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Sony puts spotlight on its new smartphone Xperia Ion

Published: June 25, 2012 | 7:08 am
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Like many cellphone vendors, Sony is marketing its latest phone with an emphasis on everything but its original purpose: talking.

Instead the company is using the US introduction of its Xperia Ion to highlight the entertainment experiences a person can have using the device, like playing video games and watching movies.

Since Sony is also an entertainment company, the Xperia Ion ad campaign is an opportunity to highlight Sony-owned content like the coming Spider-Man movie, music by the duo Matt and Kim, and PlayStation video games. The device, a 4G LTE Android phone, will be available through AT&T and will cost $99.99.

“This is not just about launching a device,” said Peter Farmer, the vice president for marketing for Sony Mobile in North America. “It’s about establishing credibility and visibility for Sony in the smartphone space.”

Devoted gamers may remember the February announcement of the ad campaign for the PlayStation Vita, a hand-held game console. The campaign for the Xperia Ion is similar to the Vita’s because it also focuses on the ability to experience content on the go.

The television commercial, which will make its debut on Monday on cable stations like TNT, USA and TBS, is called “One Block.” The spot features a young man walking home as he passes by a Matt and Kim concert and a scene from the Spider-Man movie, then is tackled by a soldier from a war-themed video game. In the Vita commercial, a young man has similar encounters with virtual characters as he makes his way around a city.

The effort is also a series of firsts for Sony. It’s the first time Sony Mobile Communications, the company’s mobile phone division, has introduced a phone in the United States since it broke ties with the Ericsson brand. The Xperia Ion is also the first 4G phone for Sony, and it is the company’s first Sony-branded smartphone in the United States.

Phones with 4G technology, a more advanced form of wireless technology, are rapidly gaining popularity, according to data released by Nielsen, with consumers younger than 34 most likely to have already bought a 4G phone.

“Specifically we are talking to people who crave entertainment experiences,” said Thomas Murphy, a creative director at McCann Erickson, the agency that worked on the campaign.

Sony said the campaign is estimated to have cost in the “mid-eight figure” range.

Ross Rubin, the executive director and principal analyst at NPD Connected Intelligence, a division of the NPD group, said the company’s strategy made sense. “The availability of faster wireless networks that are more capable of delivering rich video content marks an opportunity for Sony to re-energize its smartphone efforts under its own brand.”

Differentiating this product from the Vita is also important to Sony, Rubin said. “Sony recognizes that not everybody is going to get a Vita,” he said. “In order to extend their franchise in gaming, they need to extend beyond their own hardware.” To that end, the company recently announced it would allow users of phones made by HTC, one of its competitors, to play games from the PlayStation suite.

Sony is not a top player in the US smartphone universe. It faces fierce competition not just from Apple but from other manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola, LG and HTC that have also introduced versions of their own 4G phones with marketing campaigns focused on Web browsing, mobile applications, video and the ability to share content easily.

To establish Sony in the crowded market, the campaign includes extensive media sponsorships and product placement opportunities. “We want to create an emotional bond with consumers through those entertainment lifestyle outlets,” Farmer, the Sony Mobile executive, said.

In one partnership, with the magazine US Weekly, the musician Gavin DeGraw will use an Xperia Ion to keep a video diary that readers will be able to view by scanning QR codes in the publication.

Sponsorships include the ESPN All-Access event in Chicago in September, where athletes will use the Xperia Ion to send messages from a social media center. At the Los Angeles premiere for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” hosts from the entertainment website PopSugar will use the device to take photos and send Twitter messages from the red carpet.

The digital ad buy includes 40 home-page “takeovers” – instances in which only Sony’s advertising will appear on a page – on websites like Mashable, Esquire, TMZ, ESPN, Pandora and MLB.com. Theater ads include a crowdsourced digital game called Brickbreaker that viewers will see before the 30-second “One Block” spot is shown.

Sony focused its out-of-home advertising in New York and Atlanta. It includes bus shelters, traditional and digital billboards, interactive kiosks, taxi tops and the Sony digital billboard in Times Square.

Print ads feature the product against bold-colored backgrounds and use words ending in “ion,” like “connection” and “high-definition,” a play on the “Ion” in the product name. Ads will run in publications like Rolling Stone, Maxim and Wired.


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