Ad Nut
Oct 6, 2021

A tale of two trope-filled tech ads

New films from Smartone and HP both traffic in commonplace signifiers of technology, such as accelerating to warp speed. But only one of the two ads goes beyond high-tech sheen to deliver something of substance.

Left side: Smartone; right side, HP Omen
Left side: Smartone; right side, HP Omen

A pair of recent ads, one from Hong Kong mobile network Smartone and the other a Japan TVC for HP's Omen brand of gaming hardware, throw around some of the same technology tropes. But beyond the surface-level similarities, the two spots couldn't be more different—nor could they provide a better illustration of how crucial it is to remember exactly who you're making your advertising for.

As you can see from the image above, both ads contain similar visual flourishes typical to technology-related ads: for example, both take us to warp speed at some point, and both feature online icons/characters flying around in the real world.

But watch the two spots, and Ad Nut is confident you'll see how they differ—and which one is the superior work.


HP Omen:

It's really no contest is it?

Although the Smartone ad lacks subtitles, you don't need to speak Cantonese to see that's it's all about aggrandising the company. Smartone repeatedly proclaims its No. 1 status in the market, and the ad personifies the company in the main character, played by actor Nick Cheung. He functions as a bandwidth fairy, wandering through the city bestowing 5G on people at a touch of his magical Panama hat.

The company is the hero, and its customers appear only as passive recipients of its beneficient largesse. Part of the problem with this choice is a challenge all mobile networks are facing: the benefits of 5G are actually not that apparent. Unlike in earlier mobile-tech transitions, people aren't really suffering under 4G. The scene set in the Hong Kong MTR is especially revealing. We're supposed to believe, apparently, that people are struggling with poor experience until Cheung comes along and infuses the train with 5G. But we all know this isn't the case. Most people are already watching streaming video and doing whatever else they want on the train (and everywhere else) even without 5G. Their chief problem is running up against monthly data limits and having their bandwidth throttled down, but of course Smartone doesn't address this. Because of this fundamental disconnect from user needs, the ad falls flat. It becomes a tedious series of weird vignettes (3D giraffes?). It's an exercise in nice-looking visuals, signifying nothing.

By contrast, the HP Omen ad, by Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo, is firmly anchored in a story we can relate to. More importantly, it's anchored in a story about the specific target consumer HP is trying to persuade: the console gamer who might be open to switching to a PC. The framing device—a young woman in effect writing a breakup letter to her console—is brilliant. It provides a structure from which the storytellers hang all kinds of relevant pain points for owners of gaming consoles (including, hilariously, typing without a keyboard). 

Imagine that! The target customer is the protagonist, and the story takes the target customer through the mental journey HP wants the target customer to take. The journey ends, naturally, with the selection of an HP Omen product. The brand still ends up being a hero in the story, but only because it unlocks greater satisfaction for the target customer—not simply because the brand is No. 1. 

This ain't rocket science. It seems like a simple choice. Make a nice-looking ad that does little more than brag about your company, or make a compelling story that firmly connects consumer needs to your brand by marrying strategy to storyline. 

But it's amazing how frequently Ad Nut sees the former and how infrequently Ad Nut sees the latter. 

Ad Nut is a surprisingly literate woodland creature that for unknown reasons has an unhealthy obsession with advertising. Ad Nut gathers ads from all over Asia and the world for your viewing pleasure, because Ad Nut loves you. You can also check out Ad Nut's Advertising Hall of Fame, or read about Ad Nut's strange obsession with 'murderous beasts'.


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