Photo fakery in smartphone ads shows genius of ‘Shot on iPhone’

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Shot on iPhone
A picture and three words are advertising gold.
Photo courtesy of Jen Pollack Bianco

Within a week’s time, two of the Apple’s biggest rivals got caught using misleading photos in ad campaigns that promoted the quality of their smartphones’ built-in cameras.

The embarrassing screwups of Samsung and Huawei showcase the simple brilliance of Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” campaign.

The most recent photo fakery came from Huawei. Over the weekend, an actress in an ad for the company’s Nova 3 innocently posted a behind-the-scenes photo showing a couple pretending to shoot a selfie. In her snapshot, the actor’s outstretched hand is revealed to be empty. And it falls just beneath the lens of the DSLR camera used to shoot the scene.

Last week, Samsung pulled a pair of Twitter ads for its Galaxy A8 camera that a reader pointed out used stock photos. Samsung offered a friendly explanation. The company said it mistakenly grabbed the imagery from its database because it matched the target audience in Brazil.

Samung tweets
Samsung Brazil said it accidentally used stock photos when trying to show off the camera of the Galaxy A8.
Photo: Feliperas/Twitter

Huawei also issued a response for its transgression, saying the intended purpose of the ad was to “demonstrate how consumers can use the features.” Huawei says it acted aboveboard by posting a disclaimer at the end of the video.

Shot on iPhone
An actor pretends to shoot a selfie for a Huawei ad.
Photo: Android Police

Popular because of three words: ‘Shot on iPhone’

No matter the intention, each case illustrates the uphill battle Apple competitors face when trying to use cameras as selling points for their smartphones.

Companies are not losing this battle with Apple on camera specs. They are losing because of three little words — “Shot on iPhone.”

The successful Apple marketing campaign, which began with the iPhone 6 and continues through the iPhone X, is straightforward, brilliant and spartan in its messaging.

Apple mines social media for eye-catching photos hashtagged with those three words. Then, Cupertino licenses the photos. The striking images fuel an ongoing advertising blitz that lands the iPhone photos in magazines and on television and billboards. The pictures even show up on gigantic banners that stretch the length of skyscrapers.

Yes, Apple includes some photos from a few professional photographers in the mix. But the pictures come from people of all skill levels — and the images are always taken with an actual iPhone.

The ads strengthen the case for buying an iPhone. They effectively illustrate that even novices can make pictures capable of standing alongside the work of pro shooters.

That, maybe more than anything, is the best example of how the iPhone democratized photography.

iPhone camera adopted by pro users

Some in tech journalism remain skeptical about Apple commercials that tout the iPhone’s video capabilities. An iPhone definitely captures the video. However, a film crew with professional tools — including lights, lens attachments, steady riggings and sound equipment — often works behind the scenes. The average iPhone user typically cannot use this type of hardware.

But professionals, including the likes of Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh, using iPhones on film projects are likely to send the same type of signal as the “Shot on iPhone” campaign. For people interested in shooting creative video, seeing a Hollywood director use an iPhone proves enticing. It indicates the removal of some sort of barrier, replaced with possibility in the pocket.

Samsung or Huawei could do more to promote a community of photographers and photo enthusiasts.
Apple does this by reaching out to users for images, but the company also offers photography tutorials online and at Apple Stores.

Competitors could use parts of Apple’s marketing model to find success. “Shot on P20 Pro” would be too obvious, but a recent shot of the Milky Way made with Huawei’s flagship phone went viral.

Now there’s a compelling ad.