Big marketing budget drives Moto Droid sales

Verizon and Motorola are spending big bucks--$100 million--on marketing the new smartphone, and it looks like it will pay off with 1 million devices sold by year's end.

Motorola's and Verizon Wireless' $100 million marketing campaign for the Motorola Droid seems to be paying off with strong sales that will likely result in more than 1 million devices being sold by the end of the year.

The Droid , the only smartphone currently on the market that uses Google Android's 2.0 operating system, is Motorola's second Android device and it's available only on Verizon Wireless's network. The device is turning out to be the hit phone of the season, thanks in large part to an expensive and extensive advertising campaign.

Motorola Droid Motorola

Neither company is reporting sales figures. But analysts say sales look good. The companies have likely sold between 700,000 and 800,000 Droids since the device was launched in early November, according to equity analyst Mark Sue of RBC Capital Markets.

"Verizon's big marketing push for the Droid is strengthening as we close in on the holidays, and following our round of checks, we believe about 700,000 to 800,000 Droids have been sold, making our hurdle of 1 [million] Motorola Droids achievable for 4Q09 [ending December 31]," Sue said in his research note. "Motorola, for its part, has done a good job on the production side, and our survey of over 100 stores indicates strong demand, limited stock outs, and very few returns."

John Stratton, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Verizon Wireless, said when the device was launched in late October that Verizon would be pouring in more money to market this device than any other phone it has ever sold. And now it looks like the money has been well spent. From advertisements that specifically highlight the Droid to ones that focus on Verizon's extensive and reliable 3G wireless network, it's clear that the company has AT&T and the Apple iPhone in its crosshairs.

AT&T has actually sued Verizon over the advertisements about its 3G wireless network coverage.

Some Verizon Wireless stores, especially in major cities, are selling between 100 and 200 Droids per week since the launch in early November, Sue added.

The success of the Droid is good news both for Motorola and for Verizon Wireless.

Motorola comeback
For Motorola, the Droid represents a chance to make a comeback in the cell phone market. The iconic American company that practically invented the cell phone market has struggled for the past several years now. After the runaway success of the ultra-thin Motorola Razr in 2004, the company has been unable to come up with a hit phone. And it has steadily lost market share to other competitors, such as Nokia, Samsung, and LG Electronics. It's also ceded market share in the fastest growing segment of the market, smartphones, to newcomers like Apple and Research In Motion.

Motorola's mobile devices CEO Sanjay Jha took a bold gamble more than a year ago when he decided to dedicate the company's resources to building phones using the Google Android operating system. The Droid and the Motorola Cliq, which is exclusively sold on T-Mobile USA's network, are the first two Motorola Android phones to hit the market.

But Jha said the Google Android operating system will not only be used in high-end devices like the Droid, but it will also be used to power less expensive phones, creating a new tier of smartphones that will eventually replace the basic feature phone category. Jha said the company will launch at least 20 more Android devices in 2010.

The success of the Droid is an important first step in getting Motorola back on track. But equity analyst Ittai Kidron of Oppenheimer said in a research note Monday that sales of the Motorola Cliq are falling short of expectations. Motorola is expected to sell 1.5 million smartphones in the fourth quarter. And two-thirds of them are expected to be Droids.

Kidron said the Cliq is not selling well mostly because of issues with battery life. Motorola is supposedly preparing a software patch to fix the problem. But he also noted that T-Mobile appears to be losing interest in the device and is not marketing it heavily.

But T-Mobile says that the Cliq is doing just fine. And the carrier said that it's committed to marketing the phone through the holiday season.

"The Motorola Cliq is very popular among our highly connected customers and is the only device with Motorola's innovative Motoblur solution," a company spokesman said. "T-Mobile is excited about the Motorola Cliq for the holidays and continues to showcase it prominently in T-Mobile retail stores and with recent holiday deals."

Verizon's iPhone alternative
The Droid's success is also important to Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless operator in the country. It is the first device that offers a true challenge to Apple's iPhone, which runs exclusively in the U.S. on AT&T's network. While Verizon has a strong reputation for its network, consumers often complain about its lack of cool phones. Up to this point, Verizon has mainly competed against AT&T and the iPhone with RIM's BlackBerry devices. But RIM's touch-screen BlackBerry Storm, which was first introduced a year ago, was largely a disappointment.

The Droid offers Verizon customers an alternative to the iPhone on the Verizon network. This fact could help Verizon retain some consumers who were thinking of leaving for the iPhone. But it might also attract new customers who are either disappointed with AT&T's service or have heard bad things about the network.

Verizon Wireless representatives say the Droid is certainly an important part of the company's device line-up.

"We are pleased with sales over the holiday weekend," Brenda Raney, a spokeswoman for the carrier said in an e-mail. "This phone clearly fits the needs of a number of customers who are excited about its availability on the Verizon Wireless network."

But if analyst data is to be trusted, it is clear that the huge marketing budget for the Droid is at least part of the reason why the device has been so successful. The HTC Droid Eris, another Android device sold exclusively on Verizon's network, is not selling as well as the Droid, Sue said in his note. The HTC Droid Eris went on sale the same day the Droid was launched, but with much less fanfare.

Part of the problem is the fact that there are many Android devices coming to market. And the number will only increase next year. The lesson from the success of the Motorola Droid is clear. If device makers and carriers hope for break-out success, then they will have to spend big on marketing.

 

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