Hugo Chavez, the socialist leader of Venezuela, passed away yesterday. While his legacy will be remembered by the history books as the way his anti-American politics lead his country to reduce poverty by 44% and cut infant mortality rates in half, we’re not expecting his ill-fated dabblings in the mobile phone market to be remembered with quite so much reverence.
You see, Chavez backed the 2009 launch of the Vergatario handset. Built with the help of ZTE and state-owned manufacturer Vtelca, the intentions were good; aiming to boost the number of mobile phone owning Venezuelans with a 30 Bolivar (£10) handset, it would help to mobilize workforces in more remote reaches of the country.
However, the Vergatario was at a disadvantage from the off. For starters, even with its budget price tag it looked dated; with its candy bar design and low-resolution VGA camera, it had more in common with ten year old Nokia handsets than the latest wave of smartphones (the iPhone was two years old by this point).
And then there’s the name. Vergatario sounds very close to the Spanish slang word for “penis”, a fact we pointed out in our rundown of the worst phone names of all time. It was an embarrassing marketing oversight that Chavez did little to smooth over, chuckling every time he mentioned the phone’s name during press conferences. Lines like “everyone has the opportunity to get their hands on a Vergatario” didn’t help either.
But Chavez was bullish with his hopes for the handset’s success.
“This telephone will be the biggest seller not only in Venezuela but the world. Whoever doesn’t have a Vergatario is nothing,” he said at launch.
As you already know, that proved never to be the case. Vtelca failed to reach assembly targets, and by 2011 only 1 million of the phones were assembled, let alone sold.
A successor, the Vergatario II, launched in August 2011 and enjoyed moderate success, selling 45,000 handset on launch day.
However, Chavez’s “penis phone” never quite achieved its lofty goals, the President dying with the Vergatario remaining a humorous blip on the later years of his career.