Technology: Gadget Revolution

Gadget promotion is now more about fashion and lifestyle than technology, as Adam Hill discovers.

Technology: Gadget Revolution
Technology: Gadget Revolution

Shouting about GPRS connectivity, 3.4Mb internal memory and 104MHz processors is no longer the only game in town as technology is reshaped to fit our changing lives. The benefits are all that most potential buyers are interested in, which means tech-heavy explanations of a product's capabilities are unlikely to find much favour.

Picture phone users are interested in fun, not gigabytes. With its iPod, Apple has become as much a music or entertainment company as a computer manufacturer. BT Openworld is promoting the internet as just another utility, like gas or water.

'To 90 per cent of the population, technology is impenetrable,' says Lewis PR vice-president, creative, Nick Leonard. 'Now everything you promote has got to be related to benefits: saving money, increasing reliability, providing a better entertainment experience. Seven years ago, if you got a piece of coverage in a national, you'd celebrate; now it's expected.'

The media tends to veer away from in-depth comparative reviews of gadgets, leaning towards case studies or personal testimony from end users.

Quick 'show-and-tell' sessions with journalists in coffee shops are now commonplace as tech PROs seek to grab their attention. Hiring hotel rooms for drop-in sessions for writers keen to see the latest products pre-launch has become a key part of Bite Communications' strategy. 'Instead of just sending them an iPod, we would also loan them a PowerBook and a digital camera to create real-life benefits for the press,' explains managing director Sheryl Seitz.

But a new flashing light or a different coloured case on an upgrade is unlikely to cut much ice. What's the incentive to put them into a magazine or supplement, unless it's What MP3 Player?

SMS-blocking software manufacturer Sicap understands this. The product may be seen as a bit of a yawn in itself, but becomes more interesting when linked to police figures suggesting 51 per cent of threatening behaviour involves SMS messaging. It is more compelling still when children's homes charity NCH reports that SMS is a key medium for playground bullies.

Social concern is not the only route for tech PROs. Mobile phones are no longer just gadgets; they have become fashion accessories. Firefly managing director Claire Walker says 'celeb feeding' - sending your new phone to Posh and Becks, say, and getting them photographed with it - is crucial. 'People don't buy gadgets based on the features but on how it makes them feel. It comes back to emotion,' she says.

Today's media are far more interested in the style and cultural potential of a product. Couple that with shouting about how the technology can change your life, and you're on to a winner.

PALMONE TUNGSTEN T3

PalmOne, formerly Palm, which has sold five million hand-held devices in Europe over the past seven years, launched its Tungsten T3 to the business market last October, an upgrade from the previous T2 model. 'Great product, terrible name,' was the verdict of technology magazine Stuff. Although remarkable for being the first of its handhelds to use an Intel processor, this was not - true to form for the tech sector - a selling point in PR terms. The fact that it was 'quicker than a greased pig' (Stuff again) is more what Kaizo, palmOne's PR agency, is after.

At launch, T3 media activity focused on the enterprise sector, with nationals and B2B titles attending a briefing at which the product was linked with Sage's ACT lead-generation sales database, normally only available on PC.

Launching during the Rugby World Cup gave palmOne the chance to tap into consumer media with a specially developed, PC-linked program for updating match results. This was sold into rugby magazines and nationals, the latest in an ongoing concentration on vertical markets that has seen Kaizo push palmOne's female-focused PDA, the Zire 21, to magazines on wine, gardening, and food and drink.

Alex Jones, palmOne account director at Kaizo, says: 'You've got to put it in the context of the target audience. PDAs have thousands of applications.

You have to attach technology to something they are interested in.' Jones uses a database of freelance journalists with non-disclosure agreements to sell ideas into the nationals and magazines. Although mainstream tech coverage has shrunk over the past few years, Jones still rates The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Mirror and The Sun.

NOKIA N-GAGE

Launched last September, Nokia's challenge to Nintendo's Game Boy is a portable, multiplayer gaming console that is also a phone. The manufacturer says it has also sold 600,000 N-Gage units worldwide in its first three months, 100,000 of them in the UK.

'Just sending it in a Jiffy bag to journalists doesn't work because that's a sure fire route to reviews that don't explain what the product does,' says Nokia UK director of communications Mark Squires. In the first place, media eyebrows were raised anyway over what a mobile phone maker was doing in the games market. Squires explains: 'From the beginning we said this was a games console that happens to be a phone, not the other way round.

We said that very bluntly, so the positioning was right.' The campaign, which has been handled between the in-house team and GBC Consumer, has been underpinned by sponsorship. As well as a launch at the London Eye, it sponsored clubbing, gaming and fashion outlet Joystick Junkies, the Edinburgh International Games Festival and the after-show party at gaming's Golden Joystick Awards. 'These were all careful flags to show we weren't just playing,' Squires says.

Targeted at 18 to 35-year-old 'active gamers', media activity concentrated on early-adopter staple publications such as Dazed & Confused, Vice and skateboarding title Juice as well as gaming magazine Edge, gadget titles T3 and Stuff, and lads' mags such as FHM, Loaded and Front. On radio, Kiss FM's breakfast presenter and gaming enthusiast Bam Bam was given one to try out and Nokia also set up a website, n-gage.com.

'The audience goes out, has fun, comes home and plays online. Our message was that this was wireless, any player, anywhere and also a PDA, phone and MP3 player,' Squires adds.

KANE CAR PILOT

The promotion of Kane Gear's Car Pilot navigation system, launched last year, was based around print advertising, according to managing director Robert Fedder. 'We did have a PR agency, but weren't getting the results we wanted,' he says.

Products have been sent out to journalists to test, but Fedder says 'slightly more' than half of the journalists who've featured it have approached Kane Gear rather than the other way round. What Car?, BBC Top Gear, Autocar, Stuff, T3, in-flight magazines for Virgin and easyJet, the Sunday Telegraph and The Independent have all carried pieces on the product, which is aimed squarely at 'mobile workers' - that is, sales reps and other business people who spend a lot of time driving.

'Two types of people buy the Car Pilot,' Fedder continues. 'The technology-discerning, who do research and find out we have the features and performance they want, and the rest, which is a much larger group of people who care about not getting lost or getting points on their licence. This is a very, very broad audience. What we find is that nine out of ten people who buy Car Pilot will be buying a PDA at the same time.' During peak times for new car registrations - March and September - Fedder says the Car Pilot will sell 'single digit' thousands per week.

With the product acting as a navigation device and speed camera warning system, media activity 'has been above-the-line-led', admits Fedder. 'There is some PR, but it's been more reactive. But that's not necessarily how we want to do things in the future. We are past the initial interest and we have an expectation to be managed.' He says marketing manager Catherine Gilmartin will be working more with editorial teams during the rest of this year and a pitch for PR consultancies is under way.

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