PalmOne Putting Phones in Stars' Hands
By Eric Lin, Mon Feb 16 23:15:00 GMT 2004

Like Apple, Danger, Motorola and countless other technology companies, Palm has started to seed their new Treo 600 to stars in both entertainment and business in hopes of creating a buzz. writes a little about influencer marketing and Avantgarde, the company who is doing it for PalmOne. They're sending Treos to musicians and other luminaries as diverse as Lou Reed, Kevin Spacey and Howard Shultz in the hopes that they will use their new smartphones or talk about using their new smartphones in public, giving the Treo a boost in recognition and street cred.

The idea is not new. If you want to generate buzz about a product people already understand (like a movie sequel, for example), advertising is a very effective means of getting the word out to people. However when you have a new product, or one that requires a little more explaining, that requires a different approach. Getting famous people, whether they are internationally known or just the most popular kid in high school, to use a product and talk about how cool it is generates better results than traditional advertising in most of these cases. As Michael Kanellos says in the article, "in a lot of ways, influencer marketing resembles high school for bigwigs."

Companies like Apple and Danger have both had a great deal of success with this. It didn't take long for Apple to put an iPod in every stars' hands, and now it is considered the gold standard for mp3 players. Danger put Hiptops in the hands of youth idols like Tony Hawk, Ashton Kutcher, and just about every rap star in America (save for Sean John Combs, who was still using a Motorola last I heard). Danger wanted the youth market and now they have it, every kid with T-Mobile coverage knows what a Hiptop is, even if they don't have one. Motorola have tried this approach before, giving away their mobiles as fashion accessories for awards show red carpet catwalks, and they'll do it again this year. However carpet-bombing stars with a product doesn't usually produce the same results.

Most companies who try influencer marketing are going after the youth market. But who is Palm trying go after? Don't get me wrong, Lou Reed is a (punk) rock legend and Kevin Spacey is a talented actor, but they are not exactly popular with generation D, or even the hipper adults of Gen X. Either Palm and Avantgarde have decided that the Baby Boomers and more conservative parts of Generation X is ready for influencer marketing, or they just don't get it.

For a good background on how influencer marketing works and can work, William Gibson's Pattern Recognition is surprisingly informative for a work of fiction.