The advertising campaign for the new HTC One M8, the long awaited update to the Company’s flagship mobile phone, tells you everything that you need to know about the Company’s recent woes.
Although HTC’s chairwoman Cher Wang has rightly pointed out that the original HTC One, released just last year, was the Company’s best ever seller, it failed to keep pace with a rapidly expanding smartphone market, with sales down 29% versus a 39% growth in the market, resulting in an annual net loss of $75m USD.
The growth in smart phone sales was driven by arch rivals Apple and Samsung, who between them have made the smartphone indispensable, and probably the most exciting lifestyle choice that we, the general public, are asked to make, when we upgrade our contracts every 18 months or so.
HTC has always existed somewhat in the shadow of these two giants; the Company lacks the iconic status and zeitgeist appeal of Apple’s IPhone, and is unable to compete with the South Korean Samsung’s variety, and logistical superiority.
HTC’s recent financials are a cause for concern, certainly enough to provoke a strategic rethink. Current monthly revenues are the worst since 2007, and although the HTC One sold well, around 6.4 million units, the IPhone 5 sold 10 times as many units, with the Samsung Galaxy S4 not far behind with around 40m units sold.
Breaking the duopoly of Samsung and Apple is HTC’s only real option if the Company wants to survive, because if it continues along its current trajectory, the numbers don’t lie; HTC will go out of business.
The Smartphone battleground is no place for shrinking violets, and if HTC is seen as lacking the stomach for the fight, then the buying public are likely to view this as a turn-off.
And that is why the new campaign is so hard to fathom. Yes, it features a very suave and sophisticated looking Gary Oldman. Yes, it is watchable and intriguing in an off-beat, film-noirish kind of a way, and yes the phone itself, not that we see much of it, is more than capable of holding its own against its bigger, more illustrious rivals.
The big problem is that with this ad, HTC is only preaching to the converted. The ad is reminding us that HTC is a cool brand and it makes great phones. But we know that already, and yet we don’t buy it. Why? Because when it gets to point of sale, we all want the same thing. The best and most popular phone. And that is either an IPhone, or a Samsung. Period.
It is all very well convincing your fans that you are best. But if you don’t have enough fans to sustain your business model, you need to go and get some more. Having done the hard work and released an update before Apple or Samsung have brought new products to market, what a shame that it has chosen to promote it in such a negative way.
HTC is risking becoming the tedious bore down the pub who orders a brandy when everyone else is drinking beer. Or the guy who talks about his gas oven while we fish unidentifiable hunks of blackened, yet still raw, meat from the burning embers of our homemade barbecues.
There is of course a place for such people, and ultimately we must defer to their superior judgement. We just don’t buy our phones from them. Or invite them to barbecues.
When it comes to the smartphone, people are tribal in the same way that they are about sports, or families. There is no point telling somebody that their football team is rubbish, or that their offspring are buck-toothed, irresponsible swine. They do not care and they will love them all the same.
Yes, occasionally the public will root for the underdog, but the underdog must give their all, and take on its opponents head on, David and Goliath style. Show no fear. And win, ultimately. Not stand in the corner being smug and making excuses.
It is not fair to be overly critical of HTC. After all, there are countless industries in which you would be held in high esteem for consolidating third place. A Volvo, for example, will never outsell a ford or a Toyota, but it has a loyal and contented following. Which is great, we all love variety. In cars. Mobile phones are a different game.
HTC really knew that its current approach wasn’t working, and that it needed to look its rivals square in the eye and take them on. They needed a strategy that made their product essential, a must-have, an embarrassed-to-be-without. But they ducked the challenge, and instead showed a middle aged bore sitting on his own in the dark and trying to sound intellectual. Never. Gonna. Work.
Having said that, I think I might get one. Sure hope everybody else does, too. (view the ad by clicking on the vid below)