My latest two-year AT&T contract is about to expire, and it’s time to consider a new phone while I’m eligible for a subsidized price. My original iPhone, purchased on the first day of the first year, after a six-hour wait in line, is the best
phone mobile device I’ve ever owned. I can’t call it the best phone, because the truth is that as a telephone, it’s terrible. Without a headset, callers are hard to hear – partly due to the hardware, partly due to AT&T’s network, and partly due to the shape of the phone, which is almost exactly the wrong shape for holding to one’s ear.
It’s amazing to think that, 79 years after Henry Dreyfuss painstakingly determined the ideal size and shape for a phone reciever, we have managed to completely forget every ergonomic principle in the design of our “modern” phones.
With a headset, at least, with my V-Moda headset, I can hear a little better, but anyone I speak to is treated to an annoying half-second delay echo of themseves. I’m often told to call back from a “better phone,” and no wonder.
I suppose it’s a testimony to just how unimportant voice calls have become that, despite my iPhone being all but useless as a telephone, I still consider it the best mobile device I’ve ever owned. I’ve had a Treo 650 (with the Palm OS), several Windows Mobile phones, and on the “mobile device but not a phone” front, I’ve had a Nokia N810, a Toshiba Pocket PC, several Palm Pilots, and a Sony Magic Link. All of them held my attention for various amounts of time, being alternately novel, fun, exciting, and even occasionally useful, but none ever became a regular companion during my day. Even the Palm Pilot, which was the closest any device ever came to being a reliable part of my daily routine, often spent days or even weeks in a drawer.
My iPhone, on the other hand, has joined the category of my keys and my wallet. It is always in my pocket, to the point that even stepping out the front door without it (and my keys & wallet) feels instantly strange, so that I stop and wonder what’s wrong, and go back to make sure I have it with me.
Still, after two years, there are newer and faster models on the market, with more features, and of course, with a new warranty and battery. I haven’t switched to the iPhone 3GS, partly because my original iPhone is fine, and partly because I dislike the new design, with its wider face and cheap plastic back. I’m a prime target for the spate of iPhone competitors that have come on to the market, such as the HTC Hero or the Palm Pre.
Palm knows this, or at least, they know people like me are out here, and their latest ad is aimed directly at me (or at least, at people like me).
It’s almost perfect. They realize that millions of people bought their iPhones around this time two years ago, and that all of us are facing the renewal decision.
Faced with a “new” iPhone model that is disappointingly similar to the last model (especially in the wake of all the rumors that preceded its unveiling), and looking at the significant increase in monthly charges from AT&T, many of us are vulnerable to a come-on from a sexy new model. The Pre is the strongest competition the iPhone has faced, and even the prospect of suffering under Sprint doesn’t seem so bad – after all, we’ve muddled by with creaky old AT&T all this time.
Now is the time to hit me with a positive message – a message of hope, revitalization, a better tomorrow. Show me that there’s a better phone I could be using – one with great voice quality, a wonderful user experience, and beautiful industrial design. Tempt me with the shiny new toy that Apple failed to deliver this year.
They came so close.
Instead of thrilling with joy and excitement, though, look what Sprint’s ad has done. They’ve shown a boring photo of the Pre resting on a nasty old chewed-up apple core, and insulted my previous choice of phone.
Look at the first line. “The Palm Pre does things the iPhone can’t.” They’ve gone negative right out of the starting gate.
In political campaigns, negative advertising always turns off voters. The only reason it works is that someone has to win, and supressing voter turnout is fine, so long as it’s your opponent’s turnout that is suppressed more than your own.
In product advertising, though, all negative advertising does is make it harder for someone to get excited about your product, and easier for them to decide not to buy anything at all.
Product loyalty is often like loyalty to a political party or a sports team. The product we choose to buy is a reflection of ourselves, and the quality of that product is a reflection of our own judgement. No one wants to think they were stupid or easily misled when making a purchase, which is why so much work goes into the packaging and congratulatory messages that accompany a big ticket item. Reinforcement of a purchase decision after the fact is just as important as the marketing before the sale. Buyer’s remorse leads to product returns, it leads to negative word-of-mouth, and a lack of customer loyalty and repeat business.
We want to have that reinforcement. We read the manual for a new car, computer, camera, phone, television, et cetera, because it continually repeats the message you are smart, you are wise, you bought this product.
This is what fuels perennial debates like Mac vs. PC, Ford vs. Chevy, Republican vs. Democrat. Once we make our decision, to be told that the alternative is superior means we are idiots. After all, if Windows is so inferior to the Mac OS, and I use Windows, clearly I was stupid to make that decision – so I will defend “my” operating system of choice, and ridicule any attempt to be converted.
What Palm has done is to come directly at iPhone owners with the message that our iPhones are weak, ineffectual, and overpriced. We have chosen… poorly.
This message hasn’t worked in the past, and won’t work now. Campaigns like the failed iDont ads, Jeep’s commercials depicting Hummer owners as fat spoiled children, and others, served only to antagonize their targets rather than persuade them.
Palm’s CEO famously sneered at the prospect of Apple creating a phone in 2006, saying that “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”
When he said that, I was a Palm Treo owner, frustrated by my unstable and unenjoyable 650. A few months later, I was the proud owner of an Apple iPhone. Now, after nearly fading into obscurity, Palm wants to win me back by insinuating that I was wrong to leave, and thinks that going negative will let them take back some market share. It only demonstrates that they’re as tone-deaf to marketing in 2009 as they were to user experience in 2006.