British smartphone brand Kazam talked to us about the awful couple of weeks it's just had

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Kazam.

First, the British smartphone manufacturer had its big new TV ad banned in the UK on after people complained it objectified women. Then, its star brand ambassador, the former Miss Sweden, suddenly quit her role. More recently its new brand ambassador, singer Tulisa Contostavlos, was caught tweeting while using an iPhone.

That’s awful timing for Kazam, which has just launched a series of new smartphones. We met with Kazam’s cofounder and CMO James Atkins at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to talk about Kazam’s PR nightmare.

Atkins says that tech brands are trying to differentiate their products using “gimmicky features.” But Atkins says that those things don’t add value to the consumer. We asked him whether producing the world’s thinnest smartphone (Kazam actually holds the world record) has any benefit to the customer:

“That’s a valid point. How am I going to answer that question? Kazam is not particularly focused on leading with tech messages,” he said. “So, unfortunately, not unfortunately, we live in a tech world were people want to compare things, so we have to talk about 13 megapixels and full HD. But we typically wouldn’t lead with that as a message.”

“We’d lead with our corporate message and other bits and pieces around that. I would lump design in with that as well. Typically we wouldn’t lead with a design message. Because design for me is subjective so it’s difficult to say ‘beautifully designed phone’ because I might think it’s beautiful, but you might not think it’s beautiful”

“We had the world’s thinnest smartphone. It’s like anything, it’s only as fast or as thin until someone does something better. It’s just one of those things that’s just something we could claim. Do people want thinner devices? I don’t think people particularly care how thick the device is but I do think people about the design of the device.”

That’s an unusual answer – Atkins says that Kazam is isn’t leading with the claim that it has produced the world’s thinnest smartphone, but it’s actually at the top of the company’s website:

Scroll through Kazam’s official website and you’ll probably notice some typos and grammatical errors. How is Kazam creating a sleek and advanced brand in the face of competition from tech giants like Apple and Samsung?

“When you set a company up, you go back 18 months and we didn’t exist as a brand. Where we are today, we’re in 15 European companies, we’ve got nine offices across Europe, there’s a certain amount of catching up that you have to do. Things like the website is a justified point. The website needs a lot of work. It’s not where it needs to be. And I actually think that this stand [at Mobile World Congress] is a really good visualisation of what our brand should be. It’s been executed really well. I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re bullish. I think that we don’t want to take ourselves to seriously. We want to have fun. And in tech, there’s a tendency to be too serious about everything.”

Companies often try to create ads so scandalous that they’re immediately banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). We asked Atkins whether Kazam developed its latest ad with the intention of getting banned to generate even more publicity: 

“I can’t really answer that question because we’re not really talking about it,” he said.

Here is the ad in question:

Now that the former Miss Sweden has quit Kazam, Kazam’s best-known ambassador is British singer Tulisa Contostavlos. Contostavlos was featured in a leaked sex tape in 2012, charged with helping to supply an undercover journalist with cocaine in 2014 (the case was dismissed by a judge), and was fined in 2014 for assaulting a celebrity blogger in a nightclub. We asked Atkins whether Contostavlos is a good face for the brand, since she has a certain reputation.

“Yeah, I do know what you mean. We have a program called the Kazambassador program. I really thought that was awesome when I did it and every time I say it I cringe now. At a low level we try and empower our community of people who like our phones, we send phones to them to test and bug fix. Many phone manufacturers have in-house bug fixing, we use our network to achieve that. It goes up the pyramid with bigger reach and higher personality.”

Kazam's new Tornado 348 phoneKazamKazam’s new Tornado 348 phone.

“Tulisa came about when she was doing an event for us, and she really loved the phone. She really liked it. I’m not interested in paying people to say they like our phones. If they’re not genuinely interested then I’m not interested, because it doesn’t work, basically. We’ve all been there where someone is paid to like it and then two weeks after their contract has ended they’re seen using an iPhone somewhere. So it just doesn’t work,” Atkins said.

It’s hard to say whether Contostavlos is genuinely interested in Kazam’s phones. Her tweets are posted using the official iPhone Twitter app, making it unlikely that she uses a Kazam phone.

It’s been a tough time for Kazam, facing outrage over its banned TV ad right in the middle of its biggest marketing campaign yet. How does Atkins deal with negative press about Kazam’s phones?

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion. We are making big strides in terms of our sales volumes … The proposition that we have, [customers] just get. It’s not like we’re trying to give value added services because you get a free case with it. They’re like ‘Yeah, ok, I can see the case, but I didn’t really want the case.'”

It’s important to note here that Kazam actually gives out free cases with some of its phones. Here’s a screenshot of the product page for the Trooper2 6.0:

So what message does Kazam want to give out? After all, its co-founder paints a confusing picture of the business.

“We’re a British brand trying to go up against the big boys, we’re doing alright.” His PR representative corrects him: “We’re doing really well.”

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