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The Product Is Still King

The upshot is that every company wants a differentiator. On the tech side you may see unique Android user interfaces, exclusive smart TV content or ever thinner laptops, but ever more there is an obsession about branding.

More often than not this results in a slap dash approach: Nokias appear in the Batman films, Vaios in The Social Network and Macs in, well, everything. Apple partners with U2 then RIM partners with U2. Samsung sponsors Chelsea, then Take That, then Beckham. O2 sponsors the Wireless Festival, then SanDisk sponsors it, then O2 sponsors Arsenal. LG sponsors Fulham FC. Virgin has the V Festival, Vodafone sponsored Ferrari F1 then moved to McLaren F1, AMD now sponsors Ferrari F1. Sony sponsors The Champions' League. And so it goes on and on and on. At times it is throwing mud at the wall, but tech is embraced by the mainstream. It doesn't matter where you advertise your next big gadget - you can find a market anywhere.

house iphone

There is a very significant further point to all this: chill out. Companies like Dropbox, Spotify and even Facebook in its early days have proved that you don't need big ad budgets to get off the ground.

That said don't be surprised when success makes them more bombastic. Look at HTC: it had followed a similar path, but the more popular it got the bigger and louder its branding has become. It may still dine out on the tagline "quietly brilliant", but that couldn't be further from the truth. At CES 2011 the Desire HD covered the 600 room Las Vegas Renaissance hotel from top to bottom. I'm sure a first celebrity endorsement won't be far off either. Will these ads be irritating? Almost certainly yes. Will more people own HTC phones as a result? Yes. Are HTC phones likely to get worse because of this? No. To the contrary, the extra revenue should bring new innovation. The product is still king.

Much like seeing your favourite band embraced by popular culture (*cough* Arcade Fire *cough*), seeing the tech companies and products you have long evangelised reach, and be marketed to, a mainstream audience can be frustrating. But don't worry, unlike your band which will sell out – most likely to Sony – and produce that pop record you dread; big tech companies just play dumb in an effort to equip us all with technology that, dear readers, ultimately arms us with the tools to become smarter.

Ollie Williams

May 8, 2011, 8:02 pm

I assume the title of this article is meant to read 'lady Gaga' as opposed to 'lada Gaga'. That is unless you lot have a secret love affair going on with old soviet-bloc automobiles.


May 9, 2011, 8:49 pm

Good spot :) I wonder as well, if TR could bump the news section down slightly on the front page, if only so you can show how many comments there are for these features (like for product reviews and news items).


May 10, 2011, 7:02 am

Title is meant to read: 'Why It Is Smart For Tech to Play Dumb' - it seems there is a problem with feature titles showing up correctly, but fingers crossed it is now fixed.
@Pbryanw - yes that is a good spot. We'll leave it up to the developers to decide. It seems Features moves around the page at present, so once this settles down it should be easier to fix layout.

Daniel Gerson

May 12, 2011, 1:12 pm

All good points in the article. But I think we need to get a sense of 'cause and effect'. This article is really about advertising, and not really about Tech.

Big companies like HTC have started advertising more, and it's presumed that this is because 'they have to do with when they get big'. But where is the scientific evidence to suggest that this true, not simply because this is what other big companies do?

Here's a more likely scenario, than the 'Marketing actually works' argument: As a company grows, it has to hire more and more people, and delegate company functions out to departments out of necessity because Jack of all trades individuals don't scale. As this process happens it starts to lose it's original corporate culture... simply because, for most, it is an uphill task to both hire thousands of new employees, AND guarantee that they are converted from their previous aggregated corporate culture. This is especially true, if the original shareholders are diluted.. and so incentives are gone.

What happens next is to look at the incentives of the new Head of Marketing. Is it in her incentive to ask for less money and people for her dept, because the scientific evidence is noisy that marketing actually works better than word of mouth? Or using that money to discount product price? NO! You do what everyone else does! It's easier to fear that you are wrong, than have the guts to take a stand! This will always be the case with most big companies!

The fact that you can find exceptions (like Google) in retaining corporate culture (by having industry controversial -outside the norm- hiring practises) doesn't negate the argument. Not many companies can retain practises like diverting 20% of their work week. (Example of corp cult, not marketing).

Returning to the article. One can be in favour of the trend of tech adoption and still disparage silly acts of marketing. I don't think you've made a good case of linking 'cause and effect', that these marketing acts HAVE ACTUALLY improved tech products or the industry.

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