Profile: Jeremy Gilley

The man marketing world peace

HTC calls on Robert Downey Jr. for $1bn brand campaign

HTC is launching its first multi-million pound brand marketing campaign, with “disruptive” ads starring Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr. focusing on the brand’s new strapline “Here’s to change”, created to help it get more cut-through than big spending rivals and turnaround its recent slump in sales.

The humorous campaign plays on the three-letter brand name and sees last year’s highest paid Hollywood actor playing the role of a creative director, creating several acronyms from HTC such as “hipster troll carwash” and “humongous tinfoil catamaran” for the company’s executives.

The multi-media campaign, created by 171, launches 15 August across TV, cinema, print, outdoor and also includes a digital acronym generator for consumers to create their own version of what HTC stands for.

Although the campaign does feature glimpses of the HTC One device, it marks the first time the company has launched a major brand campaign rather than focusing solely on product. HTC plans to equal the $1bn it spent on product marketing in the last financial year on the new brand platform.

Martin Kang, recently installed HTC vice president of marketing for EMEA, told Marketing Week while the decision to choose Downey Jr. as a brand ambassador was “not cheap”, the actor represents the “unconventional” HTC brand and he “stands for change”.

Kang adds: “This is a not a normal endorsement deal, where he holds the product in his hand and says something stupid about it. He has contributed a lot to the final ads [and future creative], This is a long, major two-year deal that he would not have agreed to do if it was cheesy.”

The HTC brand, which until now carried the strapline “Quietly Brilliant”, had been “too shy” in the past, according to Kang. The new brand push gives the company an opportunity to be bolder and more playful to stand out from its competitors and “own and champion change” as a concept, he says.

He adds: “We really want to drive perception of the HTC brand away from what we have stood for in the past. To be bluntly honest, we did not stand for that much in the past. We had a huge success two years ago [with the Desire range] but the brand itself - I would lie to tell you what the brand stood for, for the consumer. We had great products but we were not really communicating at a brand level – and in some ways we were communicating at a level I did not find at all amusing: like a value for money proposition. We are a high end smartphone brand and that’s what we want to stand for.”

HTC will be measuring the success of the campaign against metrics such as brand preference, awareness, social currency [or word of mouth] and “the right kind of media conversation about HTC”.

Kang says: “Generally speaking, people do remember a lot of our competitors’ ads – Apple and Samsung – but we are confident this piece of communications stands out completely from the rest of what the industry does. Here’s a piece of communications to disrupt the space that consumers will be talking about.”

The “Here’s to change” brand promise also extends internally and will govern how the company thinks about developing new technology, how it decides to organise its office space and how it organises its executive structure. The new philosophy may also determine how the company decides to replace its former UK chief Phil Roberson and UK marketing head James Atkins, who both left the business earlier this year.

Ultimately, HTC will hope the activity will reverse a recent steep decline in sales and change in fortune from two years ago when its Desire range held the largest market share among Android devices.

The Taiwanese smartphone maker’s stock dropped to its lowest level in more than eight years late last month after it forecast an eighth consecutive decline in quarterly sales. Sales were also affected by a shortage in camera components that delayed shipments for its flagship HTC One device, to the benefit of Samsung, which released its Galaxy S4 smartphone at the same time.

In the UK, Samsung dominates the smartphone market with a 30.5 per cent share, according to comScore. HTC has a 12.4 per cent share, behind Apple with 28.3 per cent.

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