Cross-Media Case Study: Is That a Palm in Your Pocket?

The campaign for the newest Treo smartphone stresses savings, versatility.

E-mail. Manage your calendar. Check the weather, sports, news and stocks. Book plane reservations for two. Win a last-minute bidding war on eBay. Call the restaurant you just looked up simply by tapping the screen.

Oh, yeah, and slip it in your pocket when you’re done.

The Palm Treo 680 smartphone is the face of a new campaign from a company that hasn’t reached out to consumers in a big way since it marketed the Palm Pilot. Instead, in the last several years, its products sold mostly to businesspeople who wanted constant access to e-mail.

But now, smartphone sales are soaring among consumers — 60 percent of buyers are upgrading from a traditional phone, according to In-Stat — and the category is suddenly crowded with sophisticated offerings. Palm had to distinguish the Treo from Research In Motion’s BlackBerry and the Motorola Q.

“If you look at their campaign, which is a good one, they’re leveraging off the very positive brand they have for Palm and Treo and trying to take them out of the realm of Palm enthusiasts,” says Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at JupiterResearch.

“They’re focused on a much more mainstream consumer — the soccer mom, to whom Google is as much a part of her life now as a minivan.”

While there’s no questioning the cool factor of owning the latest, sleekest phone, analysts say most consumers don’t really make full use of the smartphone features; many tend to only use applications that come pre-loaded, like e-mail, which is the most common.

“It seems that many users buy a smartphone for its potential,” Hughes says.

There’s even disagreement in the industry about what qualifies as a smartphone.

Palm’s $25-million six-month campaign, launched in December, aims to clarify some of the confusion, and prove the value of the smartphone to consumers. Each piece of the campaign —from SMS-enabled bus shelters to old-fashioned street teams — sent a message about how useful a Treo can be.

AKQA created a multimedia campaign that hinged on partnerships with online passion brands: Yahoo, Google and Fandango, for example. Orange billboards in New York City showed a Treo with the Google logo on its screen and the taglines “Google this” and “Google that.” Another pointed to a restaurant and showed Zagat on the Treo: “Zagat rated.”

“We’ve got to appeal to those things that people like to do, and demonstrate that they can do those things while they’re mobile,” says Scott Hancock, director of marketing communications for Palm. “They don’t have to wait to check their eBay auction when they get back home; they can do it right from their Treo smartphone.”


High-tech, But Simple

The bulk of the media buy went to outdoor, where people would see the messages while they were away from their computers, and online, where people could see how convenient it would be to take the Web with them.

The most innovative outdoor execution appeared in just a few cities: SMS-enabled bus shelters, built by Wisconsin-based D2.

In San Francisco and Pasadena, commuters waiting at a bus stop could send text messages to what looked like a larger-than-life Treo. A plasma screen showed the content change in response, thanks to a built-in computer with a wireless connection to the Internet. In New York, the display was built into a huge wall near Times Square.

When no one was texting it, the Treo screen played a Flash movie about its capabilities.

That outdoor initiative “wasn’t so much about ROI, but more about creating buzz and getting people excited,” says Julie Channing, group account director at AKQA. “Those who weren’t necessarily interacting with their phones were still getting a takeaway of what the device can do.”

High-tech, but simple — on target with the brand promise, says Bob Pullum, creative director at AKQA.

On the flip side of high-tech demos, the campaign deployed old-fashioned street teams in several markets, putting the Treo 680 directly in the hands of consumers. Each time, team members offered to provide a service, like making a dinner reservation or buying movie tickets for that night.

 “When you demonstrate how easy it is,” says Palm director of marketing communications Scott Hancock, “that’s when the lightbulb goes off. The device in my pocket says I can get on the Web, but it’s nothing like this,” Hancock adds.

Afterward, team members gave directions to the nearest retailer. Then came the proof that the message had gotten through.

Stores in San Francisco, Pasadena and New York ran out of the devices — “a good and a bad thing,” Channing says. “A great thing for Palm, but a learning in the future. We want to stock up on product.”


A Branded Microsite

Brands had a presence on the campaign’s microsite, And each brand supported Treo in turn, extending the buying power of the campaign’s media dollars. Orbitz, for example, featured Treo in its own mobile campaign, just launching at that time. The Onion’s Web site showed how users could text a headline to a friend using Treo.

The microsite, by Naked, featured a video of a street scene; the theme of the scene changed whenever the user clicked on a new brand on a Treo in the foreground. More than 50 films were combined to create the microsite, Pullum says.

A “tell your friends” link let users type onto a Treo screen, as if they were sending the message from a 680. Users could click on brands to learn how to access them on a Treo 680, then continue on to Palm’s comercial site, which tied into the microsite with a somewhat similar look and feel.

Even print ads were all about function. In magazines, they were grouped three or four right-hand placements at a time, so readers would see several different uses for the 680 at once. The whole campaign drove to the microsite.

Gartenberg says the campaign does a good job of showing the Treo’s functions, but he wants to see improvements in Treo’s aesthetic appeal.

“When Apple released the iPhone, the thing that leaped off the page at you is how elegant and how beautiful and modern the user interface looks,” Gartenberg says. “It’s not just going to be about function, but it’s going to be about form as well.”

Since the campaign launched, consumer awareness of the Treo family of smartphones has risen significantly, a “double digit” percentage, says Hancock of Palm.

Educating the public about smartphones is good for mobile marketing in general, says Carlo Longino, an analyst for Techdirt Corporate Intelligence and also a blogger at

“If people start using these services … they naturally learn more about it,” he says, adding that consumers start to think, “mobile Internet is something I want, a phone that has a good browser and a service plan that lets me do these things.

“And that has implications for mobile marketing,” Longino adds, “whether to generate page views for ad sales or making people comfortable with text messaging so that text campaigns will work. It’s a big challenge for marketers.”

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