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Make Honey is an award-winning communications agency that creates impact for brands. Our clients cut through the media maelstrom and secure sales through PR, content and social-first storytelling.

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From football to fashion: How smartphones embrace consumers

by Mark Terry-Lush

September 1, 2023

Introduction - Flipping the Mobile Marketing Script

When everything feels baffling, AI seems like it’s after everyone’s job, the media landscape is changing beyond recognition, and even teens are feeling overwhelmed by the pace of change in tech, sharing really is an excellent way out of this would-be doom vortex.

As a technology journalist who works solo a lot, when I get to chat with the smart people at Make Honey and we share experiences from both sides of the fence, it shifts my thinking. Fleshing out the theoretical, subduing the scary, and flipping the script. It’s amazing how talking with the team can turn overwhelm into an opportunity for good and, ultimately, make me just a little bit less cynical.

Basil Kronfli Associate Partner, The Honey Partnership

Technology Journalist

Framing the Smartphone Consumer

With transformational technologies like generative AI, and up-starts like the metaverse warping the smart-tech space as we know it, deciphering what marketing actually works among the noise can be challenging.

Which trends do brands capitalise on to engage with consumers successfully? And what can they tell us about what will work best a year from now? From picking the right partnerships, sponsorships and collaborations, to the role of AI content, we have identified initiatives that are driving the future of mobile phone marketing, and which are just spinning their wheels.

Fashion Collaborations

Fashion and technology collaborations are not a new phenomenon, but they are seeing a resurgence in popularity as more and more mobile brands stake out style centric USPs rather than competing entirely on hardware, software and price point grounds. This approach makes reaching audiences through lifestyle media and influencers much easier, and allows for greater freedom when it comes to design choices as selling points.

Highlighting the design and style of their devices by drawing parallels to high end fashion, brands such as OPPO and realme invested significantly in partnerships with Fashion Weeks, and Vogue editors styled their Samsung Galaxy phones for Afterpay Australian Fashion Week.

These flagship launches are aimed at an audience which crosses over with high-end fashion houses, and coincides with the trend for these brands, which have previously been very cautious about cross collaborations, to become more open to interesting and unexpected partnerships.

Sport Collaborations

2023 and 2024 are bumper years for sport, with the Rugby World Cup, FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Cricket World Cup dominating 2023. Recently we’ve seen an uptick in tech brands identifying a common audience among sports fans across the world - a clear indicator that sports sponsorships continue to drive successful campaigns.

Successful brands with a sports sponsorship tend to accompany the activation with an offline physical aspect, whether that be a livestream of the event in a public place, or a live appearance of their brand ambassador. The competitive nature of sport has also made it easy for social competition mechanics to be added to the partnership in a natural way, and opened up the possibility for higher levels of sustained fan engagement.

Highlights include OPPO’s multi-year tennis contract with Wimbledon, its foray in football with UEFA Champion’s League, VIVO and the FIFA World Cup, TCL Mobile’s CONMEBOL Libertadores and Arsenal Football Club, and Google’s move to make Pixel the official mobile phone and earbuds partner of the English Football Association.

But, a lack of sports heritage, inexperience in sports PR and how sports media works compared to tech or lifestyle PR, sees inauthentic executions that should deliver more. The adage - tech media doesn’t do lifestyle, while lifestyle doesn’t do reviews extends totally into sports. There is much to learn by these brands if they are to win fans’ trust, let alone gain PR or social currency.


Sustainability remains a hot button issue throughout the mobile technology space. With consumers around the world increasingly favouring companies presenting a clear purpose. There’s a fine line between greewashing and measurable impact, which means there is a huge opportunity for brands to be the arbiters of environmental or social change, rather than simply showcasing so-called sustainable packaging.

While the jury is still out on whether sustainability will ever overcome factors like ingrained brand loyalty when it comes to buying decisions, on a level playing field between equivalent devices it can be a deciding factor for a high proportion of customers.

Samsung's CES 2023 keynote placed significant emphasis on its commitment to a more sustainable future, and even relatively fringe companies like Nothing have successfully turned sustainability into a selling point for its devices.

5G in 2023

According to Statista, 5G passed one billion in 2023, and as its adoption continues apace to 1.5 billion over the coming year, the need to capitalise on this growth will escalate. Crucially, telcos and phone manufacturers need to understand what makes this new wave of 5G consumers different to early adopters.

For example: 5G consumers are more interested than 4G consumers in adding services and content to their contracts. The average score for 5G users across nine categories of add-on was 50%, compared to 38% for 4G users.

On the device side, 5G has now become standard across all premium devices and most mid-range ones. In developed markets 5G, and its upgrades, have been “priced in”, in a similar way that consumers expect the latest versions of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as standard.


Despite this move to 5G being the standard, the Metaverse that the technology was supposed to shepherd in has spectacularly failed to arrive. Even with big activations and partnerships with global brands the return on investment is lacklustre, and devices like HTC’s “Metaverse ready” smartphone now look like they will be waiting for much longer than expected.

While there is still much buzz around what the Metaverse is, and what the benefits will be, it is important to reflect on 2022’s predictions to see how many prophecies came true. Or more anecdotally, consider how many people you know personally who engage with the Metaverse in any meaningful way on a regular basis? For many in the telco space this might even be met with a sigh of relief - the thing that was supposed to replace the smartphone isn’t arriving anytime soon.

Artificial Intelligence

The explosion of generative AI has prompted responses ranging from the derisive to the fatalistic. Whilst AI may not be gunning for everyone’s jobs just yet, it has advanced to the point where it can support areas of the mobile and telecom space more effectively than before.

It helps that the industry has received more exposure to artificial intelligence than most people might realise. Everything from photography, facial recognition, social media, shopping and of course voice recognition/personal assistants are powered by advances in artificial intelligence, and consumers now expect such improvements as a part of the smartphone “package”.

For manufacturers however, the benefits of this leap forward can be mostly found in copywriting or content design - using generative AI to draft simple copy within brand specific guidelines. In marketing and advertising for example, there is massive potential for personalisation if generative AI tools can be harnessed effectively.


No exploration of recent trends could be complete without taking a look at what Apple is doing. In this case with its recently announced Apple Vision Pro AR headset. Apple may not be the trendsetter in this space, many companies already deploy successful AR devices, like the TCL RayNeo headset. But Apple does have a proven track record of coming to define a trend. It's easy to forget that the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone for example.

With its eye watering price tag it's very clear that the Vision Pro won’t replace smartphones anytime soon.

But it does beg the question - if similar devices were as cheap as a standard phone; if they could be as lightweight and compact as a typical pair of glasses, with plentiful access to affordable content and all day battery life, would they be a threat to the traditional smartphone-centric tech ecosystem? Possibly. Which is why all eyes will be on Apple as it gets closer to its Autumn launch window, and on how consumers react to this latest big bet on AR.


With some trends like the Metaverse proving to be overhyped, more established methods of engaging with consumers have proven their value across a range of brand partnerships.

With 5G, and high specifications such as speed, storage and power becoming standard features, lifestyle becomes the battle ground. But smartphones now compete with wearables, particularly watches as an extension of health, wellbeing and fashion accessories.The next 12 months will see CSR, sport and AI slug it out in the Android market. AI particularly will disrupt things to the level that the metaverse promised to do. Perhaps Apple can spark a wave of new interest in AR, but in the meantime brand partnerships remain a solid place to engage with audiences, if executed authentically. We’re looking at you OPPO, VIVO, OnePlus and Google and how your football programmes roll out without a fickle fan backlash.