"[T]here was no intention to mislead ... we apologize for the misunderstanding."
So said a Nokia (NOK) spokesperson in response to revelations that marketing materials for its forthcoming Lumia 920 smartphone were, at best, misleading. The terms "fake," "fraudulent," and "deceptive" were used by some outlets covering the cellular scandal.
Whatever you call it, this kind of publicity is the last thing the mobile-handset giant needs right now.
There are two marketing pieces in question for Nokia:
• Shaky camera-work attribution: The first is a video that was released on YouTube promoting the new mobile phone, featuring footage presumably shot by the built-in new PureView camera. The PureView camera is designed with technology to stabilize images: to make them more professional in appearance. As it turns out, the footage was more than just professional in appearance: It was actually professionally shot, with a significantly more substantial video camera and professional lighting.
• Fuzzy snapshot sources: The second item of contention is some still photography that was highlighted in Nokia marketing materials that, again, was presumably shot with the Lumia 920's PureView camera, but was again professionally done.
"In an effort to demonstrate the benefits of optical image stabilization ... we produced a video that simulates what we will be able to deliver with OIS," said Nokia spokeswoman Heidi Lemmetyinen. "[H]indsight is 20/20, but we should have posted a disclaimer stating this was a representation of OIS only."
Explosions Not Included
The Verge, an online magazine that covers technology, broke the video story on Sept. 5. The Nokia video features a girl riding a bicycle with a friend, who is presumably shooting the girl you're seeing on a Lumia 920. But at one point, you can clearly see the reflection in a passing window of a man shooting the video of her from a van with a big, professional camera.
Whoops. Many, many people at Nokia must have watched this video over and over, and none caught this. Heads are likely rolling around Nokia headquarters right now, as well as at the ad agency or production company that shot and edited the video. Of course, this isn't the first time -- and it won't be the last -- that a company either intentionally or unintentionally slips something by the public in an ad.
As consumers, hopefully we're all realistic and experienced enough to know better than to believe everything we hear or see in an ad. I learned that lesson when my mother would turn down the TV volume when a G.I. Joe commercial -- with all the cool explosion sounds and other special effects -- came on and say: "Just so you understand, that's what the toy is going to be like when you get it home." It was a tough lesson for an 11-year-old boy to learn, but a useful one.
Let the Buyer (and Manufacturer) Beware
As it loses more and more of its smartphone market share every day to the likes of Apple (AAPL) and Samsung, Nokia is bleeding money, and is staking everything on the success of its line of Windows 8-driven Lumia smartphones.
Nokia obviously didn't know about the filming gaffe, but it knew what it was doing otherwise in releasing the video. The company probably did consider posting a disclaimer, but then thought, well, the PureView camera really will be as great as what we're showing in the video, so what's the harm?
Potentially terrible PR like this is the harm, with the attendant potentially terrible effect on sales.
While we still live largely in a world of "buyer beware," in this case, depending on the scale and viciousness of the public's -- and potential Lumia 920 buyers' -- reaction, the better cliche might be something along the lines of "manufacturer beware."
John Grgurich is a regular contributor to The Motley Fool. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.