It's fashionable to mock an iPhone

By Ashwini Gangal and Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | September 05, 2011
By openly taking potshots at the exorbitantly-priced Apple iPhone, Indian handset brands Micromax and Karbonn Mobiles play the affordability card in their print and TV communication, respectively. afaqs! explores both intent and effect of these tongue-in-cheek creatives.

Recall the recent TVCs rolled out by Apple to popularise its iPhone 4, in June this year. Both ads ended with a male VO (voiceover) saying, "If you don't have an iPhone... well, you don't have an iPhone," underscoring the fact that possessing one is a lifestyle statement, more than just a reflection of one's SEC (socio-economic class).

'Karbonn Copy'

Cut to the present. Taking an overt dig at the price of the Apple iPhone, the Indian handset brand Karbonn Mobiles, has, in its latest TVC for its Android A1 phone, followed exactly the same format of the aforementioned Apple ad - just like the Apple ad, this one too, features a close-up shot of a palm holding the product, as a VO highlights its core features one by one. What can't be missed, however, is the VO artist strategically clearing his throat at the parts where the brand Apple is to be mentioned. At the end of the commercial, the VO says, "So if you don't have an (clears throat), don't sweat; you can get all that for a fraction of the price!"

This creative, conceptualised by Brand David, serves to position Karbonn Mobiles' Android A1 phone as one that is no less than any other brand in the smart phone category.

Karbonn Mobiles, a brand that calls itself the "gate-crasher Indian brand in the highly competitive mobile handset market", attempts to target the urban youth amongst other young-at-heart individuals.

i -- can afford -- to mock?

Another brand that has managed to take a potshot at Apple's highly-priced iPhone, albeit via its print communication, is Micromax. The advertisement says, "i - can afford this - phone. Presenting Micromax A70. The affordable Android."

Created by Lowe Lintas, the ad attempts to position the product as an 'affordable alternative to the Apple iPhone'. The campaign is targeted at those within the 18 to 24 years bracket -- youngsters, who're interested in technology, especially phones, but cannot afford these objects of desire. As of now, the print ad has been launched in the Delhi and Mumbai editions of the Times of India; the company plans to release it in the other cities in due time, along with a few more follow-up ads based on the same concept.

afaqs! speaks to these brands and their respective agencies to find out what went into creating such bold ads with crystal clear motives.

Sayandeep Paul, unit creative director, Lowe Lintas, insists that the Micromax ad was not meant to take a potshot at any other brand. Elaborating, he says, "The idea was to talk to that set of consumers who cannot afford an expensive Android handset as the price of the most popular Android brand is very steep." Paul reasons that this is the very reason the brand, through this ad, says 'Here is one phone that gives you the same applications, but comes at a cheaper rate and can be afforded by all.' Letting us into the ideation process of the creative, Paul says, "This idea of 'I can afford' came through a meeting where a junior guy said that even he can afford this phone!"

Prateek Seal, head, marketing, Micromax, says that when the brand first launched Android-based phones, the campaign was all about 'My first Android'. "This new campaign takes that thought forward, based on the insight of affordability," Seal explains.

Regarding the strategic plan behind the Karbonn Mobiles' ad, the Brand David spokesperson shares that the brief given to the agency required it to launch Karbonn Mobiles' 3G-enabled Android phone as 'the most affordable Android phone in the country' that is second to none of the other smart phones/Android phones -- national or international -- available in the market.

Admirable boldness or rotten 'apples'?

Ambush marketing and spoofs on creatives is something that consumers are used to, but, more often than not, between equals. afaqs! speaks to brand experts to gain an insight into the consequences of such attempts.

According to Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, the brands (Micromax and Karbonn Mobiles) are merely cashing in on a tactical opportunity, as today, the Apple iPhone is on every youngster's "lust list". He opines that the attempt is to come through as 'the poor man's iPhone' or 'the second best option', given the price of the Apple product.

"We saw something similar with BlackBerry (BB) and its QWERTY keypad," Sinha recalls, "as the BlackBerry was associated with this visibly distinguished feature before affordable clones offered the same feature at one-tenth the price. At a glance, one could pass off as a BB-owner though he/she might be using the affordable brand with the same feature."

According to him, Micromax and Karbonn Mobiles are inadvertently positioning themselves as desperate 'me-too' brands.

Lastly, Sinha points out that in the mobile category, image often trumps functionality. It thus follows that affordable alternatives, with features similar to those of the 'real deal' might achieve their immediate goal of grabbing the attention of their TG (target group) with the help of such ads, but not without carrying a painful subliminal message that it is, after all, the second best option.

Dismissing both the Micromax and Karbonn Mobiles ads, Jagdeep Kapoor, managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants, calls such creative ideas "short-term gimmicks" that will grab attention, but only temporarily.

"Advertising is supposed to attract, not distract!" he exclaims, "These ads reinforce another brand's (Apple) up-scale status and serve to increase that brand's recall value. Why not, instead, highlight one's own unique features?"

But, don't the ads highlight their very own affordability feature? "Price can never be a sustainable positioning statement," Kapoor fields, adding that this kind of marketing could confuse consumers. In his opinion, both, Karbonn Mobiles and Micromax bear enough and more unique product features of their own to resort to such marketing antics.

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