We Know Robert Downey Jr. Can Open A Movie. Can He Save HTC?

A Reported $12 Million, Two Year Deal to Turn Around Handset Makers' Fortunes

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Who better to market an all metal smartphone than a superhero with a metal smart suit.

Phone manufacturer HTC has signed "Iron Man" actor Robert Downey Jr. for a two-year, $12 million marketing campaign, according to Bloomberg. "Anyone with a penchant for metal should be able to appreciate its appeal," said a coy Tom Harlin, HTC's director of public relations.

Mr. Downey's persona perfectly aligns with the company's recent attempts to increase its ad spending and embrace an irreverent underdog image in the wake of market share loss. On-screen, Mr. Downey frequently portrays brash, quick-talking characters. Off-screen, he's had the kind of career resurgence HTC hopes to replicate in the smartphone market.

"He's really likeable and a huge action star and it seems like a no-brainer for HTC to sign someone like him," said Mark Pasetsky, PR strategist at Mark Allen & Company,who represents celebrity endorsers.

HTC's competition makes liberal use of celebrities in marketing. Samsung has had LeBron James pitching the Galaxy, as well as Paul Rudd and Seth Rogin in a Super Bowl Spot, while Apple has had Zooey Deschanel, Samuel L. Jackson and John Malkovich using the iPhone's Siri feature. Alicia Keys is Blackberry's global creative director.

HTC's mobile phone market share decreased from 2011 to 2012 both in the U.S. and worldwide. In the U.S., HTC's share of fourth quarter smartphone sales decreased from 14% in 2011 to 6% in 2012, according to eMarketer. HTC experienced a similar decrease worldwide, as units sold dropped from 43.3 million in 2011 to 32.1 million in 2012. Worldwide market share went from 2.4% to 1.8% over the same period.

Its bet earlier this year on the Facebook phone appears to have been a bust.

The market share loss corresponded to a drop in advertising spend. HTC U.S. measured media spending went from $120.9 million in 2011 to $43.3 million in 2012, according to Ad Age DataCenter. Erin McGee, HTC's VP-marketing, said in an interview earlier this year that the company would be ramping up its marketing in 2013 but declined to give specifics on how the company would spend on advertising.

"As we've said over the past several months, HTC is working to change its approach in how and where it markets its products to compete in a more effective manner," Harlin said.

Mr. Downey's career and public perception have gone through similar troughs, but since signing on to play Tony Stark -- better known by his superhero alter ego Iron Man -- Mr. Downey has become the main draw in two of the most lucrative U.S. film franchises of all time.

"Iron Man" (released in 2008) grossed more than $318 million at U.S. box offices, "Iron Man 2" (2010) grossed more than $312 and the recently released "Iron Man 3" (2013) has already grossing nearly $400 million, according to the Internet Movie Database. "Iron Man," "Iron Man 2" and "Iron Man 3" the 32nd, 36th and 18th highest-grossing films ever in the U.S. "The Avengers" (2012) -- which also stars Mr. Downey as Iron Man -- is the third highest-grossing U.S. film of all time earning more than $623 million at the box office. Altogether, Mr. Downey's Iron Man has helped Disney-owned Marvel Studios gross more than $1.6 billion.

Mr. Downey's unprecedented success as Iron Man will be instrumental in helping HTC reach younger smartphone consumers, a segment that HTC struggles with relative to its competitors. HTC's YouGov BrandIndex score among Millennials -- consumers 18 to 34 years old -- in the first quarter of 2013 was 22, placing it fifth behind Samsung (43), Apple (37), LG (37) and Motorola (24).

Mr. Downey made a cameo in a trailer for Activision's "Call of Duty" last fall.

"Tech Millennials are hard to connect with," Ms. McGee said in an earlier interview.

So far, those passion points have meant aligning HTC's brand with musicians and making a video with comedy website Funny Or Die to promote its new smartphone, HTC One. Now, it will include the actor best known for playing Iron Man, and nothing says "tech Millennial" quite like a superhero whose superpower is engineering acumen.

Reports have said Mr. Downey will appear as himself, not Iron Man, in the forthcoming marketing. But HTC's statements on the reports suggest there will be subtle comparisons between the HTC's all metal construction and Mr. Downey's metal clad superhero.

Tony Stark certainly would.

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