I'm spending this week visiting my parents, and when I visit my parents, I end up spending a lot more time watching TV sports than I do normally. Which turned out to be pretty useful for me, actually, because I got to see Verizon's "Droid Does" ad, in heavy rotation:
As an Apple fan, a tech observer, and someone interested in how advertising works in general, I found this pretty interesting. To be honest, the first thing that struck me about it was how gendered it was. The opening sequence features black text mocking the iPhone's inadequacies scrolling by on a white background; the text has the look and feel of an Apple ad, and playing in the background is exactly the sort of indie-pop song with a female vocal that's become strongly identified with Apple's advertising (think Fiest's "1234" or Yael Naim's "New Soul"). It's not feminine, exactly, but it's certainly, well, cute. Then, suddenly, the screen flicker to black, and we get vaguely menacing computer noises, as the phrase "Droid Does" takes shape Transformers-style on the over-pixelated screen. It's reminiscent of the sort of graphics you'd see in a video game or an action movie -- certainly more masculine (and remember, this ad is playing during NFL games). The idea that Apple products are "wimpy" or "effeminate" not uncommonly lurks behind less reasoned critiques. The Android phone will, apparently, be macho.
The next thing I realized was that, while I knew that this was an ad for Verizon's new Android 2.0 phone, I only knew that because I was a hopeless tech nerd who was already aware that such a thing was in the works. If you were coming into this totally cold, you'd probably be pretty puzzled by it, since Verizon is mentioned nowhere and "Android" is by no means a household name. Obviously this is a buzz-building ad, not meant to convey all the information the viewer will need, but it still has the capacity to baffle.
And what about the specific knocks on the iPhone in the ad's beginning? These are kind of a mishmosh. Some are things that are pretty easy for the average consumer to get -- "iDon't take five megapixel pictures," "iDon't have interchangeable batteries" -- while others will probably only make sense to the more tech savvy -- how many people really see "open development" as a selling point? To be charitable, they may be simultaneously targeting both those who know exactly what this is an ad for and those who've never even heard of Android.
Oh yeah, and then there's the weirdest part: the Website mentioned in the ad. If you head over to the droiddoes.com site now, you get a slick Flash-based site that shows you the ad and then offers you a chance to sign up for more information "when compromise has been deactivated." This is again sure to baffle the uninitiated -- it took me a minute to figure out what this was supposed to mean, and I knew what the site was for -- but at least Verizon Wireless logo was prominently displayed, which means most people will be able to figure out that all this fuss is about a phone of some sort. But as of earlier this week, the droiddoes.com URL led you to an extremely amateurish-looking site that featured some "more information coming soon" text, a few Google AdSense ad boxes (really! how much do you think Verizon made on those?), and the YouTube video for the song in the first part of the ad. (It's "Magic (Oh Oh Oh)" by MoZella, if you're wondering; note that on the YouTube page I just linked to, they tout their album's availability on iTunes.) I find this bit of fakery particularly strange, as the viewers of the first few days' worth of commercials were clearly not meant to know that an enormous multinational corporation was behind the ad campaign; and it seems semi-insulting to showcase the the song, since the whole point of its presence in the ad is to mock Apple's twee sensibilities.
Overall, it's an intriguing semi-successful mix of cultural sensibilities and corporate strategies. But perhaps the most important thing about it is the fact that it exists at all; you don't make ads attacking a competitor so explicitly unless that competitor is the industry giant. It's Verizon's equivalent of the "Get a Mac" ads. (Except those ads use apostrophes consistently.)