Google's G1 Is Finally Ready for Its Close-up

With Much at Stake T-Mobile, Publicis Break Consumer Effort Behind Buzzed-About Smart Phone

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Up until now, the buzz for the T-Mobile's Google-branded smart phone has been mainly in the press and blogosphere. Starting with a campaign breaking tomorrow, the carrier has to convince consumers.
T-Mobile's Google-branded smart phone
T-Mobile's Google-branded smart phone

"We chose not to do a classic teaser campaign in advance of the launch," said Denny Post, T-Mobile's chief marketing officer, who joined the company in June. Instead, it timed the G1 marketing push to coincide with when the phone goes sale, as the G1 has already reaped plenty of publicity on its own.

"There hasn't been a need to create awareness," said Ms. Post. "We choose to spend the money when people can walk into the store and buy the phone."

Tapping into Google's attributes
The campaign's theme, "Curiosity Is Everywhere," developed by T-Mobile's agency of record, Publicis in the West, ties into Google's core attributes, the search for information and knowledge. TV spots feature people looking into the camera and asking offbeat queries. As the campaign plays out, applications on the G1 will spew out answers to the queries. One spot, for example, shows two guys asking about a sci-fi convention in town; it's Google's Street View service that rises to the call.

Ms. Post said Google will "lend its digital assets to the [marketing] program" at a later time, but for now "it's been our call with the traditional media." She declined to disclose the details of Google's participation in future marketing efforts.

Of course, this is not your typical mobile-phone launch. Google's foray into the smart-phone category has made the event something of an earthquake. It's the first phone to operate both on Google's much ballyhooed open-source mobile platform, Android, and T-Mobile's 3G network, a work-in-progress.

Much at stake
Moreover, the cast of characters involved have different stakes in the phone's success.

T-Mobile, the No. 4 carrier in the country by subscriber, is looking for a hit in the G1 to fatten its user base and answer Apple's iPhone, which has AT&T as its only exclusive carrier. Google is hoping to usher in a new era of wireless computing with Android, in which the company has bet big.

It has been nearly a year since Google first announced that dozens of wireless vendors were throwing their weight behind Android. Since then, very little about an Android-based phone has been made public until Google, T-Mobile and Taiwan-based HTC, the maker of the G1, officially unveiled the phone in September. To date, the vendors behind the phone have largely sought to engage the media rather than the consumer. By contrast, Apple aired TV spots for its first-generation iPhone months before the product ever hit the shelves.

Enviable buzz
While leaving the marketing to the press and bloggers has its risks, for a phone that has seen relatively little pre-marketing, the G1 has achieved enviable buzz, a credit to the Google brand. The phone got pats on the back for a respectable, if not good, first try, but reviewers also made it clear it was no home run.

The G1 has been relentlessly compared to the iPhone; yet beyond their similar touch-screens, there is little else these phones share. The G1 comes tightly knitted to Google services, and a Google account is required for using the phone. At $179 with a two-year voice and data plan, the G1 phone is $20 cheaper than the entry-level 8-gigabyte iPhone.

The iPhone has a broader appeal than the G1, analysts said. The iPhone has been positioned as a fashion accessory, as all things Apple are. A testament to its hip but mainstream pedigree, 30% of U.S. consumers who purchased Apple's new iPhone 3G from June through August switched from other mobile carriers to join AT&T, according to market researchers NPD Group. T-Mobile declined to disclose projections for its expected conversion rates with the G1.

Where the G1 loses in sex appeal to the iPhone, it does make it up in other ways. Valerie Combs, VP-corporate communications at BuzzLogic, which measures influence among blogs and other websites, said the G1 got high marks for features such as its physical keyboard and third-party applications, all areas where the iPhone has fallen short.

Will it resonate with public?
But whether the Google phone will resonate with the general public remains a question. BuzzLogic found three-quarters of G1 online conversations refer to Android, suggesting techies were a sizable bloc behind the G1's interest, Ms. Combs said. And it's a good bet that people who will take to the phone are fans of Google's services, such as Gmail and Google Maps.

T-Mobile's Ms. Post said G1 is a phone "for the masses, not elitists," favored by young, male subscribers using data service for the first time. And since 35% of the online conversations about the G1 also talk about the iPhone, according to BuzzLogic, this could signal an opportunity for T-Mobile.

T-Mobile said pre-order demand for the new G1 is three times what it had expected and many stores are opening early tomorrow in anticipation of high interest. The company declined to disclose the phone's unit sales projections, but research firm Strategy Analytics estimates G1 sales would reach 400,000 units in the fourth quarter, for a 4% market share.
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