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Sprint Palm Pre campaign wants bite of Apple's pie

Troubled wireless carrier Sprint's newly aggresive Palm Pre campaign leaves no doubt that it wants skin in the Apple iPhone game.

The Pre debuted as the as the flagship device on Sprint, in coordination with Sprint's "Now Network" marketing campaign. Equipped with the newly designed WebOS operating system, a touch-screen and a sliding keyboard, the Pre represents Palm's effort to remain competitive in the smartphone market.

"What's interesting is Palm's success at generating buzz by working with Sprint on a device that was company-defining," said Mark Donovan, Seattle-based senior vice president and analyst for comScore. "The campaign for the Pre is about connecting consumers to the Palm brand, and we're excited to see what has happened here since the April 6 release.

"The Palm Pre has been a very healthy launch of a flagship device, and Sprint is going very aggressively after iPhone owners with their ads for the Pre," he said. "?Is your iPhone contact up? That's great.'

"It's what we've seen in our tracking of mobile advertising, not for the Palm Pre per se, but our ad data tracks who is advertising what and where over the major mobile networks, and we've seen Sprint directly targeting AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers."

Buzz surrounding the Palm Pre began building up in earnest during late May with the launch of Sprint's "Now Network" ad campaign.

Winning the top award at the 56th Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the campaign ran in print and TV, but also delivered its message of connecting customers to information on-demand through an extensive online ad campaign.

One of the more unique aspects of the digital ad campaign was a homepage takeover in late May.

The ad, dubbed the "Human Clock," featured a mash-up of user-submitted videos.

For instance, at 11:14, the "Human Clock" ad would display four different videos of people displaying the 1's and 4's needed to represent the time, similar to a digital clock.

The ad exposed visitor profile for Sprint's Human Clock YouTube campaign were skewed 63-37 toward male consumers.

Fifty-three percent fall within the coveted 18-34 demographic. Forty-four percent are ages 35-54, while 4 percent are 55-plus.

The ad reached approximately 13 million people on the day it debuted, with the gadget-crazed 18-24 year old male demographic representing a significant portion of the exposed population.

More than one-third -- 37 percent -- of people exposed to the ad were between the ages of 18-24 and more than 60 percent were male.

In conjunction with other online and offline advertising, this renewed interest in Sprint helped to generate early buzz for the Palm Pre.

Sprint online and print ads promoting the Pre go for the jugular: "Your iPhone contract is up. Perfect timing.

"The Palm Pre does things the iPhone can't. Run multiple applications at the same time with real-time updates and even save $1,200 over two years. It's the perfect time to join the Now Network.

"America's most dependable 3G network, bringing you the first and only wireless 4G network from a national carrier."

Tracking Palm Pre search buzz
Trends in the number of weekly searchers on terms relating to the Palm Pre suggest that the "Now Network" advertising campaign conducted by Sprint during the second half of May helped generate early interest in the device.

The number of searchers more than doubled during the week ending May 24, coinciding with the YouTube homepage takeover.

Interest declined somewhat during the following week, but rebounded in the two subsequent weeks after the official launch of the device, with 267,000 searchers for the week ending June 7 and 361,000 for the week ending June 14.

The final two weeks in June saw the numbers of searchers fall to approximately half the number of the peak week of activity.

Weekly unique searchers for Palm Pre-related terms ranged from 92 on May 10 to its peak of 361 on June 14. The campaign lasted through the end of that month.

Interestingly, the decline in Palm Pre search activity at the end of June coincided with the launch of the Apple iPhone OS 3.0 on June 17 and launch of the iPhone 3G S two days later.

Throughout May and the first week of June, the number of unique iPhone searchers remained fairly consistent at approximately one million people per week.

In the week prior to the launch of the 3GS, however, the number of iPhone searchers more than doubled to 2.3 million people during the week of the launch.

The Palm Pre appeared to resonate with a different audience than those interested in the iPhone.

Of the people who searched for Palm Pre-related terms during the eight weeks of the study, just 11 percent also searched on iPhone-related terms, suggesting that the majority of the people interested in the Pre have little interest in the iPhone.

Using online campaigns to drive offline sales
While product-related search activity can offer a proxy for consumer interest in the devices, traffic to online store locators where the devices can be purchases likely indicates a higher degree of purchase intent.

ComScore examined the impact of the respective device launches on traffic to the online store locator features at and to understand how such intent may have been impacted.

The week the Palm Pre launched, experienced a 42-percent increase to 137,000 visitors to its online store locator page, followed by a 41-percent jump to 193,000 visitors the subsequent week.

Meanwhile, the AT&T find-a-store feature on, saw traffic jump 90 percent to 295,000 visitors during the week of the iPhone 3GS launch.

Weekly visitors to AT&T and Sprint store locators started with AT&T in the lead by a tally of 113-102.

During the peak of the Palm Pre campaigns, Sprint passed AT&T to take a 193-155 advantage.

Predictably, AT&T regained the lead after the release of the iPhone 3G S. Still, Sprint and Palm made their point and put the Pre on consumers' radar.

"It's really interesting to watch Sprint use marketing to stick a finger in the eye of their rival and to watch them align forces with Palm when it comes to promoting the Pre in a big way," Mr. Donovan said. "The Pre was regarded as in the shadows of the iPhone 3G S, but Sprint is being aggressive driving online and TV viewers to buy the Pre.

"They're aggressively advertising the Now Network and tying those campaigns to the Pre and mentioning guys like Twitter and Facebook," he said. "Things like that are an attempt to freshen up the Sprint and Palm brands to reach these new, younger consumers and go directly after people who did buy an iPhone -- ?Why don't you just get a Pre?'

"The carrier growth in an industry that is still maturing is really trying to come from acquiring your competitor's customers -- that's what driving these exclusive agreements with OEMS and these aggressive ad campaigns we've been seeing."