Palm's creepy Pre ads: will they actually make you buy the phone?

Summary:In case you've been living under a rock lately, Palm has been running television advertisements for its Pre smartphone, available on Sprint. In the ads, actress Tamara Hope does her best "Luna Lovegood all grown up" impression by looking directly into the camera and reciting poetic verses in a field that's unnaturally green and under a sky that's unnaturally blue. But will they make you buy a Palm Pre?

In case you've been living under a rock lately, Palm has been running television advertisements for its Pre smartphone, available on Sprint.

In the ads, actress Tamara Hope does her best "Luna Lovegood all grown up" impression by looking directly into the camera and reciting poetic verses in a CG field that's unnaturally green and under a CG sky that's unnaturally blue.

But will they make you buy a Palm Pre?

Watch one of the ads for yourself:

I commend Palm for taking a different approach than a standard smartphone ad (Apple iPhone 3GS: "It's so easy and logical it's stupid!" T-Mobile G1: "Look at all the groovy stuff this thing can do!" Sprint's own ad introducing the Pre: "God we're so hip!"). It certainly surprises the viewer with the off-kilter delivery.

But much of the web thinks the ad is, well, creepy.

In an article in AdAge, Gary Koepke, co-founder and executive creative director at Modernista (which made the ads for Palm), explains the thinking behind them:

We weren't trying to creep people out, but one thing I have learned now in this digital age is people can be as rude as they want as long as they don't have to look you in the face," Mr. Koepke said. "The Pre is probably being talked about more than other phones right now because of the marketing and advertising, and that's a good thing. Could the ads work harder to show exactly how the phone works? Yes, but we knew it would be polarizing people to have a woman not shout at them and tell an interesting story."

Understandable. But that leaves me with two questions: First, will that buzzworthy creepiness actually make you want to buy the phone?

And second: Does Palm really want the Pre to come off like a gadget for spacey, New Age types? Or is sticking to reliability, a la RIM, a better bet?

ZDNet editor in chief Larry Dignan says the ads worked because we're still talking about them.

In other words, they're so bad they're good.

Here's Koepke in AdAge again:

"It's a very different look and feel for this sector," Mr. Koepke said, comparing the humanized feel of Palm Pre's ads to its competitors. "There's nobody involved in an iPhone ad, and 'Your life is on BlackBerry' -- isn't that great? Instead of having a life? We wanted a middle ground between those two places -- what about the people who want a really great smartphone?"

The way I see it, Hope steals the spotlight from the Pre. Koepke says "there's nobody involved in an iPhone ad," but that puts the focus squarely on the phone -- and keeps a human's hand manipulating the device to add a sense of reality (rather than just swirling it around in space, like the T-Mobile G1 ad linked to above).

Meanwhile, Palm's trying to play both camps with the Pre: it's offering it as an iPhone alternative with these touchy-feely-but-not-too-close ads, while the Sprint ads ("4,921 people texting about tomatoes! 463 people calling their mothers! 105,496 people wondering why they're on Sprint!") clearly play up the information-overload aspects of a business user, which Palm has also been courting.

The two-pronged approach is interesting, but it all boils down to the same issue that Budweiser faces every year with its famous Super Bowl ads: they might be buzzworthy, but will they sell more product?

Will you remember what the ad was about?

Or will you just remember the creepy factor?

(Leave your thoughts, in TalkBack.)

Topics: Mobility

About

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.