Commentary

Nokia's Quixotic 'Astound' Campaign

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 After years of falling behind and out of the U.S. smartphone race, Nokia is finally making a big advertising push behind a new device-the modestly named Astound. The Affordable might be a better name for the phone since it retails for $80 (after a $50 mail-in rebate with a two-year contract via T-Mobile) compared to popular smartphones like the iPhone that typically start at $200. It's a smartphone for young, budget-conscious consumers from a value-oriented carrier.

The initial 3o-second spot created by Widen + Kennedy in the "Made To Perform" campaign behind the Astound is clever enough, showing an Old West cowboy dueling a silent movie villain across several phone screens with characters like a piano-playing cat, "Angry Bird" and Pac-Man monster popping up along the way. A voice-over at the end touts the device delivering "music, videos, games and more."

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How that makes it different from any other smartphone isn't clear. But the real question is, why is Nokia investing in a high-profile campaign for the Symbian-based Astound in the wake of its grand alliance with Microsoft? The heart of that deal is phasing out Symbian so Nokia can make Windows Phone 7 the primary operating system for its smartphones starting next year.

Given that Nokia has gained no U.S. market share with its Symbian phones to date, why start now? Better to wait a bit longer, and save those marketing dollars for the first Nokia/Windows Phone 7 devices. Nokia then will certainly also be able to take advantage of Microsoft's marketing muscle to try to reestablish itself as a contender in the U.S. smartphone market.

Beyond that, the Astound does little to dispel Nokia's reputation here chiefly as a low-end brand as a sort of entry-level smartphone. Microsoft's own attempt to court young, cost-conscious consumers with its similarly marketed Go phones proved a disaster. Finding a mid-tier market between top smartphone models and more basic, pre-paid phones is increasingly difficult.

Separate forecasts released last week from Gartner and IDC show Windows Phone 7 becoming the No. 2 platform worldwide to Android by 2015, with about a 20% market share, on the strength of the Microsoft-Nokia partnership. That's an even more bullish projection than Nokia CEO Stephen Elop's stated goal of becoming a legitimate No. 3 smartphone player with Android and iOS. Which makes it all the more puzzling why the company is cranking up the marketing machine in the U.S. for one of its last Symbian smartphones.

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