iLove you, iLove you not

Let me say up front that I am torn, like Natalie Imbruglia but without the naked floor writhing, by the new Verizon campaign for the Droid. Which is a phone that has long been sold exclusively to the moisture farmers of Tatooine. The campaign, which is meant to launch Motorola's latest handset, directly attacks Apple's iPhone. (The ads never actually use the word "iPhone," but you'd have to be a couple demographics north of the target market to miss the allusion.) Basically, Verizon is calling the iPhone a steaming pile of iJacksquat.

On the plus side, I like that Verizon is directly picking a fight with a competitor. Doing so goes against the current ad industry ethos of avoiding any hint of "negative advertising." Now, to normal people, a good example of negative advertising would be a political ad in which one candidate calls the other out for having been rejected by NAMBLA on the grounds of being "too dang creepy." But inside the ad world in which I toil daily, a negative ad is one that uses any non-positive word. Like "can't," "won't," "don't" or "shouldn't." This is why straightforward lines like "I don't have herpes anymore" become "I am a herpes survivor." Because clients think the word "don't" will subconsciously imply that their stanky ointment actually didn't get rid of the warts and turn off the consumer. Yes, dear client, it's the word "don't" that will turn off viewers, not the discussion of netherworldian lesions. I beg thy forgiveness.

So, kudos to Verizon for showing a bit of intestinal fortitude. Too bad the ads blow.

Yes, for all their bravado and derring-do, the Droid ads aren't very compelling. The points they chose to attack are fairly lame, and the ads' executions feel forced—like the Can You Hear Me Now guy is trying to be cool by swapping his jumpsuit for some Snorg tees. He might be able to put the shirt on, but he doesn't really rock that Q*Bert design.

First, let's take a look at a TV spot. Much of Verizon's print work mimics this spot, so we'll toss that into the discussion, too. Here you go:

I count five things wrong with this ad. Perhaps you'll find more.

1. It's in 4:3 and not 16:9. Given that every single shot is center-cut safe (meaning you could crop off the sides and not miss anything of importance), perhaps Verizon—a technology-based communications company—should've opted for an aspect ratio that wasn't approved when Eisenhower was in office.

2. iDon't like the iConvention. Apple wasn't the first company to stick an "i" in front a product to make it feel all teched out and internetty. But it was the company's iMac that made the naming scheme ubiquitous back in 1998. Eleven years later, we're still suffering the effects of iWhiplash. While using "iDon't" instantly communicates "hey, we're talking about the iPhone over here," it also says "this was the first thing we thought of and went with it."

3. Poor imitation is the sincerest form of CYA. If this ad were a parody on a Belushi-era SNL, well it wouldn't be nearly as funny as the little powdered donuts spot. Also, it could've directly ripped off Apple's look, e.g., fonts, music, etc. But since this is an ad, any such overt borrowing would be grounds for a lawsuit, and probably wouldn't get past the networks anyway (yes, you actually have to submit your spots to the networks for approval before they'll air them—it is not a hoot). So Verizon went with what looks a parody of what Microsoft would do if they tried to copy a Mac ad. Well, that's a bit harsh, since we all know that such a thing would yield results similar to this. It looks even worse in the print version, where you don't get the bonus of the reflective type or music. Oh wait, the music sounded more like Verizon was trying to lite rock us all afternoon long than the hep-for-a-moment-before-being-mainstream tracks Apple usually lays down. So if you're going to go after Apple and the iPhone, perhaps think of a more creative way of doing so.

4. When did this become a Halo ad? At the end of the spot, the vibe goes from all happy, fake-Apple sunlight to generic videogame Robotech grunge. I assume this is meant to tie with Motorola's own campaign for the phone, but it feels highly disconnected. And really, it's a phone. Unless it has a built-in BFG, chill out, yo.

5. Who's the target? The Tech Report's readers? Scan the list of what the spot says the iPhone doesn't do, and you may reasonably assume that Verizon is targeting the tech crowd and not the average phone user. No keyboard? Okay, some real folks care about that. No simultaneous apps? Yeah, that's still a bummer. But who wants a five-megapixel photo from a phone? And what does Verizon consider a widget, and how is it different from an app? The customization claim is iffy, and the ability to take photos in the dark sounds a touch creepy (Yay! Droid porn with C-3POMG!). And in a world of getting a new phone every two years, is the lack of an interchangeable battery really that important? I guess I'll find out if my 3GS goes dead in 18 months. Seriously, I have no problem with Verizon trying to point out the iPhone's flaws. It's just that they might've wanted to up the sexiness factor a bit for vast majority of folks out there who, let's be honest, just want something cool.

So, in the end I have to give a thumbs down to this campaign. Good initial strategy with a whole lot of poor follow-through.

But I mean that in the best, most positive way.



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