The smartphone launch event: A largely wasted effort

Apple's flashy iPhone launch events have become the envy of competitors in the smartphone segment so it's now common for them to throw their own bashes. Fact is most shoppers aren't aware of these events.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
Image credit: CNET

A common scene since the launch of the first iPhone a few years ago is the flashy smartphone launch event. Company shills take the stage to convince the press covering the event that the new smartphone is the Next Big Thing. With the exception of Apple events, these expensive launch shows are largely ineffective.

In the beginning there weren't many smartphone launch events. Companies showed new phones at tech shows and were happy with the modest exposure. Then Apple turned the launch event into big news and gradually its competitors started throwing big bashes of their own to bring new smartphones into the world.

The tech paparazzi and enthusiasts eat this stuff up but most consumers as a rule don't even see these flashy events.

This year we've already seen big launch events by Samsung, BlackBerry, and HTC with no doubt more on the way. Each company threw a long, lavish show to bring its latest creation to the masses. It seems each new event gets more elaborate and expensive, trying to outdo the others thrown before.

The truth is these launch events don't seem to be very effective. Sure the tech paparazzi and enthusiasts eat this stuff up but most consumers as a rule don't even see these flashy events. If the mainstream media picked up these events on the local news consumers might become aware of the launch event but that usually only happens for iPhone launches.

That may be unfair but its the reality, iPhone launch events get picked up by national and local news. This kicks up the excitement level among prospective buyers which is a more significant audience than the tech press. While companies like the tech press to cover the new phone, it's consumers who are the ones buying smartphones in huge numbers.

See related: How to throw a successful mobile product launch

It doesn't help that most companies don't make the new product available at launch. They usually let what little excitement they build up with the event escape by not actually selling the phone for weeks and in some cases months. What few mainstream consumers hear about the phone as a result of the launch lose enthusiasm for it when it can't be bought during the heat of the moment.

Nokia is about to throw a 5-hour launch event for its new Lumia phones and it will be trying desperately to get consumers psyched up about the new phone(s). The tech press will ooh and ahh over the new model's features and enthusiasts will be discussing the phones excitedly.

Mainstream consumers, the group that Nokia really needs to sell, won't hear anything about the new phones at launch as it won't be big enough news to hit the local air waves. Nokia, like every company but Apple, will have to run a blitz media campaign to get the word out to prospective buyers. And that seems to be a hard thing to do well.

It's not fair but only iPhone launches get covered everywhere. That coverage helps foment excitement in consumers significant enough to get them to not only open their wallets but to stand in line to do so. That stimulates even more coverage in the news which keeps sales flowing. We won't know until we see a few more of them if the absence of Steve Jobs at iPhone events affects the massive coverage, but for now Apple has the launch event advantage.

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