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

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?

TOPICS: Mobility

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.)

Topic: Mobility

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Memorable ad:

    I think we all remember the freaked out hamster-things from the Quizno ad - the company pulled it because so many people complained how stupid/freaky it was.
  • RE: Palm's creepy Pre ads: will they actually make you buy the phone?

    I love my Palm Pre. It is an Iphone Killer!!!!
  • For me, it would boil down to Sprint...

    ...and their unreliable service in my part of the country.
  • She's not creepy. Billy Mays was creepy.

    The Sham-wow headset guy is creepy.

    These commercials are kind of cool, actually.
  • I love those ads. Too many commercials look identical

    Those ads have a dreamlike quality due to the surreal coloring and filtering. I really like the imagery. There are too many ads which basically look identical. It's nice to see something different.

    Will those commercials make me buy a Pre? Well, no. I already looked at the Pre and then bought an iPhone 3G s. There were just too many things not finished or partially finished on the Pre, so I crossed my fingers that AT&T and Apple will get their crap together on MMS and tethering soon.

    I'm also hoping the FCC comes down hard on them for their arbitrary American iPhone limitations, consumer-unfriendly app review process, and insane data pricing schemes. It's time for some rules to be set which will force American carriers to catch up with the rest of the world on data and features.
  • I wasn't creeped out, really...

    I was far too distracted trying to figure out what the hell was going to be creeped out. I was so distracted that I honestly didn't even know what the commercials were for until I read this article...
  • The ad I find most annoying is the Dell lollipop.....

    Probably Because of the repetition & frequency, imagery/cgi is interesting, music annoying...

    (wonder if they have a Linux model with 3g? Otherwise would not consider it)

    The pre ads are surreal/odd but interesting....
    Is not the imagery based on some surrealist painting/painter?
    seems that way to me.........Duchamp?
  • RE: Palm's creepy Pre ads: will they actually make you buy the phone?

    The ads won't make anyone here buy the phone. I'm not
    convinced they'd make a more typical user buy the phone,
    either. Purchasers of these phones basically break into 4

    1 - Techies who know everything possible about every
    model not even released yet. We probably make our
    decisions before the phones even come out.

    2 - Business consumers who have a limited selection of
    phones made for them (often limited to a single model.)

    3 - Small business or personal consumers that gather
    information about a group of phones, balance plans,
    features, etc. against their needs and make a decision.

    4 - Consumers that just have to have toy X, regardless of
    all other issues.

    For a couple of these groups (2 and 3), the commercials
    serve to put the Pre in the minds of consumers or decision
    makers. They may not sell the phone directly, but if seeing
    the commercial or discussing the creepy chick causes them
    to research the Palm more seriously, it's done its job.

    For group 1 these commercials do nothing more than give
    fanboys fodder. We already know everything about the
    phones and the plans they mention in the commercials.

    For group 4 the commercial is irrelevant. They made up
    their mind a loooong time ago due to some overzealous
    love of Apple, Linux or Microsoft. Nothing else matters.
  • Really? Palm was running these?

    Goes to show how much [b]I[/b] was paying attention...
  • RE: I'm glad I'm not alone in my "discomfort!"

    I don't mind a more humanizing slant on technology,
    HOWEVER, that woman is not human!! Her coloring is so blah
    and the shots of her fancy hairdo, what's up with that? The
    advertising that works best for me is ads that feature people I
    would want to be like, to emulate, to have their life. That
    woman is like a hybrid of a Stepford Wife and Spock. No
  • A Big Mistake

    You know, I bought my first smartphone long before most people knew what a smartphone was, and spent a huge amount of time explaining what it could do for people. Apple did the industry a HUGE favor by launching a major marketing campaign that really showed off the potential of these devices to the average person. Apple CREATED new demand for smartphones by showing how useful and fun they could be. They're still a fairly new product though, and given how crowded the marketplace is (Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Android, Sidekick and iPhone), I think Palm made a big mistake in marketing a vibe instead of a phone.
  • They'd Better Hurry!

