Apple Strikes Early With iPhone Oscar Ad

Device Is Not Due Until June, but Splashy Spot Keeps Buzz Going

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YORK, Pa. ( -- One high-style newcomer to the Oscars this year wasn't seen on the red-carpet or heading to the Governor's Ball, but it's likely to still be creating buzz this time next year.
Betty Rubble was one of the stars of Apple's Oscar iPhone spot.
Betty Rubble was one of the stars of Apple's Oscar iPhone spot.

The Apple iPhone appeared briefly at the end of a 30-second spot in the first TV ad of what will likely be a huge marketing effort for the smart phone. The device won't be available until June, but analysts say the design-heavy, expensive product played to the right early-adopter crowd that tunes in for the annual Hollywood awards show.

Persuading influentials
"The iPhone is all about cachet and style. And it is expensive," said Jupiter Kagan Research analyst Emily Riley. "With a relatively high price point, the first step is to convince the right influential people to buy it."

The Oscar iPhone ad, created by TBWA Media Arts Lab, Los Angeles (a unit of longtime Apple shop TBWA/Chiat/Day), marks the first time in recent history that Apple has run an ad for a product that is not yet available. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has previously prided himself on the fact that he and and his company didn't discuss products until they were ready for retail.

Mr. Jobs first previewed the iPhone to major buzz during the Macworld conference in early January. Miro Kazakoff, director-wireless practice at online researcher Compete, said that while it had been common in the wireless industry for companies to pre-announce upcoming phones by several months, the trend is now to wait until much closer to launch to unveil devices.

Smart phone's features
The iPhone's features are varied: It is a mobile phone, a widescreen video iPod, a two megapixel camera and an internet communications device (meaning it comes with e-mail, web browsing, search fuctions and maps), all with a stylish, widget-filled touchscreen interface.

While it is not certain exactly why the iPhone ad appeared on the Oscars, one likely reason is to maintain the initial positive buzz until the product is ready.

"It was very well received, but they want to make sure that high level of consciousness and excitement stays high," Ms. Riley said.

Willing to spend less
Only 1% of the total 26% of people who said they are likely to buy an iPhone are willing to pay $500 or more for it, according to a recent survey by Compete. The "sweet spot" for iPhone was the $200-$299 price range, where 42% of the interested buyers said would purchase, Mr. Kazakoff said.

The TV spot begins with a shot of an old-fashioned phone ringing and follows with 31 clips from TV series and movies of stars answering phones with a variety of "Hellos," from Lucille Ball and Jerry Lewis in black and white to Robert Redford, John Travolta and "Mr. Incredible" from more recent movies.

Interestingly, the TV spot, which ran three times during the broadcast, never mentions or shows the iPhone name. After the barrage of famous greetings, a single shot of the iPhone briefly appears, followed by "Hello," then "Coming in June" and, lastly, a shot of the Apple logo. While that may have been a coy play on the part of Apple and its agency, it may have also been a legal practicality. Apple and internet equipment maker Cisco Systems have been wrangling over the rights to the name iPhone, with the trademark long registered to Cisco. Though the two sides last week settled their differences and agreed to both use the iPhone name (though the terms of that deal remain unknown), it may have been too late to alter the Oscar ad.

Also not mentioned in the commercial is Cingular/AT&T, the wireless network that will exclusively carry the iPhone.

Oscar-only ad?
It is unknown whether the ad was created specifically for the Oscars or if it will run again. Neither Apple nor TBWA returned calls by press time. But some in the industry are hopeful.

"I hope it runs again, I liked it. It also flipped into that realm of where you ask 'Is this content for the Oscars or is it an ad?' " Ms. Riley said.
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