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Nokia Marks North American Return With Lumia 900 Campaign

Effort debuts with TV ad starring Chris Parnell

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You remember Nokia, playing Snake on a chubby black-and-white antennae phone. Back then you never saw touchscreens, Angry Birds or Siri coming. Neither did Nokia.

During the early aughts, the Finnish manufacturer achieved near ubiquity in the U.S. cellphone market, but now it doesn’t even rank among comScore’s Top 5 mobile manufacturers. For an indication of how far Nokia’s fallen, fifth-ranking HTC only claims 6.3 percent market share, per comScore.

The company officially released its Lumia 900 smartphone for AT&T subscribers yesterday, but Nokia’s head of North American marketing Valerie Buckingham said the corresponding campaign is as much a brand revival as a product promotion. “We’re not a new entrant,” she said. “We’re definitely kind of coming from behind, and we’re a challenger brand absolutely right now … but we’re a heritage brand.”

Despite that heritage, Nokia isn’t tugging on nostalgia with the Lumia 900 campaign—nor should it. “What we’ve seen in our data is that the brand of the phone is becoming less important than the operating system in consumers’ minds,” said Forrester senior analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.

Between last year’s news that Microsoft’s Windows Phone would become the principal software running on Nokia devices and the campaign strategy surrounding yesterday’s release of Nokia’s flagship Lumia 900 smartphone, the Finnish company seems to recognize that new dynamic in the marketplace.

“We really spent a lot time thinking not just about how do we launch a really fantastic smartphone … but in many respects, how are we thinking about Nokia’s relaunch in North America with our partnership with Microsoft and Windows Phone,” said Buckingham.

The Lumia 900 campaign officially kicked off last night with a 60-second TV spot starring Saturday Night Live alum Chris Parnell. In the ad titled “Anthem,” Parnell declares that the smartphone beta test is over. “If you used a smartphone in the past five years, you were a secret product tester in the greatest social experiment ever undertaken,” the actor says before revealing the Lumia 900 as the result of that experiment.

According to Buckingham, the campaign is Nokia’s “Where’s the beef?” moment—the idea being that consumers are frustrated with current smartphone offerings, so Nokia is offering the Lumia 900 as an alternative to the entire category.

The “Anthem” spot will air over the next two months as will a handful of other 30-second spots focused on product features such as hardware design, the phone’s camera and Windows Phone’s live tiles user interface. Nokia is also placing ads on bus shelters in key AT&T markets such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and Los Angeles.

As alluded to in the Parnell-starring spot, Nokia is centering the campaign’s online presence around the concept of a smartphone beta test. Prior to the TV campaign, Nokia even rolled out smartphonebetatest.com, an unbranded site which features short video spots intended to go viral. One spot jabs Apple by revisiting the “death grip” controversy that broke in 2010 when the iPhone was released, only for Consumer Reports to find that holding it in a certain way killed cellular reception. Post-launch the site will focus on product features with an eye toward leading visitors down the purchase path.

Nokia is working with its lead creative agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners on the campaign, with Wunderman doing digital and Carat handling media.