Nokia Windows Phone Likely to Miss Holidays in U.S.

Struggling Handset Maker Pursues Europe-First Strategy on Windows Phone Launch

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The leading smartphone manufacturers have already unveiled their holiday wares -- Apple's iPhone 4S, Samsung's Galaxy Nexus and Motorola's Droid RAZR. But, for Nokia, the world waits.

Now, it looks like Nokia's much-anticipated Windows Phone, the fruit of a new partnership with mobile underdog, Microsoft, won't be around for the all-important U.S. holiday shopping season.

We know that mass-marketing for the new device won't start until 2012 in the U.S., and it's unclear if Nokia's Windows handsets will arrive on shelves this year at all.

Nokia is expected to unveil its Microsoft-powered phone at Nokia World in London this week. But while the manufacture is readying a European push to promote the new devices, it appears that consumers in its toughest market, the U.S., might not see much marketing, if any, until next year.

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*U.S. measured media for Oct-Dec 2010 and Jan-July 2011, according to Kantar Media, for Nokia and the top 5 handset manufacturers by market share for U.S. mobile subscribers of both smart and feature phones, ages 13 and older, in August 2011, according to Comscore.

Nokia is currently evaluating agencies to launch its Windows Phones planned for 2012, according to a briefing document, and has tapped a little-known independent London shop to lead marketing for the new handsets. It's specifically looking for a San Francisco-area digital agency to "dimensionalize" the global creative idea "Amazing Everyday." What does that mean exactly? "Hidden away in the everyday landscape are billions of little adventures," the brief says. "And the new Nokia with Windows Phone makes it easier to find them, to take part in them and to share them."

Meanwhile, the leading manufacturers of both smart and feature phones in the U.S. -- Samsung, LG, Motorola, Apple and Research in Motion, in that order, according to ComScore -- have raised the stakes in handset marketing in the U.S. America's smartphone craze especially has brought a flood of new dollars: Samsung's media spending was up 52% in between 2009 and 2010 here, LG was up 10% in that period, Apple's up 19% and spending on the brand "BlackBerry" was up 46.6%, according to Ad Age DataCenter.

The only top-five handset marketer missing from Ad Age 's lists of top U.S. 100 advertisers or 200 brands by spending is Motorola. So was Nokia.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop
CEO Stephen Elop has admitted the company has failed to compete in the U.S. -- the U.S. agency brief, too, acknowledges Nokia's need to "redefine relevancy of Nokia for U.S. consumers" -- and it's begun to match ad spending in the expensive, smartphone race this year. Between January and July, Nokia spent $20 million in measured media, primarily toward its mid-market Astound smartphone, which beat Samsung and Motorola media spending toward phones in that period and was competitive with LG's $25 million, according to Kantar.

As a last-ditch attempt to become relevant in the new world of smartphones and platforms increasingly dominated by Apple and Google, Nokia has a lot riding on the upcoming Windows Phone. As in the past, focusing on Europe first appears to be the strategy.

"Nokia needs to protect its foothold in Europe before it can even think about other markets," said one executive familiar with the company's marketing. The Finnish company has traditionally spent the bulk of its $200-million-plus global budget in Europe. This summer, Nokia selected independent London shop Inferno Group and parted ways with its longtime agency Wieden and Kennedy. Inferno's campaign for Nokia's Windows Phone will launch this week, likely at the London event where Mr. Elop is expected to unveil the new device. Nokia declined comment for this story.

That commitment to Europe may also explain why, ahead of the holidays, Microsoft's President-Windows Phone Andrew Lees touted bigger marketing pushes from other manufacturers using its software, such as Samsung and HTC Corp., in comments to Bloomberg this month. Last year, Microsoft dedicated more than $57 million in U.S. measured media to launch Windows Phone in the fourth quarter, according to Kantar, but is opting for a multi-product holiday campaign featuring Xbox and Windows Office alongside its mobile software this year.

Like Astound, which wasn't a blockbuster by any means, the 2012 Windows Phones in the U.S. are targeting first-time smartphone buyers, according to the brief, as well as defectors from iPhone and Android. By 2012, more than half of U.S. consumers are expected to carry smartphones already.

There have also been some geographic shifts among Nokia's marketing ranks, since its new American chief marketer Jerri DeVard, who's clocked 25 years at U.S. companies such as Verizon, Citigroup and Pillsbury, was installed. Ms. DeVard has moved from the U.S. to London since taking the post, and stateside marketing has shifted from White Plains, N.Y., to Sunnyvale, Calif. It's unclear if the domestic move was to get closer to Microsoft, or the Valley that grew leading U.S. smartphone leaders iPhone and Android.

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