Advertisers Like Me! They Really Like Me!
Marketers are after us 18-to-34-year-olds more than ever, and they're up to new tricks to hook us
(MONEY Magazine) – Let me start by saying this: I like my cell phone. It does all the things a phone should do. But for the past year I've been flirting with a glamorous new model. It's just so sexy, exciting and slender, with a 13.9mm frame that makes my old Sanyo look bulky, like I shoved half a bagel in my pocket. My paramour's name? The Motorola Razr.
The Razr has already won over some of my cooler friends, as well as what seems like half the hip world--some 50 million units reportedly have been sold since the phone was introduced two years ago. But now my lust for it has got me thinking: How do you know whether you covet a gadget because it's actually great or because it's got a great marketing campaign behind it?
I'd like to think I'm impervious to overt marketing efforts from big business. As a 13-year veteran of the highly sought-after 18-to-34-year-old demographic, I'd seen tens of thousands of commercials and magazine and newspaper ads even before I had a bank account, which steeled me against the tricks of advertisers. Except now they're getting trickier. They've moved beyond TV and print campaigns to tactics that don't even look like advertising, focusing more than ever on selling an image of cool. "This age group doesn't want to be told what they need to buy," says Patricia Alvey, director of the Temerlin Advertising Institute at Southern Methodist University. "They look to what style leaders in their group are carrying."
Why do advertisers care so much about us? We're early adopters of new stuff, and we have cash to spend and fewer responsibilities to stop us. And other groups tend to follow us. "Younger kids aspire to be 18-year-olds, and older people are inspired by them," says Leslie Dance, Motorola's mobile devices marketing chief. "It starts with winning over that core audience."
Which gets me back to my original question: Is a Razr really going to make my life better or do I want the phone just because clever marketers made me think I do?
How They Get You
Motorola still uses print and TV ads. But the big push behind the Razr relies on more subtle--and seductive--tactics:
• PUT THE PRODUCT IN HIP HANDS The idea is to get the phone used by the "right" celebrities, who will be photographed using it and cast the product in their beautiful-people glow. Rather than stuffing the phones in award-show gift bags, Motorola issued personal invitations to some 75 young actresses to use special-edition pink Razrs custom-made for the occasion. The actresses (among them Paris Hilton and Sienna Miller) used the phones, the tabloids noticed, and the Razr's place in hipdom was cemented.
• PUT THE PRODUCT IN ACTION Forget that Tony Soprano uses a Razr--that's old-fashioned product promotion. On NBC's new reality show Treasure Hunters, the contestants in a global scavenger hunt get the game clues on their Razrs--that's product as hero.
• ASSOCIATE IT WITH COOL Motorola didn't just sponsor a concert by hip-hop band The Roots. The company spread the word by papering lampposts in hip neighborhoods with "lost dog" ads: what looked like fliers for the concert, with tear-off tags on the bottom. But the tags listed Motorola's website, not the concert date. "When the poster looks like a concert flier, that gets us past people's filter for commercial content," says Joe Bonadio of GoGorilla Media, which created the ads.
What to Do About It
Okay, they got me. I think the Razr is cool. I'm human. But now that I realize why I'm interested, I can look past the marketing to focus on the merits of the product.
• IS IT ANY GOOD? This is the No. 1 question. And the Razr does have what's important to me in a phone: a body that's comfortable to hold, a keypad that's easy to punch, clear sound plus a few other noteworthy features like Bluetooth technology and a big color screen. Of course, so do a lot of other cell phones on the market.
• THEN WHAT'S SO SPECIAL? Skeptics say the Razr is just a regular phone, only smaller. That's true. But for people like Sienna and me, size matters in portable devices--and, in this case at least, small is good.
• WHAT ABOUT TOMORROW? Better, cheaper models come out all the time. So I need to gauge my desire for the product now against that knowledge. In the case of the Razr, prices have already come down, and new versions come in cool colors. But they won't be new for long: An updated Razr with an MP3 player is about to hit the U.S. market.
• WHAT PRICE COOL? Even my wife (our CFO) is considering splurging on a Razr. Like mine, her interest is rooted as much in the phone's small size as in the cool factor. But you know what? It's okay to want something just because it's cool. How much that's worth is the real question.
A new Razr with no service contract costs around $250--not worth it, perhaps, for just a cool, small phone. But if your current contract ends, you can score a Razr for $50 to $100 with a new contract. Now that I would do.