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One upside to Nokia's shake-up: An end to its lame ads

commentary The "smartphone beta test" campaign was idiotic, and didn't really showcase what made the Lumia 900 special.


Perhaps one silver lining to Nokia's massive shakeup is an end to its poorly thought out "smartphone beta test" campaign for the company's flagship Lumia 900 smartphone.

You've probably seen one. Following the Lumia 900's launch in April, the commercials were everywhere.

They were also ineffective and likely hamstrung the phone's potential. The ads did little to highlight what made the Lumia 900 unique: its fresh look, powerful camera, competitive price, and the still little-used Windows Phone operating system.

It's no surprise that after a strong start, sales of the Lumia 900 fizzled, and the phone can only be called a modest success.

While I like Chris Parnell on "Saturday Night Live," his "smartphone beta test" commercials for Nokia have been atrocious. Parnell breathlessly proclaims that the beta test is over, a suggestion that the Lumia 900 is the first true smartphone in the market.

"If you've used any smartphone in the last five years, you were a secret product tester in the greatest social experiment ever under taken," Parnell says in his trademark straight-faced manner.

It's a pretty gutsy campaign, but unfortunately in a market where the iPhone and Android reign supreme, it's a laughable one. I get that Nokia was attempting to make a splash with its bold claim, but taking shots at the iPhone and high-end Android smartphones when its market presence is virtually nonexistent wasn't the best route to take.

To make matters worse, the Lumia 900 couldn't even claim to be glitch-free itself. Some units failed to get a data connection, a glitch that prompted Nokia to take the aggressive step of offering a $100 credit to anyone who had purchased the phone, or planned to purchase one, for a limited time. The credit covered the phone, which cost $99.99 with a two-year contract at AT&T.

The problem was particularly embarrassing given the thrust of the campaign. If the beta test is over, why are there still problems with the Lumia 900?

Nokia executives were displeased with how the marketing of the phone went, according to a person familiar with the company. So when Nokia today announced 10,000 job cuts and a reshuffling of management, it wasn't a huge surprise that one of the key executives that stepped down was Chief Marketing Officer Jerri DeVard.

While it's easy to dismiss advertising as fluff with minimal influence on consumers, marketing support has proven to be a strength when used correctly, and a weakness when it whiffs.

Apple enjoys a self-sustaining hype cycle now, but its popularity was partly driven by popular ad campaigns, including the memorable series of ads featuring dancing silhouettes for its iPod line, as well as its Mac vs. PC commercials starring Justin Long and John Hodgman.

On the flip side, Palm had a series of creepy, confusing commercials with a pale woman sort of talking about the company's supposed comeback phone, the Pre. The commercials were widely panned, and like the "smartphone beta test" campaign, probably hard-pressed to get consumers into stores. It's not a surprise the phone did only moderately well, and hastened the company's eventual sale to Hewlett-Packard.

It's a lesson Nokia will have to heed as it looks to launch its next major smartphone, presumably running on the next version of Windows Phone. New Chief Marketing Officer Tuula Rytila and Chris Weber, executive vice president of sales and marketing, have a lot of work ahead of them.