Palm to launch “Passion Brands” Treo marketing campaign

November 21, 2006, 9:43 AM UTC
Fortune

Treo680

Palm (PALM) and some partner companies will spend $25 million on the U.S. portion of a marketing campaign for its Treo smartphone, internally dubbed “Passion Brands.” The premise: Palm will introduce potential customers to the idea that they can do things like search Google, bid on eBay, and book flights on Travelocity wirelessly from their Treo phones – things they’re already passionate about doing online.

For example, a billboard might ask, “Do you eBay?” and show the functioning eBay site on a Treo screen.

The campaign will join Palm’s $30 million marketing push with Vodaphone in European transit hubs, where it’s also promoting the Treo’s wireless capabilities.

The targets of the Passion Brands campaign are users of lower-cost “feature phones” like the Motorola RAZR, which tend to be thin and lightweight with simple controls, and (ironically) few features.

“We do believe that more people will Google on-the-go than at desk-side, sometime soon,” said spokeswoman Marlene Somsak. “The great thing about our product is, you may buy it for one purpose, but then you can grow with it and add on things. It’s one of the few products I can think of that I actually can do more with every day since I bought it.”

My take:

At this stage in a market I certainly believe it’s important to emphasize usefulness rather than horsepower. Your average person doesn’t know why he or she might want a smartphone like the Treo, and thus doesn’t care how fast the processor is or whether the operating system is multi-threaded. (Power users, or course, do care.)

But I’m skeptical of the idea that a RAZR user who’s paying $50 per month for voice and text messaging is going to see a “passion brands” ad and decide to upgrade to a pricier, bulkier Treo and pay $30 more each month for a data plan to support it. I just don’t buy that.

I think Palm is probably getting ahead of itself. The average cell phone user still doesn’t understand how Treo smartphones make it so much easier to sort through thousands of contacts almost instantaneously, or to text message with a fraction of the effort.

The major pain point for your average feature phone user is not, “I wish I could monitor eBay auctions while I’m sitting on the train.” It’s, “I wish I could find phone numbers faster,” or, “I wish I could see a log of my incoming and outgoing phone calls from two months ago,” or “I wish I could text message without so many taps.” The Treo solves all of those problems – and has for years – but the mainstream is just now ready to hear the message.

I’ve been a Treo user for about two or three years. I take the thing just about everywhere – it’s an essential personal and business planning tool. And I’ve got a dirty little secret: I don’t use it to surf the Web, and I don’t particularly want to.

I do use the Treo constantly for managing my address book and calendar, for text messaging, and for leaving myself short notes like shopping lists and driving directions. Again, I’ve been a Treo user for years. I know what the Treo can do on the Web, I just don’t care.

I’m sure that will change someday. But it won’t be because of a marketing campaign. It will be because the mobile Web experience improves, and because the carriers lower the price of unlimited data plans.