Phone-y Brew

How a fake coffee-making phone is rebranding a Canadian province

IMAGES: PROVINCE OF NOVA SCOTIA

Wildly futuristic:

The Pomegranate phone can brew coffee, translate foreign languages, and be played like a harmonica.

At first, the Pomegranate NS08 seems plausible as a sleek next-generation cellphone. But the list of features goes on just a tad too long to be true: a built-in translator (cool), a coffeemaker (please, please), a harmonica (huh?), and finally…an electric shaver (okay, you got me!).

But the Pomegranate exists only in a YouTube video and a Web site designed to draw you to another Web site, that of the ”Come to life” initiative in Nova Scotia, Canada, a partnership between the government and 300 private associations, schools, and businesses located in the coastal province, which is due east of Maine. The idea is to rebrand a rustic vacationland as a bastion of innovative minds, creative businesses, and a balanced quality of life.

In the first six months after its September launch, the Web site registered more than 1 023 000 visits from 198 countries, led by the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, and Britain. An astonishing 64 percent of visitors clicked through from the fake phone to the Nova Scotia pages.

At least one featured business, Ross Screenprint, in Antigonish, received calls for new business, and a Greek film festival wants to screen the site’s opening phone sequence. But success will be measured not by buzz but by results.

”Our goal was to reach key influencers—media, senior politicians, CEOs, people addicted to their BlackBerrys,” says Stacey Jones-Oxner, communications advisor of the Nova Scotia campaign. ”A new gadget that did everything was the best way to grab those folks, so we created one.”

The site leads users through increasingly fantastic features until you click ”release date” or ”I’ve seen enough.” (You’d think I’d have reached that point when water was poured through the phone to brew coffee, but I kept watching!) Then the punch line pops up: ”Someday you’ll be able to get everything you want in one device. Today you can get everything you want in one place.” The site then pitches the Nova Scotia lifestyle, businesses, education, culture, and local entrepreneurs.

A creative team consisting of Web programmers, video producers, and an ad agency spent nine months putting together the campaign. They stamped real pomegranates with the campaign’s URL and passed them out in Ottawa, Toronto, and Boston. Then word of mouth took over.

While no one has seriously tried to buy the Pomegranate, Jones-Oxner adds, ”We did get a call from Germany telling us that if we decided to actually make this phone, they would distribute it. So we may be onto something here.”

About the Author

Susan Karlin lists among her achievements acting, drawing, traveling to every continent on Earth, and writing for publications such as The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and Spectrum. For this issue she follows the trail of a coffee-making cellphone in ”Phone-y Brew” [p. 22] and reports on an electrical engineer who helps museums spot fake van Goghs in ”Art Fraud Forensics” [p. 23].

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