IPhone-Antenna Woes Could Be a Boon for Droid

Verizon Launch Comes as Apple Struggles With Reception Issues

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The last mobile marketing war saw No. 1 carrier Verizon face off against No. 2, AT&T.

But, as iPhone comes under increasing scrutiny for alleged hardware flaws that restrict service, it looks like Verizon, the marketer behind the new hot handset Droid X that comes out today, has an open shot in its marketing crosshairs.

For Verizon, the Droid X launch couldn't have come at a better time. Apple is scrambling to overcome one of the first major hurdles for the seemingly untouchable iPhone: the fourth-generation handset's antenna issues. As soon as the handset shipped last month, reports poured in that holding the phone's wrap-around antenna restricted service. This week, Consumer Reports said it couldn't recommend iPhone 4 because it found the hardware caused reception problems, legitimizing early reports largely disseminated through social media. Just yesterday, Apple announced an impromptu press conference for iPhone 4 on Friday. Though Apple hasn't yet revealed the purpose for the press event, many believe it will address the antenna problem.

This comes weeks after Apple CEO Steve Jobs, in one of his now infamous reply emails to Apple fanatics, told a user: "Just don't hold it that way." A week later, Droid X manufacturer Motorola ran a newspaper print ad saying its double antenna design "allows you to hold the phone any way you like." While the ad didn't come from Verizon, it reveals an open door for a marketer with a history of wireless ad combat.

Though, since Verizon Wireless in April moved its ad business to McGarry Bowen from McCann Erickson, New York, the carrier has been light on attack ads. McCann's last major campaign for Verizon was the "Map for That" ads that took iPhone's supposedly spotty service on AT&T to task. Since McGarry has held the account, Verizon Wireless' "Rule the Air" brand ads have not addressed its competitors. Though Droid spots enumerated iPhone 3GS's shortcomings last fall with the device's "iDont but Droid Does" campaign.

Droid advertising has relied heavily on technology and robot scenes and imagery associated with its name. So far, two commercials promoting Droid X have dropped. The latest, which aired yesterday on major networks during prime time, reads like a sci-fi movie trailer and features an astronaut-like team making a big discovery.

Now that Apple is coming under fire after years of AT&T bearing the brunt for poor reception, Verizon could benefit from addressing the chink in iPhone's stainless-steel armor. After all, it's Verizon, not handset manufacturers, that has thrown its marketing weight behind Droid-branded phones, which have fared well since the first handset launched last fall. To date, the original Droid handset from Motorola represents 20% of all Android devices -- smartphones that run Google mobile software -- sold since October, according to analytics firm Flurry. Even Motorola co-CEO Sanjay Jha has been quoted saying "[Droid] sales are going extremely well."

It's Verizon that licensed the Droid name from Lucasfilm, not the two Droid hardware manufacturers, Motorola and HTC. Verizon invested as much as $100 million in launch advertising for the first Droid, and all handsets bear the carrier's logo. To compare, Apple controls iPhone marketing, with advertising from longtime agency TBWA/Media Arts Lab, and Apple hardware on the network, including the iPad 3G, bears no mention of AT&T.

Verizon is the No. 2 national advertiser with a domestic marketing budget of $3.7 billion in 2009, according to Ad Age's DataCenter.

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