    Word on the street has it that the Apple's app store is
    about to release a new app called "The Other Side",
    making it possible for you to text the dead. Palm better
    hurry, or Apple will maintain the upper hand in this life,
    and the next. I'd like to see Keanu Reeves do the ad. =)
  • I had no idea what they were selling

    It wasn't until about the 20th time I saw one of these that I thought "wow, these are weird. What the heck are they trying to sell anyway? Oh, a Palm Pre."

    They are terrible ads. They don't even say the name of the product out loud, like it's some kind of dirty secret, and I should be ashamed if I own one.
    Richard in Phoenix
  • Getting tired of the FUD

    I'm really getting sick and tired of the ZDNet crap reporting. I'm a tech guy, I could care less about a "creepy" factor in a TV ad, of which I watch little to no TV. How about reporting something more in line with this site, like the TECHNOLOGY!!!!!!!
  • RE: Palm's creepy Pre ads: will they actually make you buy the phone?

    Whoever cast that girl should be fired and banned from the ad business. The whole thing looks so surreally wierd that you don't care what the ad is about and just want it to end as soon as possible.
  • RE: Palm's creepy Pre ads: will they actually make you buy the phone?

    An ad that I liked was for the Blackberry Storm, Verizon style. I'm
    referring to the ads that were released before the phone was in
    consumer hands. I thought it was smart, well produced, and
    heightened your interest in the device. The attention of the
    viewer wasn't distracted from the phone like it is with the Palm
    Pre ads.
  • Who is rude Mr. Koepke?

    To come out and say to the same people your trying to
    reach to buy a clients product; that they are being rude
    . Really smart thinking their!
  • Mentioning past lives is not creepy, it's forward loop thinking.

    The mark of an educated mind is the ability to entertain and idea without believing in it. - Aristotle

    Using one's imagination to trigger ideas is more useful than creepy. Reincarnation doesn't have to be "real" to be useful.

    Please consider the following mental exercise for idea generation and mind storming. Ask yourself this question, "If I had faced this issue a hundred times before in a hundred different ways and deep down I know that there is a better way to handle this for all involved that what is the best way available to me?"

    The profound answers you get to this question can be deeply surprising in their scope and usefulness. The non-conscious mind is a powerful aspect of our ability to think and comprehend solutions.

    PS If you calibrate and consider the level of consciousness indicated by the advertisement it appears to be around 530 on a scale of 1-1000 which is outstanding.
  • Brand marketing

    Seems to me they're pushing the 'lifestyle choice' angle over any
    technobabble. This may alienate techies and 'creep out' stoners, but it
    has the added effect of pushing the entire Palm brand and associating
    it closely with an ethereally pretty woman with a calming voice in a
    pretty field. It says "hey, why aren't you as relaxed as she is?" and then
    shows you her phone.

    It's a very soft-sell. You won't get anybody deciding instantly "that's
    the phone for me", but on the other hand, you raise it as a possible
    alternative handset to many people whose lives are too busy to keep
    track of the latest mobile kit. When they come to make their upgrade,
    they're probably beginning to catch on to the notion that a smart
    phone is a good thing, but which one? The G1 seems a bit geeky, the
    iPhone's friendly but a bit generic, and then, this Pre seems... relaxing,
    reassuring, and above all, different. They're using what some see as
    the main drawback (it's not an iPhone) as the USP (since you don't see
    the thing until late into the advert, a first-time viewer is asking
    themselves "what's this?"), and tying that in with a smug set of
    positive brand-associations.

    For my money, it's an advertising masterstroke, since it will certainly
    get more people [i]considering[/i] a Pre, rather than everybody just
    getting an iPhone. Whether there's enough stressed-out business
    people who'll identify with the selling points and actually buy one,
    rather than opting for the until recently perceived 'safer' iPhone, time
    will tell. It's worth a shot though, since they don't have much to rival
    the app store.