Google’s hi-res, high-risk Pixel marketing
Google has confused a lot of people by doing something tech companies almost never do —announcing a hardware product months ahead of release. What’s going on, and is it a good idea?
Anyone who’s been paying attention could have predicted that Google would release a Pixel 4 late this year, probably in October. That’s how it’s gone with the Pixel, the Pixel 2, and the Pixel 3, after all. And it’s easy to predict that based on past form, the device would end up being leaked by third-parties. Last year’s device was all over the news months before its release thanks to pre-release versions appearing on the black market in Eastern Europe.
And convention dictates that tech companies don’t announce products a long time before release. It gives rivals a chance to adjust their marketing, it likely impacts sales of products currently on the market (why buy a Pixel 3 if the Pixel 4 is confirmed?), and what happens if circumstances beyond your control mean plans change? Cancelling or delaying an unannounced device is much easier than an announced one.
So Google’s recent tweet confirming the existence of the Pixel 4, and yesterday’s blog post
about some of its features were truly unusual behaviour. What’s the plan? As I see it, the logic goes like this:
Take control of the narrative from the leakers: For example, the Pixel 4 has a large (by 2019 standards) bezel at the top. If leakers reveal the device first, the narrative will develop that the device is ugly and out of date. And under normal circumstances. Google can’t counter that opinion until an official event months later. If Google shows off a diagram containing all the clever hardware inside that bezel early on, it can seed the idea in gadget influencers’ heads that bezels can be a good thing.
Google wasn’t planning on selling many more Pixel 3 devices anyway: The budget Pixel 3a is a great, newer, device that doesn’t compete directly with the next flagship device. And the Pixel 3 is nearing the end of its sales cycle. Why not experiment with a new approach while you can?
Google’s stock price isn’t hugely influenced by its smartphones: The performance of the iPhone — even as its sales stagnate through market saturation — is hugely important to Apple’s stock price, so it wouldn’t want to take too many risks with marketing. Google has that luxury.
A ‘galaxy brain’ theory would be that Google was responsible for seeding the Pixel 3 on the black market last year, and this new, more official approach is a refinement of a marketing strategy rather than something radically different. I don’t think that’s true, but a delicious theory.
As it is, we should just sit back and watch Google’s strategy unfold and see how the Pixel 4 performs when it hits the market. If it does well, it could transform smartphone marketing forever.