Smartphone marketing can be a devious endeavor, as various brands seek to gain the most attention from the average consumer. And oftentimes we see mobile manufacturers take a “by any means necessary” approach to marketing and advertising.
But what types of questionable moves are phone brands engaged in? And how can you spot them? We look at some of the most prominent marketing tricks in the smartphone industry.
1. Photo fakery
One of the more common smartphone marketing tricks has been to use photos taken with a DSLR camera while pretending that it was taken with a phone. Huawei has used this tactic several times in the past, such as with the Huawei P9 back in 2016 and a Nova series device in 2018. The latter only emerged after a model in the photoshoot posted an Instagram snap (seen above), revealing that they weren’t actually taking a selfie and that a DSLR camera took a photo of them.
Samsung hasn’t been immune to this practice, as its Brazilian division also posted stock photo shots and pretended they came from the Galaxy A8. Some of these cases can be down to negligence rather than malicious intent, but it’s still incredibly misleading and disappointing when today’s smartphone cameras are so good.
This also makes you wonder how often manufacturers engage in this behavior — the ones we listed above are just some of the times companies have been caught.
2. Benchmark cheating
Synthetic benchmarks don’t quite represent real-world performance, but they can generally give us a rough idea of what to expect. Unfortunately, benchmark cheating has become another smartphone marketing tactic, with some brands guilty of it today. This practice happens so brands can make their phones look better than they actually are.
Smartphone manufacturers (and even chipset providers) are able to detect when a benchmark app is launched and then enter a performance-boosting mode. A so-called “sports” or performance-boosting mode ignores battery life in order to deliver a great benchmark score. But the truth is that this power-boosting, battery-sapping mode doesn’t accurately reflect the phone’s real-world performance compared to simply running with default settings.
Some of the more prominent companies implicated in benchmark cheating or outright caught over the years include MediaTek, Huawei, Honor, Oppo, Xiaomi, and HTC. We even covered the biggest offenders of 2018 over here.
3. Misleading images compared to reality
Another disappointing smartphone marketing tactic is the practice of showing off phone renders/sketches/pictures that actually look better than reality. Be it thinner bezels, a smaller notch, or a tinier camera bump, several brands have shown renders that mislead people.
One of the more prominent cases involved Lenovo’s Z5 smartphone, when a company executive showed off a bezel-free phone design (seen above). Well, it turns out that the real-world device actually had a gigantic iPhone-style notch. Another prominent case saw Huawei shave the side bezels off the P8 in 2015, while the real-world model had bigger borders.
Less prominent manufacturers like Bluboo and Umidigi have also engaged in this sketchy behavior, making their phones look thinner or showing slimmer bezels in renders.
4. Flash sales and sold out claims
OnePlus was arguably the first brand to hop aboard the flash sale bandwagon, creating demand by simply holding flash sales for the OnePlus One. That is, they only sell a limited number of devices for a given period before you can’t buy the phone anymore (well, until the next flash sale).
Read: Xiaomi and Realme — A tale of pot and kettle
While there is some merit to offering a flash sale in order to balance supply and demand, many companies have taken to using it as a promotional tactic. The likely thinking is that by promoting it as a scarce product, more people will want it. Xiaomi and Realme are two big proponents of flash sales in recent times.
Another one of the more notable smartphone marketing tricks by brands is to tout how much money they made on the first day of sales or across a given flash sale. For example, a brand might proudly say that they sold $1 million worth of a given model on one day. But if the model in question costs $1,000, that means you only sold 1,000 devices, right? Hardly a big deal in markets like China, India, and the US.
5. Misleading spec claims
This is another major (and sketchy) marketing tactic used by smartphone brands, as they lie by omission about their phone’s capabilities. We’ve previously covered brands from Oppo to Samsung misrepresenting their phones’ zoom capabilities, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
We’ve also seen questionable second-string phone brands misrepresent their product’s camera resolution, touting 8MP cameras but it’s actually 5MP upscaled to 8MP. Why not just admit it’s a 5MP camera and note that it upscales to 8MP rather than the other way around?
Speaking of cameras, we’ve also seen more brands touting triple or quad cameras, with the additional shooters being nigh-on useless macro sensors. Ultra-wide cameras are capable of macro shots provided they have autofocus, so dedicated macro sensors aren’t necessary. But manufacturers want to brag about having triple or quad shooters, and so they take this route.
Another marketing tactic that isn’t quite as serious but still warrants mentioning is to simply omit key details. It’s not uncommon to see retailers, manufacturers, and other partners simply omit display tech (OLED or LCD?), and the type of chipset on their websites. In the case of the latter, we often see listings for “octacore processor” instead, but there’s a massive real-world difference between a low-end octacore chip and high-end octacore silicon.
6. When is transparent not transparent?
A trend we saw in 2018 was to offer a transparent phone, as the HTC U12 Plus and Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition both touted the ability to see the device’s innards.
It later emerged that you aren’t really seeing the Xiaomi phone’s internals, as they confirmed that the parts on show are actually dummy components. They are real parts but simply aren’t functional, covering up the actual circuitry instead. This wouldn’t be a massive issue had Xiaomi actually stated this fact at launch, but they didn’t.
7. Not the in-display selfie camera you know
In-display selfie cameras are considered the holy grail for smartphones right now, as it would allow for a truly full-screen experience (no notches, punch-holes, or pop-ups needed). This sees the camera placed under the screen, being invisible to the user until they need to take a selfie or conduct a video call.
At least one brand has adopted the term and tried to twist it to mean something else though. Realme has taken to using the “in-display selfie camera” term when talking about phones with punch-hole selfie cameras. On the one hand, a punch-hole selfie camera is technically in the display, but the term has been in use for months if not several years prior to Realme’s adoption. It would be like calling your phone camera an “8K camera” because it’s 33MP+, not because it actually records or plays back 8K videos.
8. Rebranding smartphones
This is one of the more divisive marketing tactics yet, and sees smartphone companies releasing the same phone with a new name. This often happens with the likes of Huawei, Oppo, OnePlus, Realme, and Xiaomi.
This tactic is usually done in order to save time and money designing something from scratch. Another motivation to do this is because a brand in one region might not be popular in another market. For example, the Redmi K30 4G launched in China as such, but as the Poco X2 in India.
This isn’t the worst marketing tactic on the list at first glance, but there’s often a lack of transparency around the practice and motivations for rebranding.
That’s it for our look at the various smartphone marketing tricks used by brands around the world. Are there any other questionable tactics you’ve come across? Let us know below! You can also check out more great Android Authority articles via the bullet list.
- 5 things we want to see from the Google Pixel 5
- One year with the OnePlus 7 Pro: Officially my favorite Android phone ever
- When did Quad HD+ resolution become a hidden smartphone feature?
- Want a phone with a great camera? Here’s what to look for
- Why smartphone battery life is far more complex than just having a big battery