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Marketing that mobile

Ramesh Narayan

YOU see it here, you see it there, you see it everywhere. The swish set cradle it in their palms ensconced in cars that purr softly past you. Young college girls seem to be attached to it through some invisible audio umbilical cord. My driver has an inferiority complex because he has to answer to a wave of a hand rather than some polytronic ring tone. The really techno-savvy strut around with an earpiece that makes them look like telephone operators.

Whichever way you look, the ubiquitous mobile handset is an inseparable part of our lives today.

The handset has come a long way. Its users are a really mixed lot now. They cut across gender, age groups and income levels. Marketing handsets is a complicated job nowadays. The potential size of the market makes sure that you better get your `Ps' right, first time.

Looking back over seven or eight years, one can scan a less crowded era. Motorola was first off the mark in the Indian market, advertising its handset as a rugged number that would withstand the kind of pressures only your darling little son could inflict on it. The commercial sought to assuage the possible feeling in the minds of an elite target audience that the handset was a fragile piece of electronics. They needn't have wasted their time on this exercise. This was a time when the mobile telephone was being viewed as the ultimate status symbol. Max was positioning its target group as "citizens of the world." The Motorola handset was priced upward of Rs 50,000. People who could afford that and wanted to be seen as citizens of the world would really not be too bothered about what would happen to this large, fat, heavy handset (it came with a two battery pack and a charging cradle) if their son played with it. Remember, their son would be around 35-five-years-old, not seven. Well, the commercial was cute. It was memorable but it got its audience all wrong.

Meanwhile, Ericsson decided that size, or the lack of it, did matter. One can never forget the `one black coffee please' commercial from Nexus Enterprise. It really hit the spot. I remember sitting in the convention centre of an AdAsia conference in Manila watching this commercial being played out to a diverse audience who could barely understand English. It didn't matter. The embarrassed look on the face of the man as he was mistaken for a waiter sent the audience into peals of laughter. It was not the language that mattered. It was a classic case of the big idea winning hands down.

The scenario for handsets has changed completely since those heady days. Today, you have two different technologies that handset manufacturers are addressing at the same time. Samsung has built up an early lead in the CDMA segment, largely because of the service provider offering it as original equipment. LG chose the lovely Katrina Kaif to carry its message of "expression completed" to its market.

Somewhere down the line people decided that the handset cannot remain a handset at least at the higher end of the spectrum. Technology became the differentiator across segments. For the older, more affluent audience it morphed into a PDA. Why carry a Palm Pilot and a mobile phone? Why not a two-in-one. So Palm and Sony Ericsson and Nokia and most of the manufacturers have been offering handsets that enable you to send and receive e-mails, store large volumes of data, remind you of your next appointment and your wife's birthday.

For the upwardly mobile, the handset has evolved into a fun thing. It plays a thousand games, it is a camera that allows you to "shoot someone you love" (as the Samsung tagline goes) and it has a zillion ring tones that range from your favourite Bollywood remix to the Venkateswara Suprabhatam. The latter is, of course, aimed at a significantly older TG.

Nokia has decided that with the market expanding dramatically it should be the mobile for India. So its ad has the statutory Sardar truck driver (will someone please tell them that the majority of truck drivers are not Sardars) who for some reason best known to him chooses to hang his mobile as a good luck charm from the bumper of his truck, and drives through the heat and dust of India. Maybe the sequel to this commercial will show him hanging a chilli and lime round his neck. He would then have probably get lucky and actually receive some calls on his mobile.

With USPs attaining obsolescence rather quickly in this market, marketers are now thinking of little new features almost every month. Our Korean twins have been active in this field. LG decided that a really powerful light emanating from the handset would be an USP, so it advertised its moon phone with two good looking faces coming alive in a dark auditorium. Shudder, shudder! Till now you just had to put up with loud neighbours. Now you need dark glasses inside a movie theatre to shield yourself from the glare of the handset next to you. Samsung has decided that if Sony led the camera brigade, it would lead the charge with a flashgun set atop a mobile phone. Smaller brands such as BenQ are offering features like the capacity to change the expression on a picture already taken.

It definitely is a sign of our times. It is not what you use. It is a question of what you could use. So get ready for smaller, feature-packed gizmos. You may just make and receive calls, but you'll have to pay the price of modern technology.

(The author heads Canco Advertising.)

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