the leading and emerging mobile device vendors, and uses the data to forecast the short-term and long-term direction of the mobile device market, and how it affects handset vendors, carriers and customers. He recently released his worldwide mobile phone and smartphone 2010 - 2014 forecasts, as well as a worldwide forecast of the mobile phone touchscreen market. In addition to being featured in FierceWireless, Llamas has been featured on Bloomberg Radio, National Public Radio, and quoted in Investor's Business Daily, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Llamas can be reached at [email protected].