Motorola relaxes brand image with racy ads

Aimed at Chinese youth, many ads will run globally

By Published on .

BEIJING--Determined to regain the lead it once enjoyed in China, Motorola Corp. is launching bold, downright racy, ads for some of its trendiest products like Slvr, Razr, Z and Ming in the world's No. 1 mobile phone market.

"People use the word breakthrough a lot, but this work is really fresh and new. It's "Blade Runner? meets "Kill Bill,"? said Beijing-based Ian Chapman-Banks, Motorola's general manager, marketing & business development, mobile devices for North Asia.

Some of the provocative images feature striking consumers, such as exotic-looking Africans and Eurasians, in ways that connect them to the various phones. The angular theme of Z ads, for example, illustrates the phone's 'slider? opening mechanism.

To dramatize the Z phone in a 'surprising, memorable way," said Nils Andersson, exec creative director of Ogilvy & Mather, Beijing and the agency's regional creative director for Motorola, "we literally slid peoples? bodies out of place."

Ads running in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong for Ming, a phone with state-of-the-art Chinese handwriting recognition, suggest its high-tech attributes can help its owner see both sides of a person's personality "with advertising that is rather shocking," admitted Mr. Chapman-Banks. In one execution, a woman's outfit is divided vertically. She's wearing a stylish red dress and designer handbag on the left side and a red dominatrix outfit on the right side.

All four campaigns were designed to resonate with youthful trendsetters who spend the most on fancy new handsets as well as lucrative non-voice services. That demanding demographic expects phones to be stylish, well-designed and fun, as young Chinese regard phones more as fashion accessories, music players and miniature game consoles rather than mere tools for voice communication.

Once a slow-moving U.S. giant, Motorola either missed this observation, unlike Nokia and some fast-moving local brands, or wasn't nimble enough to meet changing trends--both in its products and branding--just as China's mobile phone market started to take off.

As a result, its share of China's GSM market dropped from more than half the total market five years ago to a mere 12.8% by early 2005, according to Norson Telecom Consulting in Beijing, a discouraging situation since about one-third of Motorola's global handset sales take place in the mainland.

Motorola spent the past year aggressively reinvigorating its product line with models like the Razr, China's best-selling phone for the past few months. Its popularity has already helped Motorola regain lost ground; its GSM market share is almost 14% today.

Updating its brand image, meanwhile, fell to Mr. Chapman-Banks, a personable, stylish British exec who used to run Apple's marketing in Asia/Pacific from Hong Kong. He brought some of Apple's marketing savvy to the Motorola job after he was recruited last May by Michael Tatelman, who became VP-general manager of mobile devices in North Asia at the beginning of last year.

The new campaigns show "interesting people doing interesting things with phones? through imagery that is "beautiful, iconic, clear and concise," and faintly reminiscent of iPod's advertising, although Motorola's approach is far edgier and more story-driven than Apple's product-driven ads.

The ads are "funky," said Mr. Chapman-Banks, with cheerful, cheeky confidence. "My personal mission is to make Motorola wearable. I want people to wear the logo. That's a sign of what is hip and trendy."

The avant-garde approach is working beyond China's borders. Many of the new ads, all developed under the leadership of Mr. Andersson, will run globally.

"It's pretty amazing that Ogilvy in Beijing is producing so much work with global appeal," said Mr. Chapman-Banks, but it's no surprise that Motorola is letting China take the lead.

The Asian giant is Motorola's second-largest market after the U.S. and young consumers in Beijing and Shanghai have become as adroit about spotting and perpetuating trends as counterparts in Tokyo, London and New York.

Also, mobile phone manufacturers have good reason to be excited about China. Of the 1.5 billion mobile phone subscribers around the globe, more than 330 million are in China, making it the single largest user market on the planet.

Although 60 million new customers enter China's mobile phone market every year, less than 30% of China's total population is connected to a wireless service today and demand is growing rapidly in the country's smaller cities and rural areas. By 2008, China Mobile, the country's dominant service provider, estimates it will have 500 million mobile phone users, which still represents just one-third of all local consumers.

With a steady gaze on China's potential, Motorola is eager to reposition its phones as the smartest and snazziest in the market.

"The feeling I get is that we're starting to move the dial. Our market has increased dramatically over the past few months. I think we're on a roll and gathering momentum. but there's still a huge amount of work to do," said Mr. Chapman-Banks.

"There's still a billion people in China who don't own a Razr."
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