HTC Video Confuses Volume With Impact And Celebrity With Personality
Short of donning sequined tuxedos, barging into my house at 3 a.m., rousing me to the sights and sounds of a Chumbawumba lip dub and leaving an array of Ukranian nesting dolls in their wake, there is very little anyone in the cell-phone food chain can do to capture my attention. For me, every major manufacturer and carrier passed the marketing saturation point three years ago (related: I am a sports-watching-type person). Brand attributes and handset features alike have long since been laser-etched onto the surface of my brain, and I have long since availed myself of the ones that make sense for me. My Gs: countable on four fingers. My beats: by Dre. And so on.
On the other hand, I remain fascinated by marketers' guiltless overspending and sunny-minded persistence - consumers don't want to hear from us quite as much? The hell they don't! - so I continue to click on every phone-related piece of content sent my way. As part of that practice, I've seen Droid clips that play like an R2D2 origin sequence and iPhone ones that feel like stealth cult recruitment. But judged in terms of over-the-top, trying-way-too-hard brio, I haven't seen anything like "Here's to Change," the two-minute clip unleashed last week by HTC.
The clip features Robert Downey Jr. as a smirky operative who strolls into a meeting, briefcase manacled to his wrist, and announces that HTC stands for "humongous tinfoil catamaran." After initial confusion, the assembled executive throng breaks into cheers. Cut to a humongous tinfoil catamaran setting off from a sun-dappled marina… and then to a hipster troll carwash, and then to a hot tea catapult, and then to a bunch of other nonsensical three-word constructions that form the HTC acronym.
The point seems to be that HTC wouldn't dream of defining itself in any way, shape or form, because there's just so goldarn much users can do with HTC products. Who is HTC to say who or what HTC is? The clip thus asks viewers to define HTC in the context of its utter, thorough undefinabilitudeism. Whoa! That thrashing sound you just heard was every branding textbook ever written coming face-to-face with its mortality in the form of an industrial paper shredder.
My question, as a longtime satisfied owner of HTC phones, is this: Does the HTC brand really need this sort of charisma booster shot? Does it need to add "blithely whimsical" to its scroll of brand traits? I don't think it does. Within an insanely competitive marketplace, HTC phones have been defined by users (and by the company itself) as easy to operate, highly functional and - what's the word I'm looking for here? - super-neato-riffic.
So when Downey's henchman announces to the marketing execs, "Tuck in your tailpipes - subversive thinking has arrived," the reaction is less "ooh, I wonder what comes next" than "subversion? It's a smart phone, not an implement of societal upheaval." This disconnect is reinforced by the few appearances of HTC phones in the video. In the first of several blow-your-mind-out-your-ear-canal moments, a phone is used to snap a photo of the tinfoil catamaran. In the next, it's used to play music for the hipster trolls. Those uses make the showcased phones look about as subversive as dinnerware.
Meanwhile, outside of staying true to the HTC acronym, I'm not sure I understand how the phrase "here's to change" fits into the framework of the clip or the larger brand campaign, assuming there is one. Is HTC proposing that we use our phones differently than we've been using them, like as a hockey puck or drink coaster? Or is HTC suggesting that its products have features that will change our conception of what a smart phone can do? If it's the latter, well, it'd sure have been swell to see one or two of them in action.
What we're left with, then, is a clip that, once Downey's fee and the helicopter sequence is factored into the mix, probably cost barrels of money. And while I admire expensive-looking stuff as much as the next brand-conscious sucker, sometimes it's not a bad idea to spend that money in pursuit of a loftier purpose than re-un-defining definitions.
If I had to summarize "Here's to Change" in three words, it'd be DO LOUD SOMETHING. Unfortunately, the clip confuses volume with impact and celebrity with personality. Anti-marketing marketing has rarely felt so rote and joyless.