Why Nokia keeps launching retro smartphones at Mobile World Congress

New Nokia handsets including the 8110

Nokia has caused waves at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona with another reimagining of its classic phones, this time the 8110 flip phone.

Nokia's Finnish partner, HMD Global, is largely constructed from former Nokia executives. Under licence, it produces Nokia smartphones to give retro models a second run in the modern mobile market.

In 2017, HMD used MWC to revive the stout and trustworthy Nokia 3310, a headline grabbing-stunt that stood out from all the predictable flagships launched from the likes of Samsung and its rivals. At the time, the revival was thought to have increased the brand value by 62% according to research from Brand Finance.

Pekka Rantala, HMD Global executive vice president and chief marketing officer, talked The Drum through the return of Nokia into the mobile space, which sees it now sit as the third best-selling smartphone brand in the UK and experience similar growth in other markets.

"It was a great marketing gig that was quite successful," said Rantala – who served in marketing roles at Nokia from 1994 until 2011 as well as a brief stint at Rovio during the height of Angry Birds – of the 2017 launch.

"We really got people to smile again and remember something from the past but at the same time it is fantastic business, the 3310, is still selling in really high volumes."

The company does not reveal exact sales figures but significant shifts in global marketshare indicate that it is moving goods. In 2017, the startup brought 11 phones to MWC, all of which benefited from the 3310's attention, a fully-functional phone that Rantala admitted may serve as a second phone or a vanity piece that consumers "don’t need – but want".

The return of the Originals

He revealed that the success of the 3310 launch gave the company the gall to see if lightning would strike the same location twice at MWC 2018.

"That gave us courage to establish the Nokia Originals series, and now, in a different price point, you have the Nokia 8110. One part of our business will be built upon this Originals business."

Likely to catch some of the headlines and draw attention to the upmarket properties like the flagship Srirrocco is the return of the 8110 4G – Reloaded, a banana-inspired flip phone that first appeared in the Matrix in 1999.

Rantala said: "This is a busy category, there is a lot of competition, thanks to the Nokia brand we can have a different angle. We are disinterested in being boring, we can bring an emotional injection in a joyful and fun way."

There is also a benefit to being a European player in the smartphone market, he said: "I can tell you that fact is hung upon around the world. Everywhere you go, they value that now finally, there is a European competitor."

Accompanying the drive is a broad marketing campaign looking to show the power of the new handsets, emphasizing how the line can be the linchpin of life’s most important moments.

Each piece has been crafted to adhere to the "quality, simplicity, trust, ease of use, and distinctive designs" that the brand built its reputation with. At its close, the all-familiar Nokia sonic brand chimes in.

Rantala concluded: "We are privileged to use a true brand that was created 150 years ago, not two years ago with heavy advertising. It means that the brand is authentic and has a lot of equity we can leverage... We are definitely not on a nostalgia trip."

On Sunday, Nokia went up against Samsung which revealed the new Samsung Galaxy S9 (which now has an answer to Apple's Animoji). According to social analytics firm Pulsar, it garnered a respectable 74,000 mentions, measuring up well against Samsung's 300,000.

This month’s issue of The Drum magazine focuses on the mobile sector with insights on the democratisation of photography and interview with US recording artist Ryan Leslie who shared his personal mobile number with the world to help his fan engagement and a look at the longevity of the low-cost smartphone market in China and India. Buy your copy of this issue and other copies through The Drum website.

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