Two weeks ago, HP shocked the tech industry when they announced the death of their 49-day-old tablet device and revealed that they were considering leaving the PC business altogether. They cited low sales as the driving force behind their decision, which made complete sense business-wise. If you aren’t making a profit, something needs to change.
In an attempt to unload all the extra tablets taking up shelf space in stockrooms across the country, they dropped the price to $100, and unsurprisingly, the HP TouchPad started flying off the shelves. I even considered buying one for myself (and as a die-hard Apple supporter, this would have been quite the switch for me).
Then the news came yesterday that they would start producing more tablets to meet customer demand. From a business perspective, this also makes sense. If something is selling well, you want to make more of it. However, from a communications perspective, it makes HP look manipulative or confused, or maybe a little of both. Yesterday’s announcement was proposed as a knee-jerk reaction to renewed interest in HP’s products. But they should have seen it coming. Selling an iPad-comparable device at less than one-fourth of the iPad’s cost? Did they really not expect a huge uptick in sales? Or was that exactly what they were expecting?
It’s a clever bait-and-switch move used in plenty of other industries. Take the Michael Jackson documentary “This Is It,” for example. Its major marketing hook was: “EXCLUSIVE TWO-WEEK ENGAGEMENT. DON’T MISS IT.” People then rushed out to the theater with a “now or never” mindset. Of course, once the studio saw some impressive box office returns, the film’s run was extended by three weeks.
Disney’s upcoming 3D re-release of The Lion King is using a similar tactic. Anyone think it will really only play in theaters for two weeks?
Regardless of HP’s intention behind these conflicting announcements, one thing is NOT clear: their message. A brand will die if consumers don’t trust it. For them to come out with such a dramatic statement that has the potential to change the entire tech marketplace, only to backtrack two weeks later is not a way to earn customers’ loyalty.
When I read the CNN headline, “HP kills tablet, looks to exit PC business” I couldn’t click through to the article fast enough. A few of my coworkers had a hard time believing it until I forwarded them the link. It was a big deal. Now it just seems like a sloppy communications move to sell products. I imagine that consumers will start to get confused and frustrated if HP continues to play the “will we or won’t we” back-and-forth game for much longer.
Maybe HP doesn’t even care what consumers think; their plan worked. In two weeks, the TouchPad has skyrocketed to be the second-best selling tablet behind the iPad.
Maybe to them, the ends really do justify the means.