SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) — So is the Droid the iPhone killer? So far, no, but it’s off to a very respectable launch thanks to some smart seeding by Verizon.
Analysts estimate Verizon sold between 100,000 and 200,000 Droids in its opening weekend; the wireless carrier should sell a total of 765,000 Droids by year-end, according to Avian Securities’ forecast. At this pace, Droid, which was released in early November, would slightly trail the performance of the first Blackberry Storm, which sold a million units by the end of January after going on sale just before Thanksgiving last year. Remember, the Storm had few competitors last year, and this year Droid is contending with many more iPhone wannabes. Though the Droid did well, its debut racked up nowhere near the million iPhones sold in Apple’s opening weekend (which includes international sales; Droid is a U.S.-only launch).
Droid owes much of its success to its mega-advertising spending, estimated to be at least $85 million, the biggest launch ever by its carrier. But it also received good early buzz by getting its phone into the right hands, enough to earn accolades even from rivals. “Based on the chatter and all the people talking about the device, they did an excellent job, going far and broad with the seeding of the device,” said a PR executive who declined to be named because her client is a competitor to Motorola (which designed the Droid’s hardware).
Verizon won’t say how many demonstration phones it distributed to bloggers and influencers, but judging from the number of reviews online, it looked to be a sizable effort — a big seeding campaign can involve as many as 100 units. Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney, however, downplayed the idea that anything was outside normal practice. “The phone is in the hands of a variety of reviewers, but I can’t tell you that I went outside of the normal community any more for this phone than I did for others,” she said. The effort was led in-house, but Verizon declined to identify whether other outside PR or word-of-mouth shops were also employed in the launch.
Six ways Verizon seeded the Droid:
To cordon off any bad publicity before the device launch, handset makers and carriers often prohibit reviewers from publishing their musings until the product hits the stores or until the company has issued its own official announcement. But with Droid, Verizon didn’t hold reviewers to the customary embargo, possibly because it was “confident there wasn’t going to be negative reception” before launch, said Harry McCracken, editor of The Technologist, who reviewed the handset. Timing might have been a factor too; Verizon gave out the phones roughly a week ahead of the handset’s release, so there wasn’t much need for secrecy. The flurry of positive reviews, coupled with the phone’s fast and furious marketing, worked in Verizon’s favour.
TEASING THE BLOGGERS
To fan excitement among reviewers, Verizon did a teaser stunt that bloggers say is a first for the carrier. Shortly after Droid’s anti-iPhone teaser campaign aired, some bloggers received a Verizon greeting card displaying the phone’s emblematic red Terminator robot eye. When they opened the card, they were greeted by the phone’s now trademark robotic voice that utters “Droid.” The message inside reads: “Coming in November.” Days later, bloggers received yet another Verizon goodie, this time a remote-control “Star Wars” R2D2 robot, which arrived in a brown cardboard box that would have looked generic but for the red orb on the packaging. The gift’s accompanying card read: “11.09, Droiddoes.com,” which is the phone’s microsite where folks can sign up to get more information. “This was not standard operating procedure for Verizon by any stretch,” said Michael Oryl, editor of the blog Mobileburn.
It also teased with a photo-op showing Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam. In the photo, both appeared to be holding phones that had yet to hit the market, sparking mass speculation in the blogosphere. “That started to generate a bit of hype, and it was weird to see them together,” said Joshua Topolsky, chief editor of the gadget blog Engadget.
Jon Rettinger, president of the TechnoBuffalo blog, noted that only four to five bloggers or reporters were on Verizon’s conference call to introduce the Droid. Previous calls packed in upwards of 20 to 30 people, he said. The unusually intimate venue allowed participants to ask in-depth questions of the engineers from Google and Motorola, which both had a hand in developing and making the device. The company likely wanted to make sure reviewers get everything right as the phone offered innovative functions such as voice-recognition search. Steve Bray, a tech editor at a local TV station in Indiana, said for the first time, Verizon’s PR rep went out of her way to point out that he was getting an exclusive as the only broadcaster in the state who would get the phone. Mr. Bray ended up doing an iPhone-Droid comparison.
ENGINEERS FIRMLY IN THE MIX
In many cases, carriers don’t host demo events for a new handset — a PR exec whose client is a handset maker said, generally, only one in four handsets is event-worthy. But not only did Verizon stage Droid demo events, it made sure hard-core engineers were around to field the tough questions. Whereas these demo events are staffed primarily by PR people, Mr. Oryl noted that there were “actual engineers who know the guts of the product.” Google folks were also on hand, which is a rarity, as “you don’t see Google people too often.” For the Blackberry Storm2, which went on sale exclusively at Verizon just days before the Droid, the carrier simply shipped the demo units, with no event to back the launch.
BULKIER PRESS KIT
For the Droid, Verizon went to town and beefed up its press kit. Compared to other Verizon handsets, “the push with the Droid was far more active … the press kit was more elaborate and in-depth,” Mr. Rettinger said. Whereas other handsets came with photocopied sheets highlighting the phone’s features, Droid’s kit arrived with more polish, with slick glossies and packed in a lot more colour, according to Mr. Rettinger. There was inevitably more explaining to do, since the Droid runs on Android 2.0, an operating system the world has never used.
A NEW ATTITUDE
By all accounts, with the Droid Verizon was courting coverage. Generally, handset makers and carriers are wary of leaks, concerned of bloggers taking control of the press coverage as they get wind of the phone, or worse, bloggers actually getting their hands on a prototype before the phone has been bullet-proofed and cleared of any bugs. But reviewers noted that the carrier was markedly proud, excited and freewheeling with Droid. “You could sense their excitement — even when we leaked the pictures of the phone, you could tell they were enjoying the coverage,” said Boy Genius, who runs the eponymous Boy Genius Report blog and declined to disclose his name.
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