Pre Philosophy: Why are Palm's ads the way they are?

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.
-John Wanamaker

Advertising and branding are very complicated and very unpredictable fields, and success can be measured according to any number of metrics. Modernista, the ad agency behind the soft-talking-lady ads that only occasionally seem to be talking about phones, seem to be measuring success based on attention. Of course, the attention is almost entirely negative, but that doesn’t faze them.

In an article in Ad Age, Executive Creative Director at Modernista, Gary Koepke, discusses the oft-maligned “Ms. Hope” spots.

The Pre is probably being talked about more than other phones right now because of the marketing and advertising, and that’s a good thing. Could the ads work harder to show exactly how the phone works? Yes, but we knew it would be polarizing people to have a woman not shout at them and tell an interesting story.

“Polarizing” is industry-standard code for “universally mocked,” in case you’re confused.

There’s nobody involved in an iPhone ad, and ‘Your life is on BlackBerry’ — isn’t that great? Instead of having a life? We wanted a middle ground between those two places — what about the people who want a really great smartphone?

Yes, what about those people? I would submit that the first step towards good advertising is knowing your audience. An advertiser must ask first of all, who is the product for and who is the ad for. Is this an ad for women, for men, is it for experts, for novices? In this case, it’s for experts, since he says it’s about people who want a great smartphone. They’re not aiming at the feature-phone set, they’re aiming at established users of smartphones.

Now that that’s established, what is the strategy of the ad? Are you trying to explain? Convert? Attack? Do you want to be direct or indirect? Sell it whole or piecemeal? For Palm, it has to be conversion, because as they’ve always said, this is about taking smartphone users from other platforms (they’ll likely target Eos ads at newer and upgrading users). Let’s see what they came up with.


Okay… so the target is expert smartphone users and the object is conversion, that much was evident from Palm’s strategy and Koepke’s statement. Then why the devil is their ad a soft-spoken lady telling parables about jugglers in the park?

I can only imagine that Modernista felt that Palm’s whole new approach to the smartphone OS required a more meta approach to advertising. But meta-advertising and oblique advertising have a bad reputation for a reason (Welcome to the social, anyone?) — if your meta-idea is difficult to process, your supposedly insidious advertisement gets knocked out of the target brain by the next shiny object that appears on screen.

Welcome to the viral failure

Welcome to the viral failure

I’m not a director of creative whatever, but as a consumer and writer I’m a special kind of expert on advertising: I know when it’s working on me. And simple observation of the internets after each ad hits reveals that it’s not working on anybody who sees one and can write about it. This wouldn’t be a problem (dumb, weird ads have succeeded before) — except I and people like me, the ones most impervious to this kind of advertisement, are the target audience.

The ads may have been effective if they were promoting something else, I can’t think of what — lotion, maybe, or a really nice oven. Actually, anything with a signal feature that makes it okay to have the majority of a 30-second spot be some lady’s opium-addled face, and only a tiny bit be the product itself (“Woah! Did you see that crazy oven?”). That’s cognitive contrast, and that’s okay if the essence of your product can be gotten across in a moment. Car companies get away with nonsense ads because they show a car. Fragrance ads get away with them because one ad is as good as another when you can’t smell the product. But in Palm’s case, nothing is shown that leads to any comprehension. Just bafflement — and not the kind of bafflement that makes you google things.

This discussion could go on and on, of course, into different theories of this and that, but I think that the smartphone-using set has definitively rejected these ads. They simply don’t work, because the most compelling aspect of Palm’s proposition (the damn phone) is de-emphasized almost to non-existence. And despite the smooth nature of the spots, they don’t fail gracefully.

[via Giz and BGR]