When we first met the ethereal, porcelain-skinned star of the Palm Pre campaign from Modernista! in late May, she was climbing up a boulder in bare feet and a champagne silk dress, controlling a legion of orange-clad dancers with the movements of her fingers on her smart phone. As the dancers created a giant sphere around her, she explained that her phone helps her unite her different lives. "Isn't it beautiful when life simply flows together?" she asked.
The next time we see her she's talking about past lives, juggling and déjà vu. In another spot she tells viewers that she feels her phone can read her mind. She relates the story of how a man once asked her, "Does it know you're crazy?" "Well of course it does, sir," she says she responded. "It's mine."
The actress, Tamara Hope, is an eccentric presence in an otherworldly campaign, which is why some are wondering if the decision to introduce the highly anticipated Pre with such unusual creative is as crazy as the character she plays.
Criticism has ranged from the unsettling nature of Hope's placid delivery to the fact that the 60-second introductory commercial (all spots were directed by Tarsem) said little about the Pre's features. The most common word used to describe Hope -- in everything from press articles and blogs to YouTube spoofs that give her delivery a demonic edge -- is "creepy."
"I certainly don't enjoy watching them," says Robert Birge, CMO of Kayak and the former managing director of TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, where he ran the Nextel and then Sprint accounts. "And the messaging is questionable." The real problem, he adds, is that the ads seem to build brand awareness not for the Pre, but for PDA devices in general.
Michelle Farrell Emerson, vp of marketing at Assessment Technologies Institute and former vp of brand marketing, media and digital marketing at Sprint, says, "The first spot nicely combined a strategic thought with visual wow and breakthrough potential." But the subsequent ads? Not so much. "They lost me," she says. "I'm not a believer that you have to show people the functionality of the phone for 30 seconds, but the masses are buying the iPhone. You need to show [why the Pre's] great."
For a product designed to challenge Apple's popular smart phone, the advertising is surprisingly gentle in its messaging, say some advertising execs who have worked in the category. The strong visual look pays homage to the design, says one agency cd, but overall the campaign "feels a little tone-deaf and self-indulgent." Metaphors, says another, may not have been the best way to go, and do little to help it stand out in a market that will only intensify.
For Birge, the Sprint ad that features the Pre in its "Now" campaign (Sprint is Palm's exclusive carrier) does a better job explaining the Pre's benefits. Created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, it shows a man with the phone while a voiceover explains he's "running multiple applications at the same time," a potent operating system advantage that the Pre has over the current iPhone. As for the Palm ads, "they almost tell me nothing," he says.
Both Palm and Modernista! declined to discuss the work. A Sprint rep says the company is "pleased with the response from our customers ... and we continue to see strong sales."
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