HTC Said to Hire Robert Downey Jr. to Promote Smartphones

HTC Corp. has enlisted actor Robert Downey Jr. to promote the Taiwanese company’s smartphone brand in a two-year global marketing deal worth about $12 million, said two people with knowledge of the plans.

Downey, who starred as Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes in hit movies, will have final say over creative elements, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. The maker of the HTC One handset will probably feature Downey in television, print and billboard advertisements, the people said,’s Global Tech blog reported today.

HTC, once the top-selling smartphone vendor in the U.S., has faced a plunge in market share amid product missteps and stiffer competition from Samsung Electronics Co. Hiring one of Hollywood’s top celebrities is part of HTC’s attempt to remain relevant among consumers after dropping to ninth place in global smartphone shipments in the first quarter.

“We have nothing to announce today on a new marketing campaign,” Sally Julien, a spokeswoman for Taoyuan, Taiwan-based HTC, wrote in an e-mail. The HTC One smartphone’s “all-metal design has drawn overwhelmingly positive feedback from media and consumers alike. Anyone with a penchant for metal should be able to appreciate its appeal,” she said.

Alan Nierob, a spokesman for Downey at Rogers & Cowan, declined to comment.

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“Our marketing hasn’t been good enough,” HTC Chief Executive Officer Peter Chou told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting today, pointing out that competitors outspend the Taiwanese company on promotion. “If you don’t invest in marketing, you can’t get a good result.”

HTC’s marketing budget of $1 billion last year was dwarfed by Samsung which spent about $10 billion to promote its line of TVs, smartphones, tablets and other appliances.

The company’s global smartphone share dropped to 2.4 percent in the first quarter when it posted record-low profit, from 10.3 percent in the third quarter of 2011, according to researcher IDC.

A battle with drugs over a decade ago resulted in Downey leaving the TV series “Ally McBeal.” The 48-year-old Golden Globe Winner has since rebuilt himself and his image to star in “Marvel’s The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3,” which were both successful films for Walt Disney Co.

Downey has signed on to return as Iron Man in two “Avengers” sequels, Disney announced yesterday, keeping the actor in the spotlight through his HTC contract. He’s also the voice for some of Nissan Motor Co.’s commercials in the U.S.

Singer Alicia Keys was hired by BlackBerry earlier this year as global creative director, part of a marketing campaign for the company’s revamped smartphones.

(Corrects publicist’s affiliation with Downey in fifth paragraph.)
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