Torturing your products to marketing success

Try to remember the last time you did not have a phone without a cover (back, front, all sides).

Can’t think of a time like that? Me neither! πŸ™‚

Despite all the investments and innovations by all the phone brands in carving new kinds of backs (glass, ceramic, plastic, and what not!), we end up covering them inside a cover, mainly to protect the phone and incidentally for some look and grip.

It’s clear that we don’t want anything to happen to the device that we spend a LOT of money on, almost every other year.

So imagine a smartphone being used as an ice hockey puck!!

Not by mistake or by chance. Intentionally!

Not as a joke, but by a smartphone brand itself in its mainstream advertising!

Don’t say I did not warn you – here you go!

There is a specific context behind this ad, made by the Finnish agency Halla along with the Finnish PR agency Drum: HMD Global, the parent company of Nokia phones now, was the Official Partner of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (May 13-29, 2022).

This torture of the device seems to be Nokia XR20’s positioning all along. Here is another brutal test from July 2021!

And a slightly more practical stress test from last year, in normal, day-to-day situations!

Nokia calls it ‘Life proof’!

But the Nokia XR20 positioning has considerable precedence in marketing – it’s called ‘torture testing’. The idea goes like this: if the product can withstand that extreme torture, it can easily withstand what we do with it in normal daily situations.

Some of the torture test campaigns are really old – from the 50s to 80s!

A good example is that of RCA Victor radios that used torture tests in advertising to showcase its non-breakable IMPAC casing! An RCA Victor radio and another brand of radio were dramatically thrown down from a height and the winner was announced!

One of the most popular torture test campaign series was by Timex, back in the late 50s. Timex watches sales, despite splashy advertising, were sagging. It was then that they got the agency Hirshon-Garfield to hire John Cameron Swayze, a former NBC news host, as the anchor for a series of ads where he tortures the watch and it remains intact! The slogan, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking”, was made iconic through this series.

Here’s a classic spot that also features Louis Armstrong!

And one that features an elephant doing what you’d expect it to do with a Timex watch!

Here’s another one that’s closer to the Nokia ad, involving another sport as a torture test medium – archery:

BIC pens too have used torture tests to show an improbable usage of the product, and that even after that, it still writes!

Johnson & Johnson’s Band-Aid used torture tests in the 1950s to prove that they stay on no matter what kind of conditions they are used in. The ads showcased both the strength of the adhesive (which instantly sticks to the egg) as well as staying power (remains stuck even when the egg is immersed in boiling water).

Band-aid’s ads were more realistic given that the products are very likely to be used the way they are shown, unlike the ads for Timex or RCA Victor.

I had already written about American Tourister’s torture testing campaign in the 70s and 80s in a post related to Ather, which too had tortured its EV scooter battery to make a point recently! There’s a thin line between product demonstrations and torture testing when it comes to advertising given how the industry revels in exaggerations and most such exaggerated product demonstrations may move into the torture zone!

A more recent iconic campaign that uses torture tests in a hugely inventive way is from Blendtec, the mixer. The company’s ‘Will it blend?’ series is, by now, an internet legend. It all started with marbles, in 2006, and has moved to everything from iPhones to Apple watches!

By the way, here’s the Nokia 3310 ‘blend’!

Perhaps, its time for Blendtec to blend the Nokia XR20? πŸ˜‰

There are other variants to this torture test idea as well, and that is to do with shifting the perspective – what if we have a product that cannot be tortured?

Then, you torture the user πŸ™‚

Here’s a classic example by Leo Burnett, for Kellogg’s! A commuter is tortured in assorted ways and the ad shows that Kellogg’s product is so easy to consume despite all that!

Another example is that of the detergent powder Radiant, in 2017. The award-winning campaign by DDB Melbourne involved them buying brand new clothes, making people wear them and torture the hell out of them, then cleaning them new with Radiant… and giving it back to the shop and getting a refund!! That’s quite an idea!

Even Apple recently used a milder and more realistic, everyday form of torture test to showcase how tough the Apple Watch (Series 7) is, in its early-July 2022 campaign! It’s literally called ‘Hard Knocks’

The interesting difference is that most torture test ads use a standard disclaimer that the actions are performed under test conditions and by experts and that people should not try them at home πŸ™‚ This is a legal requirement, I suppose, to avoid a lawsuit by someone who tries the same stunt, and the product breaks!

This disclaimer was even in the Nokia XR20 ad, but, oddly enough, not in the Apple Watch ad! I assume Apple’s usage, despite looking quite stressful, falls within the acceptable usage scenario than the outlandish scenario showcased in the Nokia XR20 ad.

For context, Apple too has showcased the iPhone being used in reasonably rougher circumstances to show how tough the product is, though nothing close to what Nokia did!

In the end, all that this advertising technique does is to make people trust that the product can be used without fear of it breaking. Some brands take a more realistic route (like Apple) and avoid excessive exaggerations. But a few others go the whole hog and stand out the more bizarre they are.



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