Technology manufacturers are combing through social media sites and checking out shopping centres to find "real people" to promote their products. The logic being that if people like you endorse their devices, others like you will consider buying them.
High-tech turns to Average Joe
Nick Jojola is just a regular guy. And that is exactly why the amateur photographer was enlisted to skydive at just over 200 kilometres an hour, while snapping pictures of a model using only his smartphone.
This high-tech, high-fashion stunt was part of a new television advertising campaign unveiled this year by HTC, a Taiwanese maker of mobile phones and tablet computers. The company is just one of the many electronics manufacturers featuring ordinary people instead of actors in advertisements to try to boost sales of their devices.
"Our entire campaign is 'as recommended by' - and with real people," says Neeraj Seth, the senior marketing manager for HTC in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).
Technology manufacturers have long relied on actors and celebrities in their marketing campaigns to get gadget-hungry customers to bite.
The electronics market in the UAE is expected to grow to about US$4.3 billion (Dh15.79bn) by 2015, according to data from Business Monitor International.
But more manufacturers these days are also combing through social media sites, shopping centres and even launching competitions to find the perfect Average Joe.
The logic in this customer-centric age, where the popularity of sites such as Amazon.com and TripAdvisor is fuelled by user reviews, is that if regular people in adverts talk up how much they like using their gadgets, you might be persuaded to buy that same device.
"I think that real people work well when selling personal devices," says Stephen Baker, a technology analyst and vice president of industry analysis at NPD, a market research firm. "They help make the product experience personal because it is someone-like-me who is using it. This is a great way to highlight the product and not the features."
HTC, which has aired commercials globally of Mr Jojola to promote its One X Mobile, is embarking on the next phase of its marketing efforts.
The company plans to share its phones with customers who visit certain stores or mall kiosks across the Mena region, then have them test the gadgets before providing feedback and endorsements.
Customers may even be photographed and incorporated into print or television adverts specifically within the region.
"We feel that in this world there are a lot of consumers, and they have a lot to say and share," says HTC's Mr Seth. "We also feel the personal recommendations are one of the most important factors in purchase decisions."
Other mobile makers are tinkering with similar strategies.
One campaign Nokia launched this year in India shows students and bloggers in various YouTube videos as they use the company's Lumia smartphone to demonstrate how much faster its internet and social-networking connectivity speeds are compared with devices made by rivals such as Samsung.
"This was all featured through real people and not staged," says a representative for Nokia's external public relations agency in the UAE.
Yet simply showing regular people in commercials is not necessarily the most engaging strategy.
That is why some companies are encouraging customers to respond to questions and apply to competitions hosted online. HTC, for one, has been harnessing Facebook, where it sought its "brand champion" for its recent TV campaign.
The digital-camera maker Nikon has been posting tips for photo enthusiasts on a blog called "I Am Nikon", which is part of a marketing campaign that incorporates television, print and digital.
Posts on the blog are written by various professional and celebrity photographers, who share their advice with followers on how to take the perfect picture.
Of course, these individuals also note which Nikon products they most like to use, and why.
The rival camera maker Canon unveiled a campaign less than two years ago called "Your Second Shot" to engage customers while promoting a technology used to enhance image quality in low-light conditions without the need for a flash.
Canon invited customers to write in about an unforgettable moment that had been previously captured in a snapshot but somehow had been botched due to overexposure, dim lighting or blurriness.
Kira Stegman, a resident of Los Angeles, submitted her story about being alone and feeling homesick during one particular Thanksgiving break.
Her sister then flew in for a visit, and the pair spent a day at California's Venice beach, but the photo that captured this moment was dark. In January, Canon announced Ms Stegman as the winner of its $1,000 grand prize and a PowerShot ELPH 300 HS camera.
"Kira, now that you've got the camera and the cash, we hope you and your sister can travel to a beach and retake your meaningful photo," Canon wrote on its blog, where numerous customers have submitted stories and shared their personal photos.
Some companies are hoping to entice customers by getting to "real people" before they make it big.
Last year, Hewlett-Packard (HP) provided a $50,000 technology suite for the winner of the ninth season of Project Runway, a show that pits budding clothing designers against each other in a test to find the best.
The winner, Anya Ayoung-Chee, appeared at an HP product showcase in Shanghai this year, during a fashion show that promoted not only her latest clothing line but also a new ultrabook laptop from the world's biggest computer manufacturer.
Her ringing endorsement of HP's technology and how it helped her in the design process was akin to a product-placement shot in a TV show, but it may ultimately assist the computer maker in selling more models.
"For products like phones, cameras, notebooks and other personal electronics, the consumer wants to identify with the device as his own, and having [an] identifiable person use them is a great way to drive home the experience of the device," says Mr Baker.
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