New Verizon Ads Take Direct Aim at IPhone, but What Are They Selling?

'IDon't' Android Campaign Leaves Brand a Mystery

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Whatever rumors were brewing a few months ago that Apple would break its exclusivity with AT&T and take its iPhone to other carriers, it's a good bet they can be put to bed for now.

Less than two weeks after Verizon Wireless aired a TV commercial that takes aim at AT&T's network service, it's now going straight for the iPhone. The teaser campaign, which plugs the new Android device and debuted Saturday night during the playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, is, however, causing some head-scratching.

In the campaign, Verizon seeks to slam Apple's iconic smartphone on all the things it's perceived to fall short on, such as a lack of a physical keyboard and the capability to run multiple third-party apps simultaneously. In a play on the iPhone's "I," the campaign takes jabs at the handset with a series of "iDon'ts," starting with "iDon't have a real keyboard," "iDon't run simultaneous apps." The commercial ends with "Everything iDon't ... Droid does. November."

Yet the brand being advertised is ambiguous. "There's no summary about the product, and you don't know who the brand is," said Karl Barnhart, managing director and partner at CoreBrand. "It's clever, but you have no idea what this is for."

The campaign, from McGarry Bowen, New York, also has a companion microsite that lets users sign up for updates about the handset's release. But the site's language is equally esoteric: "Do you wish you had a robot sidekick that moved at light speed and lived in your pocket? Input your e-mail and Droid will notify you when compromise has been deactivated."

Unclear target
If the product and its message are crafted for a geeky and tech-savvy audience, though, the media buy is so far suggesting otherwise. Given how deep the commercial drills into the ways the iPhone falls short, experts said the messaging would mainly resonate with those in the deep know about the handset's capabilities, which excludes the vast majority of people, iPhone owners included. These folks aren't reading blogs about the latest and greatest smartphones, they said. Yet Verizon's broadcasting of the message to viewers of a baseball playoff suggests the No. 1 wireless carrier wants to stir anticipation among a mainstream audience.

"It's unclear who they're aiming this campaign at," said Rene Ritchie, editor of The iPhone blog. "A lot of this is inside baseball, and seems to target people with particular pain points with the iPhone." Mr. Ritchie said he conducted an informal survey among those who don't keep up with the latest handset news and development, and found that they had no idea what product the commercial was pitching.

Mr. Ritchie also said that people who like the iPhone want a well-designed, sleek and subtle phone, not the slider phone that Verizon is promoting. The handset is made by Motorola, and pictures of it have leaked on the internet.

Regardless, Roger Entner, senior VP at Nielsen who looks after the telecom industry, said when vendors take on the iPhone head-on, the device had better live up to its claims and all the ballyhoo. "We've seen the Samsung Instinct try to bash the iPhone, but it didn't attract new customers," he said.

Still, some experts say Verizon did right by going after AT&T and the iPhone. "It's found a way to attack both sides of the story," said Andrei Jezierski, partner at marketing consultancy i2Partners. Referring to Verizon Wireless' push parodying the iPhone's "There's an app for that" campaign, which shows a map of Verizon's dense coverage area compared to AT&T's, Mr. Jezierski said, "Anytime you bash the iPhone, it's a great way to get attention, and 'There's a map for that' is a way for them to keep beating on the 'It's the network, stupid' message." Indeed, on YouTube, the Android spot has garnered more than 1,000 comments, with some anticipating the handset, and others defending the iPhone.

Verizon's latest move is a bet that Android can put some heat on the iPhone and help the carrier create some distance between it and top challenger AT&T. "AT&T is [perceived as] No. 1, with the iPhone success," Mr. Barnhart said. "Verizon must go right at them to keep their size advantage. And with AT&T's network and coverage issues, now is the perfect time to do it."

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