When Art Imitates Life

I don’t write about advertising all that much, but I wanted to share about a brilliant, moving, touching, and ultimately realistic ad campaign that HTC is running about their new phone. The male narrator’s voice might be droll or unenthusiastic in any other setting, but it seems to fit just right amidst the driving yet unobtrusive background music and highly personal visual imagery. This ad is showing life, not as marketing people might see it, but as its target – “you” and I – see it.

Good ads sell the product, great ads sell the lifestyle. HTC’s ads blend the product and the lifestyle seamlessly, in a more emotionally appealing way than Apple’s direct, plain-spoken method.
Good ads help you visualize someone using the product, great ads help you see yourself using the product.
Good ads deliver the goods, great ads make the goods sell out.

Nowhere does HTC even tell us one shred of technical information about their phone. Does it have wireless internet (wifi)? What networks will it be available on, and in which region? How is its battery life? Can it play movies, music, and games? Does it have an application store?

For one minute, my mind didn’t even ask any of these benchmarking questions. The actors- actors – in the HTC ad shared a moment with me, pregnant with possibilities, because I was experiencing vignettes of their lives with them. And oh yeah, this is an ad about a phone. Amazingly, my technophile mind ceased its endless inquiry and my cynical “let’s not expect too much” attitude was halted; in their places was a human being who was captivated by the humanity of the ad.

HTC seems serious about its motto for the HTC Sense: “Make it mine. Stay close. Discover the unexpected.” HTC is marketing the user as the center of the experience, and thereby pursues a line of thinking in which technology serves the user, and not the other way around. Perhaps HTC is trying to make a device which minimizes the prominence of the technology separating the people communicating, and instead serves the purpose of communication more directly, bringing those individuals closer together. Not only that, but the location awareness of the Sense means the device keeps pace with its owner, without the owner having to have a second thought. When traveling to a new time zone, the clock automatically displays the local time, displays the weather forecast, and automatically ensures all appointment times are corrected to account for the time zone change (if any). Wow. That’s smart, practical, and another one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” functionalities.

Furthermore, HTC’s strategy of going to great lengths to personalize the phone through the use of “scenes” is one of those “Why didn’t Apple/Microsoft/Sony/Samsung think of this before?” “Scenes” are essentially profiles which are user-driven customizable environments for distinguishing between the different environments in which human beings live: work, play, and everything in between,

This is shrewd thinking, since HTC is not trying to compete with the numerous apps on the iPhone’s App Store. Rather, it focuses on “less is more” and implicitly asking, “Seriously, do you really need that many apps?” Funny question, because while I have more than 50 apps on my iPhone, at the end of the day I can sincerely say I have not used the majority of them more than 10 times since installing them.

I think the iPhone apps I use the most are: Phone (ok, not really an app, but I thought it does have an icon!), Contacts (see previous answer), Pocket Informant (slower than I’d like but essential for task management and calendaring), Notes (for writing down song lyrics as they come to me), Voice Memo (for song ideas and remembering where I parked), Mail, Safari, Bible, Facebook, TweetDeck, Pandora/Lastfm, and iPod (I don’t listen to music much on my phone since it drains the battery like crazy). As you can see, each app covers a different function, and there is no overlap. The other apps (like games, toys, etc.) are just icing on the cake.

Anyway, lest I sound way too disproportionately favorable to HTC in my heaping praise on a video filled with quick cuts and perfectly rendered people in perfectly captured environments, I daresay that this is not the most compelling ad I have ever seen. Far from it. However, when something unexpectedly compelling stops me in my tracks, I find it irresistible to keep quiet about it.

Watch it. And watch it again.

Here’s the technology presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kax24GN1458&feature=player_embedded

Critiques
– While I like the marketing director’s reference to people wearing different watches to express their individual tastes, I often wonder how apps which use iconic looks (like the Bell & Ross lookalike) can get away with what amounts to trademark infringement. Microsoft’s clock gadgets in Vista are vulnerable to the same critique.

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