HTC Hopes Robert Downey Jr. — And Some Internet-Friendly Humour — Can Drink Samsung’s Milkshake

Right now mobile maker HTC has a brand name that stands for ‘Has To Change’. So it’s hoping a circa $1 billion marketing campaign — starring actor Robert Downey Jr., of Ironman fame — plus an injection of Internet-friendly humour is the special sauce needed to lure consumers away from Android kingpin, Samsung.

HTC has just released a teaser (above) of its new ‘Here’s To Change’ campaign which will kick off on August 15, initially on YouTube, followed by cinema and TV spots. The initial focus will be on making noise about HTC’s brand itself, rather than trying to flog specific handsets, by playing around with what its brand name stands for — the teaser’s “Humongous Tinfoil Catamaran”, will be followed up by the likes of  “Hipster Troll Carwash” and “Hold This Cat”, according to Engadget. It’s almost as if HTC wants 4Chan to get involved.

It’s been a torrid year for the 17-year mobile industry veteran. Despite garnering plaudits for its flagship HTC One smartphone, HTC has been battling an ongoing decline in revenue and sliding profits. Late last month it issued guidance that it’s expecting a loss in the coming quarter so it’s clearly going to get worse before it can get better. If indeed a turnaround is possible when you’ve fallen into these sort of revenue doldrums. Still, HTC isn’t throwing in the towel — publicly at least it’s stepping up its game with this much-needed marketing rethink.

HTC’s CMO Ben Ho, newly in post at the start of this year and just one of many senior-level exec changes at the company in 2013, said the idea is to get consumers talking about the brand. Which is a sea-change from its previous marketing modus operandi, in which HTC cast itself as the smartphone industry’s wallflower — with its “Quietly brilliant” slogan. By contrast Samsung went around willy-waving gigantic phablets and taking bites out of Apple fans — a much noisier (and far-better funded) marketing strategy that clearly delivered the goods.

After sending up its own acronym, the second phase of HTC’s new model marketing campaign — assuming, of course, it manages to go the distance, being as the campaign is slated to run for two to three years (which is a heck of a long time in mobile) — will apparently move on to showcasing specific HTC software features such as its Flipboard-esque BlinkFeed homescreen. The final phase will yell about how HTC products give owners an edge. RDJ has apparently been signed by HTC for two years, says Engadget, and the contract includes him having creative input, as well as appearing in the ads.

Can Robert Downey Jr. drink Samsung’s milkshake? Not a chance. Samsung’s multi-billion-dollar marketing budget dwarfs HTC’s spending, meaning it can buy up more shelf space in carriers’ phone stores to push more of its product into consumers’ hands (it has a lot more product to sell too, with a huge portfolio of devices servicing every price-point vs the few devices HTC has had to fall back on focusing on). But RDJ might at least be able to siphon off enough (cult) interest for HTC to sustain its business. Let’s hope so. The Android ecosystem is far richer for having HTC in it.