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Vodafone Magics up a little Google glitter

Puts marketing bag over HTC head

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Comment Vodafone's latest handset might be known as the "HTC Magic", but you won't find the network operator pushing HTC's brand more than it has to - it would much prefer to be associated with a certain search engine than an Asian manufacturer.

Vodafone might be obliged to refer to the handset as the "HTC Magic", but it knows that customers want a "Google phone". So it's gone to some lengths to ensure that anyone looking for a phone linked to the Google brand will find themselves at Vodafone's door.

The battle of the brands between network operators and device manufacturers has been fought since the operators started paying for handsets. But by planting itself so firmly in front of the end customer, Apple overturned the rules. Now every brand is looking for more screen estate.

HTC is a good example of this - for many years the company has been quietly making handsets onto which anyone could stick their logo. O2's Xda was made by HTC back in 2003, but the product remains "O2's" device, despite the fact that the operator did little beyond preloading some software and ensuring car kits were in the shops in time. Now HTC wants to be taken seriously as a brand in its own right - hence Vodafone's launch of the "HTC Magic".

But Vodafone doesn't expect anyone to buy the handset for the HTC branding, nor the Android OS - the brand customers want is Google, so Vodafone is striving to harness HTC to the big name. Which is why Vodafone has sponsored links on "google phone", and the official HTC Magic web page mentions the search engine more than twice as often as it mentions who's making the handset (17 times, compared to eight) - despite the fact that Google has no official involvement in the product beyond its backing of Android.

Similarly, there are 143 mentions of the same string - "About Vodafone | Google phone | Mobile phones" - around the internet, complete with links, just to be sure that everybody knows where to look for a "google phone" should they want one. If Vodafone paid for those links then it would be breaking Google's rules, as Google Japan discovered when it tried it - but perhaps the authors just showed remarkable consistency of syntax.

We asked Vodafone about the coincidental use of terms, and its use of "google" on the HTC Magic homepage, but they declined to comment. HTC was similarly reticent, but will look into the matter.

None of this is against any rules, of course - it's just clever marketing by Vodafone. Still, it is interesting to see the various brands vying for our attention and how far they're prepared to step on each other's toes to get it. ®

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