Hint to HTC: Iron Man alone won't save your company

Congrats to Robert Downey Jr. on his new gig hawking HTC. Can he also fix glitches plaguing Cringely and other HTC users?

Sure, Iron Man can fight off evil robots, keep alien troglodytes from taking over earth, and even make Scarlett Johansson seem witty. But can he save HTC? We may soon find out.

Struggling Taiwanese handset maker HTC has hired comic superhero franchise mainstay Robert Downey Jr. to spearhead its new ad campaign. The actual ads will appear later this week, but the company released a teaser today on YouTube to inspire people like me to give them free publicity for it.

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I guess that part worked.

What's in a name?

The premise is that RDJ is a new hotshot marketing exec brought in to bring "subversive thinking" to the company. His first job: devise a new meaning for the acronym HTC, which originally stood for High Tech Computer. His first suggestion? "Humungous Tinfoil Catamaran."

The campaign is titled "Here's to Change," and if that's what they're starting with, I am dubious there's Hilarity to Come. I'm sure HTC is desperately Hoping This Campaign goes viral, and people flock to Twitter to inject their own takes on what HTC means. I'm equally sure they aren't going to like what comes back at them.

In the ongoing melodrama that is the smartphone market, HTC is starting to look a bit-part player who gets killed off early in Act Two. Its revenues are in the toilet, and the company is fighting off rumors that it's on the shopping block. Every day HTC looks less like Samsung and more like BlackBerry -- hence the desperate attempt to staple itself to a box office winner with a dodgy personal history.

HTC 8X inaction

As I write this, an HTC 8X is going through its death throes on my desk. Every 15 seconds it wakes up, shudders, shows me an HTC splash screen, then goes dark again. There is no way to get to a menu to do a soft reset; following the steps to do a hard reset does nothing. And because the HTC doesn't have a removable battery, that option is lost to me too. All I can do is wait for the juice to run out, then ship it back to the vendor for a quick and unceremonial burial. A quick Google search proves I'm hardly the only one with this problem.

To be fair, when it's not having a complete mental breakdown the HTC handset has been pretty slick. I don't know if this problem is HTC's fault, a glitch in Windows Phone 8 updates, or what. But this is the second handset where I've had the exact same problem, and that's plenty. It's the HTC splash screen that keeps flashing over and over, reminding me that I probably should have chosen the Nokia.

Also to be fair, Robert Downey Jr. is one of my favorite actors. The fact that he agreed to become the face of HTC shows that a) he doesn't take himself too seriously, and b) he's probably taking in a buttload of money. Like Intel's Will.I.Am and BlackBerry's Alicia Keys, Downey secured not just a big paycheck but an amorphous role "to help shape HTC's creative direction," which I'm guessing translates into serious stock options. Remember, this is a guy who made $50 million for starring in a film where half of his screen time was CGI. He's a guy who really doesn't need the money, and there's certainly no prestige involved, so the deal must have been too good to pass up.

HTC: Heal Thy Company

Honestly, I'd rather HTC had spent its millions fixing my phone. No amount of Hollywood glitz is going to make up for ticking off your customers. No quasi-clever ad campaign is going to make me feel any warmer and/or fuzzier toward my handset maker, to whom I have zero loyalty even in the best of times.

I have some some subversive thinking for HTC. Hiring the Clown to Hijack the Conversation is Hardly the Cure.

What does "HTC" mean to you? Post your subversive acronym substitutes below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Hint to HTC: Iron Man alone won't save your company," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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