We’ve known about the OnePlus Nord since December 2019 when the first renders of a mid-range OnePlus phone were leaked. This should be cause for celebration as it marks only the firm’s second mid-range phone ever and the first since 2015’s OnePlus X.
Unfortunately, OnePlus’s marketing strategy for the Nord could be setting itself and others up for disappointment. The Chinese brand has hyped up the phone to hell and back, to the point where I’m frankly sick of hearing about it with mere days until launch.
The list of stunts the OnePlus marketing team has pulled out ahead of the Nord’s upcoming launch has been exhaustive and exhausting. Don’t believe me? Here are just of few of the highlights to date:
- A private Instagram account with a rumor-baiting handle to tease the phone’s release, followed by the launch of a separate public account.
- Tagging leakers on said Instagram in cringeworthy meme posts.
- A drip-feed of minor details shared across social media on an almost daily basis that included five separate Instagram Stories just to confirm optical image stabilization and a separate post just to show the box.
- A four-episode documentary series on the phone’s development, with the tone wildly shifting between scenes of office confrontations between tired-looking OnePlus staff and banal platitudes.
- Three rounds of pre-orders before the phone has even been fully revealed, with some of these rounds limited to just 100 units each.
- Boasts of having sold out of pre-orders, as if securing sales of 100 units of a hotly anticipated product is any kind of surprise.
- Selling a piece of cardboard to users so they can get a look at the phone in augmented reality and pretend they’re holding it.
This isn’t the first time OnePlus has unabashedly offered a drip-feed of info to build hype. This has mostly led to success with its smartphones, but less so with other products — remember when the much-vaunted OnePlus TV Q1 turned out to be a fairly mediocre Android TV set priced like a top-tier TV? The company is firing off a similar barrage of teasers for its upcoming OnePlus Buds, announcing the product earlier this week and then following up with battery information (i.e. hours of playback), and essentially revealing the design to boot.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the strategy of offering a few nuggets of information in the run-up to a product launch. Companies like Xiaomi, Oppo, and others do this all the time. It ensures that the company stays in the headlines and trending on social media for as long as possible with a view to enticing more buyers in the long haul.
Yet while some OEMs have overstepped the mark with aggressive PR campaigns that fall foul of overexposure, the OnePlus Nord represents new heights (or lows) for a build-up to a phone launch. OnePlus has pushed the Nord marketing to breaking point. You can understand a firm taking one or two of the decisions in the list above, but all of them? It’s overkill.
Could you imagine if Google or Samsung did the same for their phones? What if Google held several pre-order rounds for the Pixel 5 before we knew anything about it, sold cardboard to users, and made a massive deal about the packaging ahead of the reveal?
Letting the OnePlus Nord do the talking
We don’t see this kind of pre-launch behavior from the likes of Google and Samsung because they generally let their products do the talking instead of falling for cheap promotional tactics. Google might touch on a specific technology they’re using before launch (like it did with Motion Sense for the Pixel 4 series) or show off an official render after a major leak, but we never see them selling cardboard or trumpeting a hollow slogan ad nauseum before the big reveal.
This approach has more in common with budget brands like Realme and Poco if anything. The two brands have been engaged in a squabble in the Indian market for a couple of years now, with cheesy slogans like “Dare to Leap” and “Smooth AF” frequently touted for their otherwise great wares. Surely OnePlus, as the number one premium brand in India and a top player in the US, doesn’t need to resort to these tacky measures? It certainly didn’t need to for the OnePlus 8 series.
Interview with OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei: The OnePlus Nord could be a fan favorite, but it isn’t made for fans
It’s not like OnePlus is fighting off a ton of rivals launching smartphones either. Samsung is the only other big-name company with a major confirmed launch in the coming weeks. OnePlus didn’t have to resort to this relentless attention grab in order to stand out. With seemingly endless delays to the Pixel 4a, the hype for the iPhone SE dissipating, and other launches pushed back due to COVID-19-related issues, the playing field is relatively empty for the Nord.
It’s already difficult for a major smartphone brand to meet everyone’s expectations for a phone launch. It’s even tougher to do so in the case of OnePlus with such a long-anticipated return to the mid-range segment. It’s also just that: a mid-range phone. This marketing campaign would’ve been excessive for a flagship like the inevitable OnePlus 8T, nevermind a budget phone that will have undoubtedly cut some corners to retail at the mooted sub-$500 price point.
The hype campaign for the Nord has been exhaustive and exhausting.
Even if the phone turns out to be great, there may be some who were turned off by the crude, occasionally obnoxious marketing strategy. But even worse than that, all this talk of a “New Beginning” is a potential recipe for disaster if the phone doesn’t live up to expectations and turns out to be an average, mid-tier smartphone. This is entirely possible too, as the likes of Apple, Google, Realme, and Xiaomi have all raised the bar for mid-range phones in recent times.
We know the OnePlus Nord can talk a big game, but can it walk the walk? We’ll have to wait and see, but if it doesn’t, OnePlus only has itself to blame if the hype backfires.
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