Huawei might make decent smartphones, but its marketing and advertising campaigns have, multiple times, been struck by controversy. That continues today, as an actor’s social media post revealed that the company faked smartphone photos with a professional DSLR camera for an advertisement in Egypt.
In the ad (embedded below), a couple takes selfies at a party and at home with the Huawei Nova 3. The Huawei video shows a rapid succession of moments in which the couple prepares to take the selfie, then shows the final photos as snapshots between moments. As it turns out, though, the photos were taken on a DSLR camera—the type of dedicated (and not-at-all-tied-to-a-smartphone) camera used by professional photographers.
Reddit user AbdullahSab3 discovered that Sarah Elshamy, one of the actors in the video, posted some behind-the-scenes photos to her Instagram page. One image revealed a photographer shooting the at-home selfie with a DSLR.
The video does not explicitly state that the photos were taken with the smartphone, but it is implied by the sequence of events and by the fact that the specific photo in question was used to promote a feature present in the smartphone. In the at-home selfie moment, the woman in the couple is hesitant to participate in the photo until she is done applying her makeup. The man takes it anyway, and the photo supposedly shows that the phone’s AI-driven beauty feature digitally altered the image so she didn’t have to finish applying real makeup to look like she was wearing it.
Other smartphone makers have been caught doing this in the past. Just this past week, Samsung Brazil was caught trying to pass stock photos off as photos taken with the Galaxy A8.
However, this is not always the case. Photos from Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” ads are indeed taken with iPhones, albeit with additional equipment like special lenses attached to the phone, and they’ve been touched up with professional photo editing software—and Aa tiny, fine-print disclosure about lenses and retouches appears on the Apple ads. I once worked at an ad agency with a major Android smartphone manufacturer as a client, and we produced photos like this using the actual hardware with minimal additional equipment.
But the Huawei photo was clearly not taken on a Huawei phone at all. In the Instagram image, you can even see one of the actors extending his arm outside the view of the camera to create the illusion that he’s holding a smartphone for a selfie when his hand is actually empty.
Consumers have discovered similar stunts in previous Huawei marketing and advertising materials. In one instance, the company took to a private Facebook group to encourage followers to write up positive Best Buy reviews of the Mate 10 Pro in exchange for a chance to beta test the then-yet-to-be-released phone.
Worse yet, Huawei was caught doing almost exactly this previously: it posted an image implied to be a photo taken with its P9 smartphone to Google+, but the EXIF data (metadata included in image files with information on how and when the photo was taken) revealed it was taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a professional DSLR camera that costs thousands of dollars.
When consumers discovered the Google+ image EXIF data, Huawei released a statement claiming it didn’t really mean to imply that the photo was taken with the P9 and that the photo was simply shared “to inspire our community.”
The behind-the-scenes photos have been removed from the actor’s Instagram page.
Update: Huawei has sent Ars the following statement:
The purpose of this advertisement is to demonstrate how consumers can use the features of the HUAWEI nova 3 and nova 3i. As stated in the disclaimer at the end of the video, the product shots are for reference only.