I knew something was up as soon as I saw the subway station filled with hundreds of anonymous figures, all dressed in the same hooded white outfits. There, among the hundreds of white-clad commuters was one young man, dressed as you’d find someone at a tech firm today-gray sweater, loosely knotted tie, a day or two behind on shaving.
He’s surrounded by gray people all wearing those white suits, and listening to white headphones. The young man is reading George Orwell’s “1984” on his tablet device. The train pulls in.
The presentation of the commercial was clearly intended to remind the viewer of Apple’s classic 1984 Super Bowl commercial, the year when the company introduced the Macintosh. This was one of the most iconic product introduction videos ever, so it’s no surprise that when Motorola decided to take on Apple with its new Xoom tablet, it would bring back Apple’s own images. “We’re playing homage to what is said to be the greatest Super Bowl ad of all time,” said David Polston, corporate vice president of Global Brand Marketing at Motorola.
What’s interesting about the ad is that Motorola never really even says much about the Xoom. It shows it being used as an e-reader, it shows the young man finding a florist shop, and it shows him taking a photo of some flowers, which he then sends to a young woman he likes as part of a cartoon drawing. The young woman, in what is clearly a message to Apple users, pulls the ubiquitous white earphones from her ears when she sees the young man approach with the flowers.
We still don’t know a lot about the Xoom at this point beyond a price that’s rumored to be around $800, the fact that it works with Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” and that it will be available first through Verizon Wireless. It’s clear from the commercial that the device will contain a camera, GPS, e-reader software and a version of multitouch that’s more flexible than the iPad. It also looks a lot like the iPad, although that “Motorola” logo in the upper left is a pretty strong indication that this isn’t your ordinary tablet.
But is this really a slam at Apple as many are suggesting? Polston doesn’t think so. While it acknowledges Apple’s place in the industry through its echo of the 1984 commercial, it also makes clear that this isn’t 1984 and that the Xoom isn’t just an iPad clone. Polston said that instead, Motorola thinks there’s an emerging concern about whether Apple is listening to the market.
Xoom Needs to Serve Up Steak with the Sizzle
In fact, Polston said that Motorola has been kicking the idea of a commercial referring back to Apple’s original Super Bowl ad for some time. “It’s been an idea floating around within our organization for a while,” Polston said. “We announced Xoom at CES [in January], and about that time we were getting this insight around the omnipresence of Apple and thought it could be a compelling ad idea. We took this idea of an overarching commentary and expanded as a commentary on Apple.”
Polston said that basically, the goal behind the ad is to show people that Motorola is reacting to the demands of the marketplace. “If you look at the way consumers are using the iPad, it’s basically content consumption,” he said. “We’re trying to go to the next step and allow people to create and produce with the Xoom, which is why it has so many features and functions built into it.”
The mission of the Xoom and of Motorola, according to Polston, is to help people. He said that’s the reason for the new slogan, “Life. M-Powered.” It’s also the reason that Motorola turned the story of the Xoom into a love story about a guy trying to meet a woman he’s obviously intrigued with. He said the idea is to make this a very human story.
The question, of course, is whether the Xoom will be as transformative as the Motorola ad makes it out to be. There’s no question that the Xoom will be a first-class piece of hardware. Motorola has shown through its Droid line that it can build some very nice products. But to be transformative it must also offer an experience that’s so much better than the iPad that people will seek it out instead.
To accomplish such a transformation requires more than just great hardware. It also requires an operating system that enables greatness along with a choice of applications that give people the things they want and can’t get anywhere else. As nice as it is to see Apple’s edgy 1984 ad turned into a love story, Motorola, as well as Google and Verizon, needs to make all of this work together to get to the next level.
Right now, what we have is a memorable commercial. It grabbed my attention so effectively that I ran it several times (thanks to the cable company and its DVR) to really see what was there. But it needs to grab more than my attention; it needs to grab the attention and the imagination of the marketplace, and that’s a lot harder to accomplish.